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Pollution problems linked to Bayway Refinery

June 17, 2010 3:28:53 PM PDT
It's looking more and more as if cutting corners on safety and lax oversight contributed to the gulf oil disaster. An Eyewitness News investigation has found that a major oil industry player in our own backyard has serious safety and pollution violations that some see as warning signs. We're talking about Bayway Refinery in New Jersey, which the government says is the 32nd worst water polluter in the nation. We found numerous violations that have some workers and environmentalists worried that Bayway is cutting corners too and increasing the risk of a major accident.

Drive down the New Jersey Turnpike and you can see and smell Bayway Refinery. It consistently ranks as one of the top polluters in the nation. Dumping more than three million pounds of chemicals into the air and waterways every year. It's an amount that the state Department of Environmental Protection permits Bayway to dump.

"What people tend to forget or don't realize is that we give out permits as a right to pollute or degrade environment. We're supposed to be rationing it down and getting plant to clean up and lower their emissions," said Jeff Tittle from the NJ Sierra Club.

A 2005 settlement agreement with the Department of Environmental Protection forced Bayway to spend $60 million dollars in pollution reducing equipment. While hazardous chemicals releases at the refinery have been reduced, release of some toxic chemicals has actually gone up. When it comes to violating their permits, Bayway Refinery is a big repeat offender.

"It is a major polluter and hazardous facility," said Tittle.

Since 2005, the state has cited the refinery nearly 200 times for repeatedly violating environmental laws, mostly for air pollution. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. In addition, eight months ago, the Labor Department hit Bayway with $92 thousand dollars in fines for "repeat safety violations" that put workers at risk of accidents or "possible death."

"You've got safety risks posed because there's lax government oversight and there's this profit motive to drive the facility and maximize its profit motive and that kind of scenario leads to unacceptable risks," said Bill Wolfe from the NJ Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

Environmentalist Bill Wolfe spent 13 years with New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection. He says the massive spill in the gulf occurred because B-P cut corners on safety while the regulators looked the other way. Wolfe says Governor Christie is making the same mistake by issuing executive orders that call for immediate relief from "regulatory burdens" and "waivers" from regulations.

Bill Wolfe: "This executive order will put into force of law, the exact same policies that led to the disaster in the Gulf."
Eyewitness News Reporter Jim Hoffer: "You're saying that this executive order will bring the polluters and government to an even cozier kind of relationship?"
Wolfe: "Right, it will make government facilitate, not regulate, but actually promote the interest of the polluters, protect the polluters, not the people of the state."

Governor Christie, who months ago called for a ban on all oil and gas drilling off the Jersey coast, disputes claims he's weakening the state's environmental oversight.

Governor Christie: "There's none of that stuff going on. I don't know where you're getting that from but none of that is going on."
Hoffer: "In your executive orders when you call for less regulation?"
Governor Christie: "No, what we call for is common sense regulation, we don't call for less regulation, we call for common sense regulation."

Environmentalists are skeptical and those we spoke to say Bayway's repeated violations are warning signs that more oversight is needed.

"The lessons in the Gulf of Mexico show us that when government let's business self-regulate we end up with disaster," said Tittle.

The D-E-P- says Bayway is closely monitored and they point to the NUMEROUS fines and violations as proof.

The operator, Conoco Phillips, decided late this afternoon that they would have no comment on our report.

If you have a tip about this or any other issue you'd like investigated, please give our tipline a call at 877-TIP-NEWS. You may also e-mail us at the.investigators@abc.com and follow Jim Hoffer on Twitter at twitter.com/nycinvestigates


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