Mayor Patterson: Air monitors and public health – Council agenda for Tuesday

From an E-Alert by Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson

Much more than fence-line air monitors…

Monday, November 19, 2018

Elizabeth Patterson, Benicia Mayor 2007 - present
Elizabeth Patterson, Benicia Mayor 2007 – present

The regular council meeting will be at 7:00 and the agenda and staff reports and recommendations are online here.

The main item of interest is the “report” to Council about progress on installation of air monitors by Valero.  The report came about because of the request by the Industrial Safety Ordinance working group – a citizens’ steering committee which researched and developed a draft Industrial Safety Ordinance in response to the near catastrophic melt down of Valero Refinery in May of 2017 and subsequent plumes of black smoke.

The request to the city council was – and is – to have an outside subject matter expert with legal skills to review the proposed ISO and determine its legal sufficiency and report to the council.  For some reason staff does not make this clear but rather states that it is a vote up or down on the ordinance. This is incorrect.

The request to have an expert opinion report on the need, adequacy and value of the Industrial Safety Ordinance is meant to have a neutral party report to council.  I made a request for considering the ordinance in May of 2017 and soon realized that this would not be addressed quickly.  Therefore, I advised the Benicians for Safe and Healthy Community and thus they took the initiative to research, interview, have an expert panel discussion and draft the ordinance.  Naturally, this was done to expedite the process.  The small step of seeking outside advice on the draft Ordinance was voted down by the council majority.

A couple of common objections to the Industrial Safety Ordinance are:

  1. An ISO is not necessary now that the state has adopted many of the Contra Costa County ISO regulations.  It should be noted that none of the cities or county have rescinded their ordinance because they still find it meets specific needs and is subject to better reporting to local government.
  2. Now that the fence-line monitors are in place there is no need for the ISO because the county’s Program 4 suffices.  Actually this is a requirement of the state to coordinate state and local regulations and is incorporated by reference into the draft ISO.  The county does not have regulatory authority, but rather coordinates.  For instance, the county reports on inspections and status of required reports.  The coordination with local government to date has been a booth at the 2018 Peddlers’s Fair.  CalEPA requires a full public participation program for the community air monitor(s) to be implemented.  Neither the community air monitor nor the public participation program has been done.

In short the proposed Industrial Safety Ordinance is much more than fence-line monitors at the refinery or portable emergency air monitors.  It is providing a seat at the table participating with the county and state regulators and the regulated industries.  It is a guarantee to get reports and posting them on city website rather than chasing down reports at the county or state and often with broken links.  It is a fee structure to pay for continuous staff level of engagement rather than driven by budget constraints.  It is memorializing our affirmative duty to protect public health.  It establishes a collaborative relationship with regulators and the regulated refinery and not a co-dependent relationship.

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