Brief report and video by Benicia videographer Constance Beutel, Ed.D.
In an unusual and welcomed step, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District held a community meeting for Benicia to discuss the upcoming Air Board meeting (March 15, 2022) regarding Valero’s nearly 18 year violation of District emissions standards.
To say the least, Benicia Community members, City Staff and some electeds were shocked to learn of the long unreported emissions exceedance as well as the Air District’s withholding of this information for over three years. To its credit, the Air District was present in full force to present their findings and to hear every question and concern voiced by those in attendance.
The Air District will be advising/suggesting that the Air Board grant that penalty fines assigned to Valero be given to the City of Benicia.
The tone of the community’s response was mostly of frustration over years of voicing concern and not being kept in the loop as to major issues and in not rectifying on-going serious problems.
Highlights from Bay Area Air Quality Management District Meeting: Benicia CA, February 24, 2022
Longer version (1 hour): Bay Area Air Quality Management District Community Meeting: Benicia, CA February 24, 2022
NOTE: The information below is not the latest. TAP HERE for today’s latest information.
By Roger Straw, Friday, February 25, 2022
Solano County reports 233 new COVID infections in last two days, no deaths. Benicia’s 7-day case count falls into SUBSTANTIAL transmission rate for first time since Dec. 20. Solano County continues in HIGH transmission rate.
Solano Public Health COVID dashboard, Friday, February 25, 2022:
DEATHS: Solano reported no new deaths in today’s report.Trending: Fifteen new deaths reported so far in February, ALL over 65 years of age. The County has seen increasing COVID-related deaths each month since last November, rising to 30 in January. A total of 396 Solano residents have now died of COVID or COVID-related causes over the course of the pandemic.
CASES BY AGE GROUP: The color-coded chart (below) shows an alarming steady increase among youth and children in Solano County. The chart displays quarterly and recent snapshots in time by age group, each as a percentage of total cases since the outbreak began. Increases are in red and decreases are in greenas reported by Solano County. Note the continuing increase among children & youth of Solano County. The population of those age 0-17 in Solano County is roughly 22%.COMPARE – U.S. cases among children and youth aged 0-17 as percentage of total cases is 17.6% as of today. (From the CDC covid-data-tracker.)
TRANSMISSION RATE: Solano is experiencing an EXTREMELY HIGH transmission rate, with a total of 1,041 new cases over the last 7 days, down from 1,123 at last report, but still way up from around 500 at Christmastime.CDC FORMULA: Based on Solano County’s population, 450 or more cases in 7 days places Solano in the CDC’s population-based definition of a HIGH transmission rate. We would need to drop below 225 cases in 7 days to rate as having only MODERATE community transmission.
ACTIVE CASES: Solano reported 837 ACTIVE cases today, up a bit from 822 at last report, still more than double the County’s 329 active cases on December 1.
CASES BY CITY – Friday, February 25, 2022:
BENICIA added 4 new cases today, a total of 3,008 cases since the outbreak began. TRANSMISSION RATE: **Benicia has seen 27 new infections in the last 7 days, moving out of the CDC’s HIGH rate of community transmission for the first time since December 20. Benicia is now in a SUBSTANTIAL rate of transmission, with still a ways to go to achieve a MODERATE rate. For a city with Benicia’s population, anything over 27 cases in 7 days is considered HIGH TRANSMISSION. (See chart below.) BENICIA MASKS: >> Ignoring CDC recommendations, Benicia Council members chose to follow along with most Bay Area Counties and the State of California, voting to lift the citywide face mask mandate on Feb. 15. Details:
Dixon added 7 new cases today, total of 4,133 cases.
Fairfield added69 new cases today, total of 21,170 cases.
Rio Vista added 1 new case today, total of 1,067 cases.
Suisun Cityadded17 new cases today, total of 5,569 cases.
Vacaville added 50 new cases today, a total of 19,368 cases.
Vallejoadded85 new cases today, a total of 24,753 cases.
Unincorporatedadded 0 new cases today, a total of 191 cases.
TEST RATE: Solano County’s 7-Day Percent Positive Test Rate shot up after Christmas and has continued through Wednesday’s very high 13%, but fell dramatically today to only 9%. Even at this lower rate, SOLANO DOES NOT COMPARE FAVORABLY: The CALIFORNIA 7-day % positive rate fell today from 3.5% to 3.2%. [Source: Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Tracking Center] AND the U.S. 7-day % positive rate fell today from 5.6% to 5.3%. [Source: CDC COVID Data Tracker.]
CURRENT The number of those currently hospitalized with COVID in Solano County fell today from 43 to 42 persons.
TOTAL hospitalizations over the course of the pandemic – Solano Public Health did not update its Age Group and Race/Ethnicity charts today. Our total since the beginning of the outbreak is 3,693 Solano residents hospitalized.
ICU Bed Availability in Solano County fell slightly today from 27% to 26%, still in the Yellow danger zone.
Ventilator Availabilityimproved today from 58% to 67% available.
