Refinery to pay $345,000 for air quality violations unrelated to recent Hearing Board case
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BENICIA (CBS SF) – The Bay Area Air Quality Management District announced Thursday that they have reached a $345,000 settlement with Valero over violations at its Benicia refinery in 2017.
According to an agency statement, the settlement addresses 17 notices of violations at the facility. Violations include excessive visible emissions, exceeding limits on carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, along with violations on late reporting.
“The hundreds of emissions points at each refinery require regular inspections, monitoring and data review by the Air District,” said Damian Breen, the agency’s senior deputy executive officer of operations/enforcement. “Penalties resulting from that oversight ensure that facilities fix and avoid future air quality violations. This helps to protect public health.”
Agency officials said the violations leading up to the settlement have been corrected.
Thursday’s settlement is unrelated to an abatement order issued against the refinery last week over unreported emissions that the air district was not aware of for years. The air district said that penalties regarding the abatement order have yet to be determined.
By Roger Straw, March 22, 2022
Benicia Mayor Steve Young has been appointed as a member of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) Board of Directors.
The appointment was made by the seven Mayors in Solano County. The seat was vacated when the current representative, Suisun City Mayor Lori Wilson, was elected to the State Assembly and resigned her position as Mayor.
Said Mayor Young “I want to thank my fellow Mayors for their support in making this appointment to the BAAQMD Board. As the only City in Solano County with an oil refinery, it is past time that the City was represented on this important regional board.”
Asked to confirm that Benicia has never had a mayoral seat on the BAAQMD Board, former Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson recalled that some years ago, she was “appointed to the Air District Board but on a technical mistake, and had to turn badge and binder back.” She explained that “the district had miscalculated the population numbers to qualify the county for a city representative.” Later when Solano County qualified, Patterson received “a commitment from Mayor Price of Fairfield, but Solano Supervisor Jim Spering helped Price renege on his commitment, and Vallejo Mayor Osby Davis was appointed.” Patterson’s recollection is that Davis’ attendance on the Board was minimal. More recently, Patterson sought to be appointed again, but Mayor Lori Wilson of Suisun City was appointed.
Solano County currently has two of the 23 seats on the BAAQMD Board. Solano’s mayoral representative is chosen by the seven mayors in the county. The Solano County Board of Supervisors has its own representative, currently Supervisor Erin Hannigan of Vallejo District 1.
Young’s appointment will be official when sworn in by the Board at their next meeting on April 6.
Mayor Young will also be taking a seat on the Executive Committee of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission/Association of Bay Area Governments (MTC/ABAG).
Benicia Patch, March 4, 2022
BENICIA, CA — Representatives from Valero and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District appeared in front of the Benicia City Council Tuesday night after revelations were made known that the refinery was emitting harmful, excessive levels of hazardous chemicals for nearly 16 years before BAAQMD said it became aware of them.
The council and community members also grilled BAAQMD for failing to notify the city of Benicia as soon as it found out about the emissions in 2018. Benicia’s mayor and other city leaders said they were not informed of the problem until two months ago.
BAAQMD began its PowerPoint presentation to the council with an image of Valero’s byzantine system of pipes, storage tanks, chimneys, towers, vents and smokestacks with a red arrow pointing down to one of them. Under the arrow stood a slim, vertical pipe emitting smoke that the air district claims it had thought was merely a steam vent. As it turned out, the innocuous vent had been emitting pollutants at hundreds of times the daily limit since 2003.
According to BAAQMD, Valero had been releasing benzene, ethylbenzene, and other organic compounds considered hazardous. District rules set a cap on such emissions at 15 pounds per day and a maximum of 300 parts per million. What the district discovered was that Valero had been emitting an average of 5,200 pounds per day and 19,148 parts per million.
The presentation given to council was an attempt of the air district to “be more transparent,” something they say they are committed to in the wake of the revelations.
“We should have done better and we should have done better sooner,” said Damian Breen, BAAQMD’s senior deputy executive officer of operations.
Joshua Tulino, general manager of Benicia’s Valero refinery, told the council and community that they, too, were unaware of the emissions until 2018 and “immediately” administered piping modifications that solved 71 percent of the hydrocarbon emission issues. He also said that since then, Valero has reduced the emissions by 98 percent.
Tulino maintained that informing the community about dangerous emissions is an “obligation” they take seriously but that “this source of emissions did not fall into that category.”
Tulino added that they were not aware that the vent was a source that needed to be monitored.
Benicia Mayor Steve Young asked Breen why the air district didn’t release the information it had gathered as soon as it found out and questioned how they could identify toxic releases and not share information with the city.
Breen said Solano County and “hazmat” officials were notified, but that they “should have done better” about notifying Benicia.
“That’s why you see us changing our policies here.”
The changes Breen referenced are holding more public hearings when violations occur, increasing transparency, keeping communities better informed, and monitoring refineries “better.”
As part of this effort, BAAQMD will be holding a March 15 public hearing about these Valero violations. The air district will also be installing a remote air monitoring station in Benicia near the Fire Museum at 900 East Second Street, a move that councilmembers unanimously accepted Tuesday.