All posts by Roger Straw

Editor, owner, publisher of The Benicia Independent

Now YOU can help monitor the air in Benicia and the Bay Area!

With major input from Benicia and area activists and experts, Air Watch Bay Area is now up and running…

Press Release, Wednesday, August 9, 2017
[Contact listing at end]

Air Watch Bay Area launches new digital platform for reporting and investigating oil refinery pollution

Staying informed about what’s in the air is a priority for Bay Area residents living near the region’s five oil refineries. As we mark the five-year anniversary of the Chevron Richmond refinery fire, a new suite of digital tools designed to reveal and act on air pollution is now live at: http://airwatchbayarea.org/. The Air Watch Bay Area website and reporting app (available for Android or iOS) build on and extend residents’ successful activism for real-time air monitoring for many of the region’s frontline communities (Richmond, Rodeo, Crockett and Benicia). The website and app enable users to:

  1. Report air pollution — rate smells, upload photos, and describe symptoms;
  2. See pollution reports in context, alongside chemical levels, wind direction, and reports from other community members;
  3. View the history of chemical levels measured by fenceline and community monitors;
  4. Contribute to an independent community database of incidents, while also submitting reports to regulatory authorities at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD);
  5. Connect with community organizations and resources to advocate for cleaner air, particularly in frontline communities;
  6. Grow the community of people engaged with Bay Area air quality and environmental justice advocacy.

Frontline community residents, in collaboration with the Fair Tech Collective at Drexel University and the Community Robotics, Education, and Technology Empowerment Lab (CREATE Lab) at Carnegie Mellon University, helped to develop these tools — to build capacity for broadened civic engagement with air quality. “Air Watch Bay Area builds on a community of people who are dedicated to refinery air quality vigilance and for the first time shows the Big Picture of all the refineries in the Bay Area,” according to Constance Beutel of the Benicia Good Neighbor Steering Committee.

Exposing oil refineries to public scrutiny
In a region where many are committed to environmental sustainability and health, local oil refineries too often operate beyond public scrutiny. Air Watch Bay Area helps expose refineries to scrutiny by highlighting air pollution data across frontline communities in Richmond, Crockett, Rodeo, and Benicia. As fenceline monitoring requirements recently adopted by BAAQMD come into force, the site will expand to include data from Martinez, where neither Shell nor Tesoro currently have fenceline monitoring programs, as well as additional data from other communities.

Air Watch Bay Area features residents’ own pollution reports alongside both historical and real-time air quality data, made available through successful environmental justice advocacy. The site is the first to present such archival air quality data, which are necessary to help residents “connect the dots” between chemical levels in ambient air and health issues that may not appear until hours or days after exposure. Residents from all refinery communities can make pollution reports, adding to available air pollution data even where monitoring is not being conducted.

Holding regulators & public officials accountable to public health, environmental justice
Ultimately, Air Watch Bay Area’s digital tools offer Bay Area residents new levers for holding regulators and elected officials accountable to public health, environmental justice, and sustainability. “Often when citizens file air pollution complaints, the information seems to drop into a black hole. The ability for fenceline communities to archive their complaints is key to holding refineries and regulatory agencies accountable,” stated Nancy Rieser of Crockett-Rodeo United to Defend the Environment (C.R.U.D.E.).

When people report odors or photos to Air Watch Bay Area, they contribute to a publicly visible “paper trail” of incidents. This public paper trail, alongside individuals’ direct reports to BAAQMD, helps Bay Area residents advocate for cleaner air. It helps foster community empowerment and ownership of data, to address persistent air quality problems. “This site will be an important tool for anyone researching and evaluating refinery emissions that endanger health in our community,” said Rieser.

New data stories: Giving monitoring “teeth”
“Air monitoring has become a popular answer to the environmental health concerns of frontline communities. Just look at the state of California’s recent move to increase community air monitoring while undercutting environmental justice groups’ calls for caps on refinery emissions [in AB 617 and 398],” says Dr. Gwen Ottinger, Drexel University professor and principal investigator on the National Science Foundation grant that funded the creation of Air Watch Bay Area. “The problem with that approach is that monitoring in isolation is toothless.”

For monitoring to really have an impact, communities need to be able to leverage air quality data while challenging “upstream” causes of emissions. According to East Bay resident Cheryl Holzmeyer, a research and outreach associate of the Air Watch Bay Area project, “It’s crucial that air monitoring go hand-in-hand with efforts to cap emissions and prevent the refining of tar sands and heavy crude oil at Bay Area refineries. Decision-makers need to embrace new data stories — bridging people’s lived experiences of health and illness, refinery emissions levels, oil feedstock quality, and alternative visions of just transitions away from fossil fuel dependency.” By making historical data accessible and bringing people’s experiences into the picture through online pollution reporting, Air Watch Bay Area’s digital tools offer new ways to contribute to such stories.

