KQED: Details on probe of Valero pollution releases – violations now up to 12

Repost from KQED News

Two Parts of Valero’s Benicia Refinery Under Scrutiny in Probe of Pollution Releases

By Ted Goldberg, Mar 29, 2019
A plume containing petroleum coke dusts wafts from a smokestack at Valero’s Benicia oil refinery on March 23. (Sasha Khokha/KQED)

Two key components at the Valero refinery in Benicia experienced problems earlier this month, leading to weeks of releases of petroleum coke dust that intensified on Sunday, culminating in the shutdown of a large portion of the facility.

The new details on the refinery’s malfunctions are laid out by Valero in a preliminary report filed with Benicia city officials this week.

The malfunctions are the focus of at least one part of an investigation by Solano County inspectors into an incident that led to health concerns for people living near the refinery and to a statewide spike in gasoline prices.

Valero’s report says that the recent problems at the refinery began March 11 when a crude oil processing unit called a fluid coker experienced “operating difficulty.”

Normally, a fluid coker heats up and “cracks” the thickest, heaviest components of crude oil processed at a refinery, breaking them down into material that can be used in diesel or other petroleum products. One of the byproducts of the process is solid carbon residue called petroleum coke.

The problems with Valero’s fluid coker unit allowed petroleum coke dust, called coke fines, to flow to a second unit called a flue gas scrubber. The scrubber cleans out fine particles before they’re released from the refinery’s smokestacks into the air. That process is supposed to ensure that the refinery’s emissions don’t violate air quality standards.

But the coke fines moving through the scrubber unit set the stage for a release of particulate pollution from the refinery — a release that was clearly visible from outside the facility.

“The presence of coke fines in the FGS resulted in a darker than normal plume appearance,” Valero’s 72-hour report said.

Solano County investigators want to know if the scrubber was somehow overwhelmed or damaged, according to Terry Schmidtbauer, the county’s director of resource management.

“We know something’s not operating properly,” Schmidtbauer said.

California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health Cal/OSHA and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District are also investigating the refinery.

After the problem surfaced, the air district issued eight notices of violation against Valero for public nuisance and visible emissions.

Refinery crews worked to reduce the releases and Valero said the situation showed “significant improvement” by last Friday, when the plume coming from the refinery’s stacks “returned to normal appearance,” Valero’s report said.

But that changed the next day. The scrubber “experienced an operational upset resulting in a dark, opaque plume and emissions of particulate matter,” the report said.

A new surge of petroleum coke dust billowing from the refinery’s stacks prompted Benicia officials to issue a health advisory, urging people with respiratory issues to stay indoors.

The refinery began to shut down several units, and the air district wound up issuing four more violation notices.

The powering down of the the facility is contributing to an increase in gasoline prices.

On Friday the average cost of a gallon of unleaded gas in California jumped to $3.59, up 16 cents from a week ago, according to AAA.

Energy analysts and state regulators say the price will continue to rise until operations at Valero return to normal.

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    Adam Schiff delivers massive smackdown: Trump is “immoral,” “unpatriotic” and “corrupt”

    Repost from Salon

    Under attack from Trump and the ludicrous Devin Nunes, Intelligence Committee chair focuses on the real question

    By HEATHER DIGBY PARTON, MARCH 29, 2019 12:00PM (UTC)

    President Trump held his first rally since mid-February on Thursday in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Sounding alternately buoyant and furious, he took a big victory lap and declared himself to have “won” against the witch hunt. In an extended rant right out of the gate he proclaimed:

    After three years of lies and smears and slander, the Russia hoax is finally dead. The collusion delusion is over. The Special Counsel has completed his report and found no collusion, no obstruction … Total exoneration, complete vindication. …

    The Russia witch hunt was a plan by those who lost the election to take power by framing innocent Americans — they suffered — with an elaborate hoax. They tried to destroy a movement like nobody has ever seen before. They did it because they refused to accept the results of the greatest presidential election results in American history … they perpetuated the single greatest hoax in the history of politics, they have to be — I’m sorry — they have to be accountable.”

    As we saw telegraphed as early as Monday, Trump wants revenge. His motto for years has been “get even” and he obviously thinks that wreaking vengeance on his political opponents will keep him in the White House past 2020. Even his decision to back the lawsuit repealing Obamacare, made against the advice of many Republicans, is really just a way for him to exact revenge on his most hated rival — who happens to be a dead man, John McCain.

    Trump went out of his way to crudely insult House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff, D-Calif.:

    He didn’t talk about the size of his own neck, thankfully.  But he did get a bit more rhetorically pungent, saying, “The Democrats need to decide whether they will continue to defraud the public with ridiculous bullshit.” (Yes, he said bullshit.)

    The attack on Schiff is obviously a specific strategy to try to shut down the Intelligence Committee’s ongoing investigation into Trump and Russia. Earlier in the day Trump had tweeted out:

    When the House Intelligence Committee held a hearing later that day to hear Russia experts talk about how that country’s intelligence services infiltrate various aspects of American life, the committee’s ranking member and former chair, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., stepped up to make an opening statement:

    We should not be used as a platform to spread false information and bizarre conspiracies. We have unique capabilities and authorities to do crucial oversight work and now, frankly speaking, that is not being done.

    You read that right. Then Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, read a letter signed by all nine Republicans on the committee demanding that Schiff resign, claiming that he was promoting a demonstrably false narrative and had abused his position to knowingly promote false information about Russian collusion.