>The data on this page is from the Solano County COVID-19 Dashboard. The Dashboard is full of much more information and updated Monday, Wednesday and Friday around 4 or 5pm. On the County’s dashboard, you can hover a mouse or click on an item for more information. Note the tabs at top for “Summary, Demographics” and “Vaccines.” Click here to go to today’s Solano County Dashboard.
See also my BENINDY ARCHIVE of daily Solano COVID updates (an excel spreadsheet). I have also archived the hundreds of full CORONAVIRUS REPORTS posted here almost daily on the Benicia Independent since April 2020.
Investigation Shows Valero Benicia Refinery Released Toxic Chemicals for Years
KPIX5 CBS Bay Area News, by Andrea Nakano, February 24, 2022
[IMPORTANT – BenIndy Editor: The video coverage includes voices of concerned Benicia residents. Click the arrow above, and another arrow when the new page opens. If that doesn’t work for you, go to https://cbsloc.al/3HobW7f – R.S.]
BENICIA (KPIX) — At a community workshop Thursday, Benicia residents learned more about excessive levels of hazardous chemicals coming from the Valero Benicia refinery.
The Bay Area Air Quality Management District discovered the plant has been emitting those chemicals for more the 15 years. BAAQMD discovered the problems and started investigating in 2018.
Workshop attendees questioned why they weren’t notified about the emissions until last month.
An investigation by BAAQMD revealed emissions at the Valero refinery were, on average, hundreds of times higher than allowed by law. Pollutants included benzene, which causes an elevated risk of cancer and chronic health issues.
Many Benicia residents were furious nothing had been done sooner.
“When accidents happen in Benicia, we are never told about it in a timely matter where we can protect ourselves. That doesn’t work for those living next to the refinery that wake up to black powder on all of their cars. Kids are going to school and pets are out there breathing this black stuff that’s accumulating everywhere,” Pat Toth Smith said.
“For the community, the monitoring systems were supposed to give us a sense that we can trust,” Marilyn Bardet added.
Damian Breen with BAAQMD says the reason the district wasn’t able to alert Benicia residents earlier was to protect the integrity of the investigation and ensure that Valero is held accountable.
Valero provided a statement:
“The Valero Benicia Refinery discovered its hydrogen unit vent had trace contaminants. Valero took immediate steps to address the issue and has been working cooperatively with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.”
Yes, despair at Ukrainians’ suffering. But their struggles, and ours, do not end here.
Tough, horrifying, unprecedented times indeed. Especially for Ukraine, but also for the world. But not all is lost.
Through my international development consulting and research, I’ve had sporadic contact with Ukraine and a smattering of its citizens over the years. Here are a few scattered recollections and impressions, followed by some speculation on where we go from here.
Bling and blandness in a newly independent state
First visiting the country in 1996, when it was still a newly independent state in the wake of the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union, I joined a U.S. Government-funded National Democratic Institute (NDI) delegation looking to build contacts with and democracy-oriented training for political party personnel there. I was just an observer, along for the ride to learn about how the NDI operates and to advise it on how to evaluate those operations.
My main memories include a dinner meeting in a swank post-Soviet restaurant, ablaze with bling, at which an NDI official conversed with a party leader through an interpreter. Meanwhile, limited to English, I sat wordlessly across from a bulky, far younger fellow, whom I took to be the leader’s bodyguard. The establishment, a destination for the country’s newly (and in many cases corruptly) enriched elite, was quite the departure from the bland eateries we otherwise frequented on the trip, which were remarkable only for their dismal food and surly service.
I stayed in a sterile, Soviet-style hotel where each floor had an officious matron stationed both to monitor its guests activities and, I suppose as a sideline, offer them young ladies as companions for the evening. (I declined.) I also recall some sleepless nights there, due to the difficulty of obtaining even over-the-counter cough medicine.
Grounds for hope
My other visit, more than a decade later, took me to the capital, Kyiv, for a meeting of legal aid lawyers from former Soviet states and satellites. It was facilitated by the U.N. Development Program and the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI), a branch of the George Soros-funded Open Society Foundations. The purpose was to discuss the attorneys’ progress and problems in setting up programs in societies where the law historically had been a tool of government control and oppression. Though Vladimir Putin was already in charge of Russia and there had been backsliding in some of those other states, there were still signs of progress and grounds for hope in Ukraine and many other nations.
The city was equally experiencing transformation. The changes were from complete and far from ideal, as is the case to this day. But my glimpses of street life offered a far more vibrant environment, with shops, restaurants and other signs of an opening economy in evidence. I stopped by a café with a great view. I was struck by the friendliness of the wait staff, in contrast with the typically dour attitudes of their counterparts from my previous visit, and how that more upbeat approach was far more typical of other Ukrainians I encountered this time around.