Please look for us at these upcoming events:

● August 12th, 12-3pm: Our Power Festival, Nicholl Park, Richmond
● August 24th and 31st, 4-7pm: Benicia Farmers Markets
● September 5th, 7pm: Benicia City Council Meeting
● September 6th, 7pm: Benicia Community Meeting at Ruszel Woodworks
● September 14th, 4-6pm: Benicia Farmers Market
● September 19th, 7pm and 26th, 6pm: Benicia City Council Meetings
More events on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/AirWatchBayArea/


Contacts:
Constance Beutel (Benicia Good Neighbor Steering Committee) 707-742-4419
Kathy Kerridge (Benicia Good Neighbor Steering Committee) 707-816-2401
Nancy Rieser, Crockett-Rodeo United to Defend the Environment (C.R.U.D.E.) 510-322-1459
Jay Gunkelman (Vallejo) 707-654-8899
Cheryl Holzmeyer, Fair Tech Collective, Drexel University 510-417-9348
Gwen Ottinger, Fair Tech Collective, Drexel University 610-608-2146

Please share!

Environmental Integrity Project: Trump lowers fines on polluters

Repost from the New York Times

WASHINGTON — Fines for illegal pollution have plummeted under President Donald Trump, according to analysis by an environmental advocacy group.

The Environmental Integrity Project looked at that civil penalties paid by polluters during the first six months under Trump. The group published an analysis Thursday that found penalties were less than half their levels under each of the past three presidents.

The analysis found that Trump’s Justice Department settled 26 civil cases against companies over environmental violations, totaling $12 million in penalties. That’s a 60 percent drop on average from comparable time periods under presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush or Bill Clinton, even before adjustments for inflation.

Besides reaching fewer settlements, the group said, environmental offenders also were required to perform less cleanup under Trump and make smaller reductions to future pollution.

A spokesman for the Justice Department said Thursday it continues to “vigorously enforce” environmental laws.

The report’s authors cautioned that six months represent only an eighth of a presidential term but said the early news is neither encouraging nor surprising. Trump and his Environmental Enforcement Agency chief, Scott Pruitt, have complained that federal regulations are often too onerous and stifle the growth of American businesses.

“President Trump campaigned on a promise of ‘law and order,’ but apparently law enforcement for big polluters is not what he had in mind,” Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project, said in a statement. He previously served as director of EPA’s civil enforcement office under both Clinton and Bush.

“If this drop-off in environmental enforcement continues, it will leave more people breathing more air pollution or swimming in waterways with more waste,” Schaeffer said.

Under the first six months under Obama, the Justice Department brought 34 civil cases for violations of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and other federal environmental laws, with polluters agreeing to pay $36 million in penalties. Bush logged 31 cases with $30 million in penalties, while Clinton accounted for 45 cases with $25 million in penalties.

The group did not include settlements for pollution cleanups agreed to as part of the federal Superfund program, cases that can often drag on for decades.

The comparison between presidential administrations is more stark when figures are adjusted for inflation. For example, the $25 million in civil penalties under Clinton in the first half of 1992 would equal more than $43.5 million in today’s dollars.

The Justice Department did not dispute the study’s numbers, but a spokesman said figures for civil penalties do not tell the full story because they do not include fines from criminal prosecutions.

“The department continues to vigorously enforce environmental laws to better protect the American people,” said Mark Abueg, a public affairs specialist at Justice. “For example, in just the last six months, (we) filed major new Clean Air Act litigation and obtained a $40 million criminal penalty in a vessel pollution case that safeguards the environment.”

The $40 million fine Abueg cited was finalized in April as part of the sentencing of Princess Cruise Lines over the illegal dumping and concealment of oil-contaminated waste from its ships. However, the settlement, the largest ever in such a case, was actually negotiated under the Obama administration and announced in December — the month before Trump took office — as part of the company’s guilty plea to felony crimes in federal court.

Please share!

San Francisco Chronicle: Alarming climate reports

The SF Chronicle has published several reports in the last two days on the reality of severe climate change.   See below.  I’ve added direct links to the government reports.  – RS

August 10, 2017 | While the study, recognized as the U.S. government’s most comprehensive look at climate, identified varying levels of turbulence across the globe, few spots were immune to the impacts of climate change – and … (more)
[See State of the Climate report, published 8/10/17 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration]

US scientists contradict Trump’s climate claims

August 9, 2017| “Evidence for a changing climate abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans.”    (more)
[Read the 669-page leaked report and the New York Times article.]

Federal report sees human-caused changes to California’s climate

August 8, 2017| The fourth National Climate Assessment, a federal synthesis of climate science required every four years by law, says temperatures have risen rapidly since the last report was published in 2014.  The climate …  (more)
[Read the full 669-page leaked report here.]

Editorial: Trump should accept not suppress a sweeping report on climate change

August 8, 2017| Climate change isn’t uncertain, short lived or tied to whimsical weather. It’s real and happening now with rising temperatures the main effect, according to a top-drawer report compiled by 13 federal agencies.
The study confirms …  (more)

Please share!