Jun 15, 2022 - News

Judge rules against Marathon as part of dust storage battle

Detroit Marathon refinery spires
Marathon refinery in Detroit. Photo: Nick Hagen for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Marathon Petroleum lost a recent battle in a war to exempt its controversial southwest Detroit oil refinery from an environmental protection ordinance.

Why it matters: The facility produces pet coke, a loose, granular material that can disseminate into the air and cause health problems.

Flashback: Detroit enacted an ordinance in 2017 that gave businesses handling pet coke two years to enclose the substance while it's being moved and stored to prevent dust from being released.

Yes, but: Five years later, Marathon hasn't fully closed up its pet coke.

  • The exemption the company has asked the city for has been rejected twice, most recently in 2020.

Between the lines: Marathon is now appealing the decision with Detroit's Department of Appeal and Hearings.

  • As part of that process, it got a "no" last week from a Wayne County Circuit Court judge. It's not the final "no," but it allows the city to force the company to monitor air quality for certain dust emissions.
  • Detroit wants to use those air quality results to help decide if Marathon's lack of enclosure would cause substantial harm, per court documents.

The other side: Marathon's lawyers argue in their circuit court appeal that the refinery should be grandfathered in — the 2017 rule doesn't apply because the city agreed to the set-up dating back to 2007, essentially.

What they're saying: Raquel Garcia, executive director of nonprofit Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision, is worried that residents and advocates haven't heard more about this appeals process from either party.

  • "We know that residents who are right in the footprint of that and beyond are suffering health effects, and I just want to add, not only from Marathon," Garcia tells Axios.."They're one of several companies that we're concerned about."
  • Marathon officials have also complained about a lack of focus on neighboring industrial facilities.
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