A coal-to-liquid facility could have been operating in Carbon County for nearly 14 months. That’s according to an attorney representing one of two organizations challenging the state agency that gave approval to the facility, Revolution Fuels, LLC.
“If Revolution Fuels wanted to go forward with the project, they could,” said Joro Walker, general counsel for Western Resource Advocates, who is managing the case. She later added: “The remedy we’re after wouldn’t be foreclosed by the construction of the plant.”
But Revolution Fuels is keeping mum. I called the company’s engineer for the Carbon County project, Troy Mckinley, through two different numbers, but did not get a reply. One of those numbers was provided by Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) staff and found in the agency’s official green-light documentation, called an Approval Order, issued on June 24 of last year.
I also could not find public statements from Mckinley or Revolution Fuels since the Approval Order was given.
Carbon County staff gave four different responses to a question as to why Revolution Fuels was not speaking publicly. The final statement, from Economic Development Director Tami Ursenbach, was: “I have not heard from Revolution Fuels in quite some time. They will call me when they are ready.”
Under the permit, the company would process liquefied petroleum gas, naphtha, diesel, and jet fuel, and off-specification diesel and jet fuel in quantities of 104, 262, 573, 556 and 370 barrels per day, respectively.
Coal would be delivered to the facility, crushed and gasified before being “scrubbed” to remove contaminants. It will then be pressurized, further processed and upgraded to transportation fuels, according to DEQ documents.
That coal-to-liquid process is known as Fischer-Tropsch Synthesis, a practice since the 1920s. It involves one of two compounds, known as synthesis gas, being fed into an FT reactor that results in wax and liquid products, the forms that enable them to become transportation fuels, according to the documents.
A DEQ spokeswoman recommended that Utah Division of Air Quality Director Bryce Bird be contacted for the story. Bird did not return a request for comment. The division is the part of the DEQ that works directly with companies like Revolution Fuels.
The “deficiencies” in this case relate to flares, a significant source of emissions that occur when something goes wrong with a plant. WRA and the Sierra Club want Revolution Fuels to account for emissions from flares if they happen, Walker said.
But she also argued that new technology for controlling emissions is improving and should be applied to considerations of following the Clean Air Act, which became federal law in 1963. She added that the DAQ should assess “various technologies and practices that are out there to determine which ones should apply” to their permit-granting processes.
“The sort of outcome of the process can’t be determined until the division undertakes the analysis,” Walker said. She also said the technology is being increasingly accepted.
“The only thing I know is we issued a permit because it met the requirements and we are kind of bound by state law,” the spokeswoman said. “We review the permits to make sure it meets the requirements under the law… I think that they met all of the requirements and that’s why it was approved.”
Besides WRA, the Sierra Club is the other entity challenging the Utah Department of Environmental Quality. The next step was a hearing Tuesday at the Utah Department of Environmental Quality offices in Salt Lake City, where an administrative law judge made recommendations to DEQ Executive Director Alan Matheson, Walker said.
The hearing was presided over by an administrative law judge. Such judges are not appointed by governors but are assigned to a particular hearing. The judge, Richard K. Rathbun, made recommendations to Matheson. The WRA or Sierra Club or the DEQ could appeal a decision. That challenge would go to the Utah court of appeals, Walker said.
In documents I obtained, the Sierra Club filed an opening brief March 17 challenging the DEQ’s granting permits under the legal determinations it made as with Revolution Fuels. The DEQ responded and the Sierra Club then sent a reply brief June 23, with the DEQ issuing its Approval Order the next day.
“Based on the deficiencies outlined in Sierra Club’s opening brief and (reply brief), Sierra Club respectfully requests that (Matheson) revoke Revolution’s permit and/or remand Revolution’s permit to DAQ with instructions that the agency comply with the law by undertaking a full and proper analysis,” wrote Andrea Issod, a Sierra Club Environmental Law Program attorney.
Revolution Fuels’ proposed location is 0.4 miles southwest of the intersection of U.S. Highway 6 and Arena Road, the DEQ spokeswoman said. Dennis Willis of Price has said that it is about 300 yards from a future subdivision, according to a January 5, 2016, Salt Lake Tribune article.
The company wants to convert up to 750 tons of coal per day into liquids. That would mean 300 jobs, but also emissions of close to 300,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year, says the DEQ. Ursenbach added, “Whatever they tell me, I follow.”