Chevron fined for air pollution at Richmond refinery
By Kurtis Alexander, August 11, 2015 2:42 pm
Chevron has agreed to pay $146,000 in fines for spewing pollutants into the air at its refinery in Richmond, air quality regulators said Tuesday.
The penalty stems from 22 citations from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District mostly for discharging unhealthy levels of hydrogen sulfide and other harmful compounds through flaring, the process of burning off excess gas, common at industrial sites.
The refinery was also cited for excess carbon monoxide coming out of its furnace.
“Even though the incidents were minor and did not result in any significant impacts to people or the environment, we take these matters seriously, and have taken preventative measures to avoid similar situations from occurring in the future,” said Leah Casey, a spokeswoman for Chevron Corp., in an e-mail to The Chronicle.
The notices of violation were sent to Chevron between 2012 and 2014. The fines will support the air district’s enforcement work.
By C.W. Nevius and Peter Fimrite , August 6, 2015 12:54 PM
CLEARLAKE, Lake County — The imminent danger from the devastating Rocky Fire in Lake County diminished Thursday and hundreds of residents began to return to their evacuated homes, but Gov. Jerry Brown made clear in a visit to the area that California is still in danger.
Brown traveled to the scorched hillside at Cowboy Camp, just off fire-ravaged Highway 20, and, as helicopters circled nearby, said the fire illustrates that climate change is both real and destructive.
“California is burning,” he said. “What the hell are you going to do about it?
“This is a wake-up call. We have to start coming to our senses. This is not a game of politics. We need to limit our carbon pollution. These are real lives and real people. This problem cannot be solved year by year.”
Nearly 3,600 firefighters have been fighting the fire, which was 45 percent contained Thursday and had burned 69,600 acres. Full containment is expected by late next week, but the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection began letting roughly 800 of the more than 1,400 people who had been evacuated back into their homes.
Evacuation orders were lifted in the Wilbur Springs area on the northeastern side of the fire, off Highway 20. Only residents with identification will be allowed access to Wilbur Springs Road, near the border between Lake and Colusa counties, Cal Fire officials said. Residents on the south side of the fire, east of Highway 29 to West Jerusalem Valley Road, were also allowed to return home, officials said.
Still more evacuees, forced from their homes in the Spring Valley area, would probably be allowed back Friday morning, officials said.
Highways 16 and 20 remained closed Thursday except for a small portion of Highway 20 at Wilbur Springs, which is accessible only coming from the east off Interstate 5, officials said.
“Weather conditions across California are significantly improved compared to last week,” said Daniel Berlant, Cal Fire spokesman, who warned that the relief could be just a temporary phenomenon. He said weather forecasters are “expecting changing weather conditions over the next couple of days, with thunder systems moving in across Northern California.”
Red-flag warnings have been issued for dry lightning and gusting winds over the next couple of days, he said.
Brown received a briefing from officials overseeing the blaze, which has been burning for more than a week in Lake County and has spread to Yolo and Colusa counties. Forty-three homes have been destroyed and thousands of others threatened, and hundreds of local residents remained evacuated from their homes Thursday, according to Cal Fire.
While veteran firefighters said their efforts were business as usual, many stressed that this year’s blazes are out of the norm. The persistent drought, extremely hot weather and blustery winds all have the feel of something new and more dangerous.
“We are now in an extreme weather event,” Brown cautioned. “This is not the way these fires usually behave. If it continues year after year, California can literally burn up.”
Brown said he had talked to a resident who said he not only lost his home but also would find it difficult to rebuild because he had no insurance. Apparently, that’s not unusual. Insurance carriers sometimes decline to cover property in the steep, wooded canyons in the area.
The Rocky Fire is so pervasive that the Bay Area Air Quality Management District warned Thursday that smoke from the wildfires might impact areas in Marin, Napa, Sonoma and Solano counties. Air quality, however, is expected to be in the “good” or “low moderate” categories and is not expected to exceed air quality health standards.
Although climate change can be a hot-button political issue, Brown continues to use the California fires as an object lesson for climate change deniers. This isn’t theory, he said, gesturing to the moonscape scene behind him.
“This is credible enough to change some minds,” he said.
Mark Repetto, a firefighter from Sacramento’s Metro Fire Department, said the fire was a perfect storm of the worst conditions.
“Hot, dry and windy,” Repetto said. “Today is a little cooler, which means the humidity is higher. Monday the humidity was in the teens. That and hot weather pre-heat the fuel. It’s already hot before the fire gets there.”
Surge still possible
Although fire officials predict the Rocky Fire will be fully contained by next week, another hot, windy, low-humidity day could easily spark another fiery surge. Along Highway 20, hot spots still sent up plumes of smoke.
Brown said the worst is yet to come.
“We have people acting like (if the Rocky Fire is contained) it’s the end,” he said. “Unfortunately, we know that historically August and September are worse than July. So fasten your seat belt.”
Over the weekend, Cal Fire reported more than 100 dry-lightning-sparked fires in remote reaches of Northern California. In Humboldt County alone, 75 blazes have burned more than 4,000 acres since July 31, with just 35 percent containment reported Thursday.
The cause of the Rocky Fire has not been determined. Fire officials fear lightning could prompt additional lands to burn and complicate the suppression effort.
Conditions around California are ripe for a lightning fire after four dry years, said Daniel Swain, a Stanford University researcher studying climate.
“Things will ignite even if they get a little water from the storm,” Swain said. “This is a concern over the next 48 hours.”
San Francisco Chronicle staff writers Hamed Aleaziz and Kurtis Alexander contributed to this report. C.W. Nevius and Peter Fimrite are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers.
Pittsburg: Suit claims EPA failed to investigate complaints of environmental discrimination
By Bay City News Service, 07/21/2015 09:43:40 AM PDT
PITTSBURG – A consortium of environmental groups sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for failing to investigate complaints of discrimination in the placement of power plants or hazardous waste dumps in various locations across the country, including two power plants in Pittsburg.
The EPA has 180 days to respond to the complaints, but according to the suit, which was filed on July 15, the federal regulator has not responded to the complaints in 10 to 20 years in some cases.
The suit includes allegations about facilities in Michigan, Texas, New Mexico, Alabama and California.
In Pittsburg, the suit alleges that the local regulatory agencies — the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the California Air Resources Board, and the California Energy Commission — discriminated against residents by locating two power plants in an already environmentally over-burdened area, according to Marianne Engelman Lado, a lawyer with Earthjustice, which is representing the plaintiffs.
“This is in a community where people have high rates of asthma or cancer and they were concerned that these plants would add to that,” Engelman Lado said.
Californians for Renewable Energy, or CARE, filed a complaint with the EPA’s Office of Civil Rights in April 2000 charging the local agencies discriminated against the predominantly nonwhite and low-income residents by failing to consider the additional environmental burden of the two new plants, the complaint alleges.
Permitting for the plants, the Los Medanos Energy Center LLC and Delta Energy Center, continued and the plants were approved and went online in 2001 and 2002, respectively, according to the complaint. The EPA accepted the complaint in December 2001 but has yet to conduct an investigation into the allegations, despite attempts in 2006 and 2009 by CARE to prompt the federal agency to respond, the complaint alleges.
In June 2002, the EPA classified Los Medanos Energy Center as being in “significant violation” of the Clean Air Act and over the last five years the facility has had to pay over $3,000 in fines for violating the act, according to the complaint.
In the meantime, residents have been suffering the consequences, Engelman Lado said.
“The plants are still standing and they’re polluting,” she said. “They’re emitting toxins and the community is living with that everyday.”
Engelman Lado said it’s clear the EPA has violated the law, and she’s hoping the lawsuit will result in the EPA completing their investigation.
Engelman Lado added she’s confident that when the EPA does complete the investigation, it will make findings of discrimination.
“We would hope, whether through a court order or by sitting down at the table, we could bring resources to bear to say, ‘What can we do to help these communities who are suffering from a lack of infrastructure or resources,'” she said.
That could take the form of more monitoring, infrastructure to mitigate some of the negative impacts of the power plants, or more extensive buffers between the community and the plants.
A representative from the EPA did not return a request for comment.
Repost from the Contra Costa Times [Editor: It takes the Air District over 3 years to “settle” with Valero for polluting our air? In the past City officials have asked that these kinds of fines be redirected to the communities where the violations occur. My understanding is that BAAQMD Executive Officer Jack Broadbent indicated he would consider it, but never took any action. Seems the Air District wants to continue to use the fines for their own operations: “The penalty money will be used to fund air district inspections and enforcement actions.” – RS]
Valero refinery in Benicia to pay $122,500 in air pollution penalties
By Denis Cuff, 06/25/2015 12:49:50 PM PDT
BENICIA — The Valero oil refinery has agreed to pay $122,500 in civil penalties for air pollution violations during 2011, clean air regulators announced Thursday.
The settlement between Valero and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District covers 25 notices of violations, including one over odors at the refinery wastewater treatment plant.
Another 14 violations concerned excessive pollution detected by monitors at the Benicia plant, officials said.
“Violations of air quality regulations, no mater how minor, must be addressed and refineries held accountable,” Jack Broadbent, the air pollution district chief, said.
The penalty money will be used to fund air district inspections and enforcement actions.
The air district regulates stationary air pollution sources in the nine Bay Area counties.