Homes on Ballard Street in South Portland can be seen across Barberry Creek from Global Partners LP. The business was sued this year by the Environmental Protection Agency for allegedly violating emissions limits in its permits. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

SOUTH PORTLAND — A federal judge has approved a settlement between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Global Partners LP for alleged violations of the Clean Air Act at the company’s petroleum tank farm on the Fore River.

The consent decree emanated from a lawsuit filed in March against the Massachusetts-based company for allegedly exceeding licensed emissions limits for volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, which can cause air pollution, breathing problems and cancer.

Judge D. Brock Hornby found the proposed consent decree to be fair, reasonable and consistent with the objectives of the federal act, and he granted the EPA’s motion on Thursday to enter the settlement in U.S. District Court in Portland.

However, Hornby did acknowledge that about 90 public comments submitted in writing to the EPA regarding the objectives and likely effectiveness of the consent decree were “almost universally negative.”

Commenters said the prescribed $40,000 fine was inadequate to punish Global for polluting the community over many years, or to dissuade Global or other companies from violating environmental laws in the future, Hornby noted in his ruling. Commenters also raised concerns about odors and other hazardous air pollutants emitted by Global’s tanks but not addressed by the decree.

“They criticized the EPA for failing to inform the city of South Portland or its residents about the excessive emissions over the nearly five years between when the EPA learned about the emissions and when it filed the complaint in this case,” Hornby wrote.

Commenters also questioned why the settlement didn’t require Global to establish a community air quality monitoring program and how the prescribed program to upgrade or replace wood stoves would offset alleged harm caused by Global.

“As valid as (the concerns) may be,” Hornby wrote, “the public comments are not enough to justify rejecting the proposed decree.”

In its lawsuit, the EPA challenged Global’s air quality license issued by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, which allows the 12-tank terminal to emit 21.9 tons of VOCs into the air each year. New testing showed liquid asphalt and No. 6 heavy residual fuel oil stored in four heated tanks emitted more than 40 tons per year, and the entire facility had the potential to emit more than 50 tons per year.

Global disputed the EPA’s charges and DEP officials initially disagreed with the federal agency’s use of a new testing method.

In addition to a $40,000 fine, Global must spend at least $150,000 on a program to upgrade or replace wood stoves in Cumberland County with cleaner-burning, more efficient heating equipment, according to the consent decree.

Global also must seek a revised emissions license from the DEP and take steps to reduce VOC emissions by 20 tons per year. Those steps include spending $250,000 to install petroleum mist eliminators intended to reduce both VOCs and foul odors that have plagued South Portland’s Pleasantdale neighborhood for years.

In September, Global announced it would install a total of $400,000 in odor-control equipment on its petroleum storage tanks and contribute $15,000 toward a community air quality monitoring program established by the DEP.

The company also created a website, globalsouthportland.com, where residents can report odor complaints directly to Global and read annual emissions data filed with the DEP.

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