    This, coming from the same Republicans who contrived the ludicrous alternate universe around a “deep state” plot, culminating in the preposterous “Nunes memo,” could and perhaps should have resulted in convulsions of laughter in the hearing room. The idea of Nunes, the man who was caught red-handed, literally in the middle of the night, conspiring with the White House, accusing anyone else of conspiracy theories really cannot be taken seriously. He is a ridiculous person.

    But Schiff didn’t laugh. And he was right not to. This is a serious issue of national security, and he responded with one of the more memorable congressional speeches in a very long time:

    If you haven’t heard the whole thing I urge you to listen to it.

    The reason that was so important is because Schiff brought the issue back to where it rightfully belongs: in the Congress. The only thing we know right now about any criminal liability is that Robert Mueller’s investigation “did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

    But none of the events or behaviors Schiff cited are in dispute. Most of it happened right out in public. Whether it was legal or not, it was stupid and it was wrong and no president should be defended for behaving in such a craven, corrupt and unpatriotic way. What he did may not have been criminal conduct, but it was pathologically unethical. Anyone who didn’t find all that behavior suspicious has no business holding a responsible position in the United States government.

    Schiff’s speech explains something important that Trump and the Republicans fail to grasp. People know what they saw. That’s why the polls aren’t moving toward the president in the wake of Bill Barr’s letter and Trump’s triumphant victory tour. Whether the president was part of a criminal conspiracy, or was simply so ignorant and corrupt that he didn’t know or care about the ramifications of his actions, isn’t really the question. What Schiff did in that speech was to bring the subject back to the central question: Is this president acting in the interest of the people of the United States, or is he acting in the interest of Donald Trump? I think we know the answer. And it’s not OK.

    Some of the Republicans on the panel understood that what Schiff had said was a powerful indictment of their own lack of ethics and morals. After Schiff finished  and attempted to go on, one member demanded to be allowed to respond to his comments, insisting, “No one over here [on the Republican side] thinks that.”

    You don’t? Could have fooled us. At every step of the way the Republicans have acted as Trump’s accomplices, refusing even to suggest that he might have done something wrong in all this. They clearly don’t think he did.

    I’m willing to be generous and say that at the end of the day we may very well find that Trump is so dim-witted and narcissistic that he literally does not know right from wrong. That obviously makes him unfit for the presidency but it doesn’t make him guilty of conspiring with a foreign government. Fine. But all these Republicans who refuse to even acknowledge the outrageousness of his conduct definitely do know better.They are shameless and that’s hard to fight against, still less to defeat. But Adam Schiff laid out the real issue more successfully than anyone we’ve seen in recent times. Let’s hope it’s the first of many illustrative moments as the Democrats start to provide the serious oversight that has been lacking these past two years.

    HEATHER DIGBY PARTON

    Heather Digby Parton, also known as “Digby,” is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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      Local renewables in the US ‘make more financial sense than coal’

      Repost from EnergyLive News

      A new report suggests three-quarters of US coal-fired generation could be replaced with local wind or solar power at cheaper cost to the consumer

      By Jonny Bairstow, 26 March 2019
      Renewables vs fossil fuels
      Renewables vs fossil fuels | Image: Shutterstock

      Local renewables in the US now make more financial sense than coal.

      That’s according to a new report from renewable analysis firm Energy Innovation, which suggests in 2018, three-quarters of existing US coal-fired generation could have been replaced with wind or solar power within a 35-mile radius at an immediate saving to customers.

      It predicts by 2025, this figure will grow to 86% of the coal fleet as fossil fuel generation becomes increasingly uneconomical and the cost of renewable power continues to fall.

      The report suggests this is happening as the ‘all-in’ costs of new wind or solar projects become cheaper than the combined fuel, maintenance and other ongoing costs of coal-fired power.

      In 2018, 94GW of existing US coal capacity was deemed ‘substantially at risk’ from new local wind and solar – by 2025, the study expects ‘substantially at risk’ coal to increase to 140GW, almost half the national fleet.

      It recommends local decision-makers should consider plans for a smooth shut-down of these old plants, replacing them with technologies such as wind, solar, transmission, storage and demand response.

      It notes replacement infrastructure must be reliable and affordable for communities dependent on existing coal plants.

      The report reads: “The purpose of this report is to act as a conversation primer for stakeholders and policymakers where the math points to cheaper options that could replace coal plants at a savings to customers.

      “Regardless, any coal plant failing the cost crossover test should be a wake-up call for policymakers and local stakeholders that an opportunity for productive change exists in the immediate vicinity of that plant.”

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        Video: Adam Schiff’s historic speech: “You might think it’s okay…I don’t think that’s okay.”

        Repost from Adam Schiff on Youtube
        [Here’s all you need to know about Trump collusion and obstruction. Adam Schiff speaks for me!  – Roger Straw, The Benicia Independent]

        AdamSchiff on Youtube, Mar 28, 2019
        On Thursday, March 28, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), during a House Intelligence Committee open hearing, responded to Trump and Congressional Republican’s calls for his resignation.

        [Significant moment in Schiff’s remarks at 3:27]

        “You might say that’s all okay.  You might say that’s just what you need to do to win….But I don’t think that’s okay.

          • I think it’s immoral
          • I think it’s unethical
          • I think it’s unpatriotic
          • and yes, I think it’s corrupt
          • and evidence of collusion.

        “Now I’ve always said that the question of whether this amounts to proof of conspiracy was another matter.  Whether the Special Counsel could prove beyond a reasonable doubt the proof of that crime would be up to the Special Counsel and I would accept his decision, and I do.  He’s a good and honorable man and a good prosecutor.

        “But I do not think that conduct – criminal or not – is okay.  And the day we DO think that’s okay is the day we will look back and say, that is the day America lost its way.”

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