Marathon refinery in Garyville is expected to install $3.25 million worth of air pollution controls, as well as a system to recycle gases that normally would be burned off in flares, as part of an agreement with the federal government announced Thursday.

Overall, the proposed consent decree with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would have Marathon spend $319 million to install the flare gas recovery systems at facilities in Louisiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio. The company also would spend $15.55 million on air pollution reduction projects and pay a civil penalty of $326,500.

“It’s good news,” said Marylee Orr, executive director of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network. “Lowering emissions is always good for the public health and the economy.”

People in the nearby community of Garyville have complained for years about odors and health problems, Orr said, so they will welcome any improvements in air quality. Aside from the new flare system, the air pollution reduction project in Garyville would specifically target nitrogen oxide pollution.

The agreement is an amendment to a 2012 consent decree between the EPA and Marathon, which was a result of alleged Clean Air Act violations at six Marathon Petroleum Company refineries.

As part of the amendment, the company will install seven flare gas recovery systems on 13 flares at five refineries, including the Garyville plant. These recovery systems capture gases that would otherwise be burned in a flare and recycles them back into the facilities’ processes.

“This agreement continues the significant pollution reductions achieved under our earlier consent decree with Marathon in 2012,” John C. Cruden, assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, wrote in a press release. “All five communities near these refineries will breathe cleaner air as a result of this agreement and Detroit will see a reduction in flaring at the refinery’s fence line.”

According to EPA, the original agreement had the company install controls on flares, which act as an emergency safety valve to burn off gases from production as well as to take steps to reduce waste gases that cause pollution. These steps helped reduce 5,200 tons of air pollution per year.

The proposed amendment is meant to make up for a one-time increase in sulfur dioxide because of a company-requested extension on a portion of the original consent decree.

Once the new work is completed, the amendment is expected to further reduce air pollution like sulfur dioxides and volatile organic compounds by 1,037 tons per year.

Volatile organic compounds lead to ozone, or smog, which can cause breathing problems especially for vulnerable populations like children. Sulfur dioxides also can cause breathing problems and increase asthma symptoms, according to EPA.

Marathon Petroleum Company produces a number of products including gasoline, diesel fuel, propane and asphalt, according to EPA. The facility in Garyville was completed in 1976 and can process 539,000 barrels of oil a day to make products like gasoline, asphalt, polymer-grade propylene, propane and sulfur, according to the company’s website. The plant employs about 950 people.

In both the 2012 consent decree and the current proposed amendment, EPA has commended the company for providing a “unique level” of resources and expertise in developing technology to improve air quality. In addition, EPA announced earlier this year that Marathon Louisiana Refining Division in Garyville achieved Energy Star certification for their “superior energy performance in 2015,” according to EPA.

This proposed settlement is open for a 30-day comment period at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. More information on how to comment is available at the U.S. Department of Justice website:

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