Building access to justice
As part of a multi-country consultancy for OSJI a couple of years ago, I had a series of phone conversations/interviews with the nation’s leading legal services attorney. We discussed his nongovernmental group’s work setting up legal aid clinics across the country, with support of both OSJI and (crucially, for long-term sustainability) the country’s government. You never know for sure in such discussions whether you’re getting an honest self-assessment of an organization’s work and impact. But he made a thoughtful case for the accomplishments he’d previously claimed in written reports and for the strategies pursued in getting government buy-in, as well as acknowledging the challenges his organization faced.
More than that, the consultancy reminded me of the progress sometimes achieved in some post-Soviet states and elsewhere, below the level of the headlines, in making life better and more just for some citizens. It offered a glimpse of how, whatever else was going on in Ukraine then, there was cause for cautious optimism in at least certain regards. Access to justice is something many Americans take granted, as flawed as such access admittedly is here. This fellow’s group had been starting to make it a reality for fellow Ukrainians.
Revisiting a nightmare
Early this morning, I received a message from an old friend, an American, whose entrepreneurial son had moved to Kyiv and built a small information technology business there over the past several years. The young man had recently moved the enterprise to the western part of the country, taking a few of his employees with him, on the off chance that a Russian assault would not seize that part of the nation. With those plans now apparently shattered, he’s fled to the Polish border. Last I heard, he was walking toward a NATO checkpoint there. Reluctantly and painfully, he’s had to leave those employees behind.
The irony of this last anecdote is that this old friend and I have discussed and debated no end of issues over the years, not least Soviet intentions toward Western Europe back in the 1970s and whether the Red Army ever could or would invade another country not already under its sway. It’s a topic we’d long since left behind since the Soviet Union’s collapse 30 years ago. To see it revived is like revisiting a nightmare.
Of course, the real nightmare is what Ukraine is going through. Hope has turned to horror. Creation to destruction. And for some today and many to come, life to death.
So where do we go from here, as Putin launches his Great Leap Backward into an era we’d thought we’d seen the end of? The answer partly hinges on why he took this drastic, disastrous step, something we can speculate but not be certain about. To preclude possible (though unlikely) NATO expansion? To crush a neighbor whose potential democratic and economic success could shine a harsh light on his own failures at home? To revive part of the Soviet empire? To nurse his grievances over real or imagined historic harms against Russia? In hopes that, come 2025, he’ll have his toady Trump back in office to remove sanctions against the occupation?
Of perhaps greatest concern, to indulge his own irrational impulses, as a man long assumed to be cold and calculating may instead be revealing a more erratic nature?
Much will of course hinge on how Ukrainians respond to this onslaught. As the United States learned in Iraq, and as both we and Russia learned in Afghanistan, it’s easier to secure a military victory than to maintain domination in the face of resistance. Nearly the size of Texas, with 44 million people, the country may not remain subdued even if the invasion initially crushes opposition.
Putin may control most Russian reporting on Ukraine. But it will be harder to hide soldiers coming back in body bags or without limbs. Given the historical and family ties between the two countries, suppressing bad news may prove all the more difficult. He will pay economic, political and diplomatic prices for this misadventure, which even influential, retired Russian generals had warned against.
In some ways, Putin has already lost. He’s solidified what was a drifting, unmoored NATO, as well as American leadership of the alliance. He’s pushed Ukrainian sentiments even further toward the West, regardless of what a puppet government may say. He’s shredded what remains of his own tattered international credibility. He’s set himself up for many struggles ahead.
Our own struggles
Much will also hinge on what America and our allies do. On balance, Biden is off to a very good start. He’s rallied NATO and other allies, organized sanctions and used intelligence to telegraph Putin’s moves before he’s made them. We may well see various kinds of support for a Ukrainian resistance.
The political fallout for Biden might be severe, given the short-term economic consequences and concerns about global instability. But he also might conceivably be bolstered by the clear line being drawn between himself and the invasion apologists on the Right (and in fairness, on the Left).
And who knows? Perhaps the harsh reality of European reliance on Putin’s oil and gas might add to the already significant arguments against energy dependence on petrostates such as Russia. Maybe it will bolster national security considerations in favor of alternative energy sources, here or abroad. I’m not exactly optimistic, but one can hope.
We also can hope but not yet know for sure how Ukrainians will handle the invasion’s aftermath, whether and to what extent they put up long-term resistance. But right now, their fight can inspire admiration, even as Russian aggression spurs despair.
That inspiration can be for our own fight, here at home, against the fascists and their allies in our midst. Ukraine makes our battle lines clearer than ever. And unlike the Ukrainians, with their freedom, homes, livelihoods and lives on the line, we have the privilege of battling with our advocacy, mobilization, persuasion, donations and votes.
I believe we’re up for it if we accept, like the Ukrainians may, that the fight does not end with one invasion, battle or election. The struggles are ceaseless. The alternative is unacceptable.
Benicia resident Stephen Golub offers excellent perspective on his blog, A Promised Land: Politics. Policy. America as a Developing Country.
To access his other posts or subscribe, please go to his blog site, A Promised Land.