Utah Supreme Court rejects air quality lawsuit over refinery expansion

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Supreme Court has rejected an appeal filed by a pair of environmental groups over Tesoro refinery’s expansion, dismissing it on technical grounds.

In a ruling issued late Thursday night, the state’s top court said it was not ruling on the merits of the lawsuit filed by Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and the Sierra Club.

“Yet the Petitioners altogether failed to address their opening brief and arguments to the final order, opting instead to attack only the sufficiency of the actions of the Director of UDAQ,” Justice Deno Himonas wrote in the opinion. “We would be forsaking our judicial role if we were to seek out errors in the final order on behalf of the Petitioners and to the detriment of the Respondents, which is in essence what the Petitioners are asking us to do. Thus, while the Petitioners’ substantive arguments may have merit, an issue on which we offer no opinion, we are in no position to ferret out the truth because the Petitioners have failed to meet their burden of persuasion on appeal.”

That brought a sharp dissent from Justice Christine Durham, who chastised her fellow justices for not considering the merits of the case.

“Utah Physicians has presented a plausible argument that UDAQ has not adequately articulated reasons why Tesoro’s proposed oil refinery expansion and the resulting increased emission of air pollutants meet the BACT standard. I believe this argument is adequately briefed and merits resolution by this court,” she wrote.

The environmental groups challenged a permit issued by Utah’s Division of Air Quality to Tesoro to expand. They alleged Utah’s Department of Environmental Quality did not do enough research and failed to set any significant emission limits. They allege the refinery’s expansion by as much as 4,000 barrels a day would add an additional 59 tons of particulate matter into the air each year.

The environmental groups have pending legal challenges against other refinery expansion plans in the Salt Lake Valley.

Read the Utah Supreme Court ruling here: