Tag Archives: Benicia Mayor Steve Young

Valero hit with $1.2 million penalty for toxic flaring in Benicia

[BenIndy Contributor Nathalie Christian – Texas-based Valero raked in about $11.5B of profit in 2022 — and that’s pure profit. While this fine represents progress, it also represents less than 1 hour of Valero’s 2022 profits. That’s right — in 2022, Valero made more than $1M just in profit per hour, 24 hours a day, for 365 days (Valero doesn’t stop profiting just because it’s a holiday or weekend). It’s clear Valero treats fines like these as fees; they represent just another minor cost of doing business in Benicia. Examples of fines from recent years: Valero Benicia Refinery was fined $266,000 in 2018, $122,500 in 2016  and $183,000 in 2014. It is rare for fines like these to actually financially benefit Benicia. The full text of the EPA News Release is available below this article from the Chronicle.– N.C.] 

U.S. EPA hits Valero’s oil refinery in Benicia with $1.2 million penalty for two toxic flaring incidents

San Francisco Chronicle, by Julie Johnson, April 5, 2023

A picture of Valero's Benicia Refinery
Incidents at the Valero refinery in Benicia in 2017 and 2019 forced people to shelter in place because of the risk of exposure to harmful chemicals, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (Samantha Laurey/The Chronicle 2022)

Oil refining giant Valero must pay a $1.2 million penalty for major flaring incidents at its Benicia facility that spewed dark plumes of pollutants into neighborhoods, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday.

The “significant chemical incidents” occurred in 2017 and 2019 and forced people, including schoolchildren, to shelter in place because of the risk of exposure to harmful chemicals, according to the agency.

Following a federal investigation, Valero executives agreed to make specific changes to their Benicia operations and pay a penalty totaling $1,224,550 in a settlement reached with the EPA. Martha Guzman, regional administrator for the EPA in California, Nevada and New Mexico, said the changes will help protect Valero workers, Benicia residents and the environment.

The EPA’s announcement is the latest investigation into problems at the Bay Area’s oil refineries. Earlier this year, health officials in Contra Costa County warned people living near the Martinez Refinery run by PBF Energy to avoid eating foods grown in surrounding neighborhoods, four months after the facility sent 20 tons of dust into the community that coated cars, homes and backyards in a mysterious fine white powder.

Last year, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District announced it had found Valero had been releasing unlawful and potentially harmful amounts of hydrocarbons from its hydrogen stacks — undetected — from 2003 to 2019. Valero said it also hadn’t detected the releases and took steps to end them.

On Wednesday, Valero didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment about the federal fines.

Benicia Mayor Steve Young said the city wasn’t notified by the EPA about its investigation or the findings. The city has been pushing for greater transparency from oil refineries and the agencies that oversee them, especially after finding out last year that local air-quality regulators failed to tell the community about harmful releases until three years after the problems were discovered.

“We have concerns that we’re being left in the dark and only find out well after the fact,” Young said.

Oil refineries sometimes burn off flammable gases through tall stacks to keep careful equilibrium within pipes and other equipment and avoid disasters like explosions. But flaring is a highly regulated activity meant to be used sparingly because of the risks those burned gases and other pollutants pose to people nearby.

One major pollutant generated by these flares is sulfur dioxide, which can harm human respiratory tracts, exacerbating problems like asthma, and worsen pollution from particulate matter and acid rain.

On May 5, 2017, Valero stacks began shooting flames and churning out dark plumes of pollutants when the facility unexpectedly lost power. The emissions coated cars in an oily substance and sent employees at a nearby musical instrument factory to the emergency room, according to the EPA. More than 1,000 people were evacuated, including staff and students at both Robert Semple and Matthew Turner elementary schools. Ultimately, more than 10,000 pounds of flammable materials and 74,420 pounds of sulfur dioxide were released from the facility, according to the EPA.

Valero reported the flaring caused more than $10 million in damage to its facility, according to EPA records. The company later sued Pacific Gas and Electric Co. for the outage.

Then on March 11, 2019, another flaring incident led Solano County health officials to warn residents with respiratory issues to stay indoors. Some businesses sheltered in place. An investigation revealed more than 15,000 pounds of sulfur dioxide were released.

The EPA inspected the facility following both incidents and in 2019 found “several” cases where the company was violating the law.

“Valero failed to immediately report releases of hazardous substances, update certain process safety information, adequately analyze certain process hazards, and develop and implement certain written operating procedures,” the EPA said.

The agency found the company had violated the federal Clean Air Act’s regulations for preventing chemical accidents.

Valero is based in San Antonio and operates 15 petroleum facilities in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.

In a press release, Larry Starfield, with the EPA’s enforcement division, said the settlement “sends a clear message that EPA will prosecute companies that fail to expend the resources needed to have a compliant, well-functioning Risk Management Plan to the fullest extent of the law.”

Reach Julie Johnson: julie.johnson@sfchronicle.com; Twitter: @juliejohnson


Letterhead image for Environmental Protection Agency Newsroom

EPA Orders Valero Refining to Improve Chemical Safety at Benicia, CA Refinery

Settlement Also Requires Company to Pay $1.2 Million Penalty for Clean Air Act Violations

SAN FRANCISCO (April 5, 2023) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a settlement with Valero Refining-California to resolve violations of the Clean Air Act’s Chemical Accident Prevention regulations at their Benicia Refinery. The company will pay a $1,224,550 penalty and make changes to improve process safety at the refinery.

“This settlement sends a clear message that EPA will prosecute companies that fail to expend the resources needed to have a compliant, well-functioning Risk Management Plan to the fullest extent of the law,” said Acting Assistant Administrator Larry Starfield for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.

“Failure to properly manage hazardous materials can pose serious risks to our California communities,” said Martha Guzman, Regional Administrator of EPA Region 9. “This settlement will help protect Valero workers, the Benicia community, and the environment more broadly.”

After significant chemical incidents at the Benicia Refinery in 2017 and 2019, a 2019 EPA inspection at the facility identified several areas of noncompliance, including that Valero failed to immediately report releases of hazardous substances, update certain process safety information, adequately analyze certain process hazards, and develop and implement certain written operating procedures.

Under the terms of the settlement, Valero has agreed to make significant chemical safety improvements at the Benicia Refinery. The company has already made several of these changes, related to chemical safety, in response to EPA’s inspection. These improvements include updating and modifying process hazard analyses, modifying operating procedures, modifying reporting policies, and improving employee training. The settlement also requires Valero to modify several pressure-relief valves and update process hazard analyses to consider hazards of power loss at the facility. As part of the settlement, Valero will continue to implement safety improvements through June 2025.

The Benicia Refinery is one of thousands of facilities nationwide that make, use, and store extremely hazardous substances. Reducing the risk of accidental releases at industrial and chemical facilities like the Benicia Refinery is one of EPA’s National Enforcement and Compliance Initiatives. Catastrophic accidents at these facilities can result in death or serious injuries; impacts to the community, including orders to evacuate or shelter-in-place; and other harm to human health and the environment. The Clean Air Act requires that industrial and chemical facilities that store large amounts of hazardous substances develop and implement a Risk Management Plan to reduce the risk of accidental releases.

For more information on the Clean Air Act’s Risk Management Plan Program, please visit EPA’s Risk Management Program (RMP) Rule webpage.

For more information on reporting possible violations of environmental laws and regulations visit EPA’s enforcement reporting website.


Benicia Mayor Steve Young on the record, Part 2

Stephen Golub Interview with Mayor Steve Young (continued)

By Stephen Golub, March, 2023 (About Steve Golub). Previously appearing in the Benicia Herald, no online presence.

INTERVIEW PART 2 (See also Interview, Part 1)

SG: Benicia recently wrapped up a sometimes contentious process of finalizing and then submitting housing plans to the state, as mandated by state law. What would you like Benicians who haven’t followed the issue closely to better understand about the process and results?

Benicia Mayor Steve Young About Mayor Young.

SY: The State has passed a variety of laws recently addressing the housing shortage that is directly tied to things like homelessness, housing affordability, and climate change (through longer commutes as people cannot find housing near jobs). The state has identified the resistance to new housing in suburban locales such as Benicia as being a real problem and have put strict accountability on cities to plan for new housing across income levels and throughout the community. That is what we have attempted to do through the Housing Element process.

Benicia author Stephen Golub. About Steve below.

SG: Are there any lessons learned from that process? Anything you think could have been done differently, including how this experience might inform future city planning?

SY: We might have been able to start the process earlier and had more time to consider the relative benefits of different sites. With 25% of the City consisting of open space, and all of it off limits to development, our choices were constrained.

SG: Back to Valero: In recent years, Valero has put hundreds of thousands of dollars into political action committees, seeking to influence Benicia’s city council and mayoral elections. What are your thoughts on this? 

SY: I have consistently fought against their outsized involvement in our elections. There is NO place for corporate or union involvement in local elections, and the Supreme Court’s Citizen United ruling was a terrible one, opening the door to this type of unregulated political spending. Instead of spending hundreds of thousands in each election, and turning much of the community against Valero’s candidates of choice, those dollars could have been spent in so many more productive ways. Hopefully, after the last two elections, they will come to the same conclusion. But I am not holding my breath. This is a fight that, sadly, will probably go on every two years.

SG: More generally, what should the city’s relationship with Valero be? How might we plan to adjust to eventual changes in or cessation of its refinery’s operations, especially in view of climate change, pollution, health or economic factors? 

SY: Valero remains the most important company in town, and the largest employer and taxpayer. Since my election, I have been having monthly one on one meetings with their general manager to discuss issues of mutual concern like a possible water reuse project in place of selling them 60% of our raw water. Other topics regularly covered include air monitoring and how they can improve their reporting to the City and community about unplanned flaring and other similar incidents.

SG: Is it time to reconsider an Industrial Safety Ordinance, which the City Council voted down 3-2 in 2018? Do you feel it might strengthen the city’s hand in dealing with issues such as the refinery’s 15 years of undisclosed toxic emissions, which we only learned of last year, or the recent reports of foul odor in certain neighborhoods, including those close to the refinery?

SY: I would want to see that a new ISO would be additive in value. Valero is already highly regulated,  a fact I am becoming increasingly aware of through my service on the board of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD). However, BAAQMD can also do a better job as was demonstrated by the egregious, unreported 15 year release of toxic gases by Valero and the four year delay in BAAQMD reporting the issue to the City. But there has been an ISO in Contra Costa County for many years covering the other four Bay Area refineries, and it seems to be working well and effectively without significant pushback from the refineries.

SG: Back to climate change. As a waterside community, Benicia stands to be affected. What plans or actions might the city government initiate to adjust to this reality?

SY: There is no stopping the effects of climate change short of a major decrease in the use of fossil fuels. One of the more immediate effects will be on rising waters which will continue to threaten our wastewater treatment plant, marina, and downtown. And a climate change caused drought has not gone away despite a wet winter. We need to secure our water future, and it can be done with a water reuse project to use recycled waste water for Valero’s industrial purposes while saving our drinking water. If we can pull this off, we can become self sufficient in water.

SG: Like any community, Benicia is not immune to racial justice challenges and related concerns. What is the city doing to address such matters? What else might it do?

SY: Benicia was the first city in Solano County to hire a part time diversity officer and form an advisory group (CURE) to address issues of equity and diversity within the City. as well as addressing community wide concerns like the La Migra “game” held annually at the High School. The Library has also been holding a number of lectures and programs on this topic.

SG: What major challenges do you see Benicia facing in the years to come, above and beyond those we’ve already covered?

SY: How to pay for existing services in a period of high inflation with flat revenues, and how to retain and recruit excellent staff if our salaries are not competitive.

With the departure of Erik Upson, Benicia needs a new City Manager. What is the process for replacing him?

Given the short notice we got about Erik’s retirement, we moved quickly to interview four highly qualified internal candidates before selecting Mario Giuliani to be the interim City Manager. We are hopeful/confident Mario can prove up to the many challenges facing a City Manager and we will be able to remove the interim tag later this year.

SG: I understand that the brush-munching goats are back! Or they soon will be. What is your opinion on the goats? How do folks find out whether and when the goats might come to their neighborhoods?

SY: I, and most all Benicians, love the goats. They are so popular, in fact, that they are becoming more expensive and harder to schedule. Check with the Fire Department for specific information on their locations.

SG: You recently had a rather bad bike accident. Are there any lessons or advice you’d like to share with fellow cyclists?

SY: Follow the rules of the road (I wasn’t), don’t speed and bike carelessly (I was), and always wear a helmet (thankfully, I was). I was very fortunate that my injury was not much worse.

SG: Thanks very much.


Stephen Golub, Benicia – A Promised Land: Politics. Policy. America as a Developing Country.

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.

Benicia Mayor Steve Young on the record…

Stephen Golub Interview with Mayor Steve Young

By Stephen Golub, March, 2023 (About Steve Golub). Previously appearing in the Benicia Herald, no online presence.

INTERVIEW PART 1   (…and when you’re done, here’s Part 2)

SG: Where are you from, originally?

Benicia Mayor Steve Young More about Mayor Young.

SY: I grew up in Burbank, in the San Fernando Valley.

SG: What kind of work have you mainly done during your career?

SY: I managed a variety of local government programs in the fields of affordable housing, neighborhood improvement and military base conversion in California and Virginia.

Benicia author Stephen Golub. More about Steve below.

SG: I understand that some time ago you and your family lived in Costa Rica. Could you say something about why you moved there, what you did while there, and why you returned to the United States?

SY: We moved to Costa Rica primarily to give our daughter the experience of going to high school in a foreign country, living in a different culture, and learning a new language; while we spent time exploring all of the beautiful country as well as some of the rest of Central America, much time was spent trying to become established as residents and becoming comfortable with the uniqueness of the country. We returned after four years when my daughter entered college in the US and to help care for my aging parents.

SG: When and why did you first move to Benicia?

SY: We moved to Benicia in 2012; we fell for it for the same reasons most do: small town, waterfront setting, open and friendly people.

SG: I believe that your first major involvement with Benicia’s city government was on the Planning Commission. What made you decide to apply to join it?

SY: Knowing literally no one when I moved here, and having spent my career in local government, I hoped to both meet new people and use my government experience to help serve in a volunteer position.

SG: When you were on the Commission, what was your reaction and actions regarding Valero’s Crude by Rail plan? (For those new to Benicia or otherwise unfamiliar with this issue, for four years until ultimately defeated by a unanimous 2016 City Council vote, the Valero Refinery sought to bring two 50-car trains a day carrying up to 70,000 barrels of crude oil into Benicia from Canada and North Dakota.)

SY: Given the long time between hearings on this project, I had ample time to research a number of issues related to rail cars, fracked oil, and the possible impact of these train cars on backing up traffic in the Industrial Park. I eventually had the chance to ask a variety of detailed questions of the staff and Valero, not all of which were answered to the satisfaction of the Planning Commission. My questions triggered other questions from Commissioners and helped lead to the unexpected unanimous rejection by the Planning Commission of the Valero request and the EIR [Environmental Impact Report].

SG: What made you decide to run for City Council and then for Mayor?

SY: My exposure to local government on the Planning Commission motivated me to step up and run for Council in 2016. And I saw an opportunity in 2020 to add my experience, ideas, and leadership.

SG: What are you most proud of from your two years in office (so far) as Mayor?

SY: Working with the City Manager to help navigate the COVID pandemic through a contentious time and helping bring back our civic celebrations. Also adding a new level of transparency and communication with the community with my extensive use of social media.

SG: What has been your biggest challenge(s) as Mayor?

SY: Internally, trying to get the City to be more communicative with the community as well as our upcoming fiscal challenges. Externally, trying to get people to understand that maintaining the level of services like they have come to expect comes with rapidly increasing costs that the City is not able to meet with existing revenue.

SG: One of Benicians’ biggest concerns is the state of our roads. Measure R, which would have funded road repair, narrowly lost when on the ballot in November. What, if anything, do you think should be done now to address the situation with the roads?

SY: There is a citizen driven sales tax initiative being proposed by a variety of community leaders that would set aside the same amount of funds strictly for roads and related infrastructure. It is our best chance to actually fix all our roads over a 10 year period.

SG: Another challenge is water charges. What, if anything, should be done to address that?

SY: Unfortunately there is not a magic bullet for this that will bring down water charges. Treating water and wastewater is highly regulated and expensive, and requires a number of employees with specific skills and licenses. And many of our pipes are quite old and failing. There are too few ratepayers to spread (and lower) these costs. More growth and customers may lead to more ways to spread those costs.

SG: There also is the question of Benicia’s large stretch of land known as the Seeno property (named for the land owner). What are your thoughts on whether and how that should ever be developed for housing? Do you see alternative uses for it? 

SY: I would like to withhold my specific preferences on that in deference to the planning/visioning process that is currently underway, and that may eventually come to Council for decisions. But I can say ,that, as one member of the community, I would hope to see a mixed use development including multifamily and single family housing, in addition to some localized commercial development. Ideally, we would have direct micro transit options to downtown and a few locations in Vallejo.  And perhaps some office or R/D uses along the East 2nd street frontage.


Stephen Golub, Benicia – A Promised Land: Politics. Policy. America as a Developing Country.

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.

Candidate Terry Scott on Valero’s deceptive flyer

…here we go again.

By Terry Scott, 2022 candidate for City Council, October 28, 2022

I saw this flyer and the first thing I thought was: here we go again. Valero and it’s PAC dumping huge amounts of money to support the same preferred candidates they effectively supported for City Council in 2018. Why would they do that? Why would they want their preferred candidates to be re-elected. Why create a misleading mailer under a new PAC NAME.

We know why.

Valero PAC has every legal right to support whomever they want with or without the candidates permission.

Is it legal, yes as noted.
Is it moral, no it’s not fair.
I had hoped Valero would have
Let Benicians elect Benicians without outside influence and money.

Terry Scott’s half-page ad in the Benicia Herald, October 30, 2022 – click to enlarge.

The BenIndy has endorsed BOTH Terry Scott AND Kari Birdseye.
I am active in Kari’s campaign – more here on the BenIndy

And here’s Kari’s website!