“This is a huge win for environmental justice communities who have been fighting for this rule for years as a matter of racial, environmental, and climate justice. Despite a widespread misinformation campaign by the refineries and their allies of exaggerated costs that threatened our communities with doomsday scenarios, the Board of Directors made an historic vote today on behalf of disproportionately impacted communities.”
“We look forward to Chevron and PBF doing the right thing and installing wet gas scrubbers that will dramatically clean up their pollution and create numerous jobs in the process, without further delays,”
In hearing testimony before the Air District Board on Wednesday, Benicia Mayor Steve Young urged approval of Rule 6-5. He pointed out that here in Benicia…
“…we have over a decade of experience of the value of the wet gas scrubbers. Valero installed a wet gas scrubber in 2010, and emissions data has shown a significant reduction in the overall emissions of criteria pollutants since it went online. Valero voluntarily addressed the problem of PM 2.5 emissions from their cat cracker by installing the wet gas scrubber. It is past time to do the right thing for clean air in the Bay Area. Please approve Rule 6-5”
After delaying the vote last month, the Air District Board voted this morning in favor of rule 6-5, the rule requiring refineries to clean up their air pollution.
This is a BIG deal and many activists have worked hard to make this happen. It’s been a years’ long coalition effort, but organizing works. The health and environmental justice arguments and dogged appeals to each board member (finally) paid off.
A big special thank you to our folks who stepped up to contact their representatives on the Board, and kudos to the coalition of community groups who put in years of effort. Huge gratitude to Communities for a Better Environment, Sunflower Alliance, APEN, and the health professionals from PSR and Climate Health Now. The headlines (Reuters) are already reading: Northern California requires oil refiners to slash air pollution — in which 350 Bay Area leader, Jan Kirsch, is quoted.
“I was there for the vote. Great victory for all involved. I will send a thank you to John Bauters from my esteemed home of Emeryville” — 350 Bay Area Leader
“The Air District Board’s decision to step up and fulfill the mandate of our regional Air District was necessary to protect lives and the health of our communities, particularly the already-disadvantaged communities in the path of the emissions monsters. We recognize that it took political courage to stand up to the refineries and other fossil fuel interests, who pulled out all the stops with an aggressive disinformation campaign as the decision neared. The community responded to this disinformation campaign robustly and with a focus on justice. That alone is a win for the Bay Area.
The win at the Air District is one that we embrace, and we welcome the eventual improvement in the air around the Bay Area. We are grateful to the large coalition of community organizations and individuals who spent many years collaborating and educating. We remain concerned that these common sense solutions that save lives and money still take so much work to enact, and are committed to continuing the work of improving air quality and phasing out fossil fuels to save lives and climate stability.”
— Nik, 350 Bay Area Staff
A well deserved celebration is in order today (YAY), and don’t forget to thank any/all representatives who voted YES in this historic vote.
After hearing five and a half hours of public commentary, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District postponed its scheduled vote Wednesday on whether to require refineries to install technology that would greatly reduce the amount of pollution they emit.
Board chair Cindy Chavez asked the board to reschedule its vote so the panel could have a “thoughtful discussion” of the proposals before it. The next meeting is tentatively scheduled for 8:30 a.m. on June 16.
The issue before the board involves fluid catalytic cracker units, commonly known as “cat crackers,” which are a major source of industrial pollution. The proposal would require refineries to install technology that reduces particulate emissions from the units by 70 percent, according to the air district.
A district analysis predicts that the new standards would have positive health impacts — particularly for low income communities of color that surround the Bay Area’s refineries and have borne the brunt of their environmental impact. In Richmond, the asthma rate is twice the state average.
The district has calculated that exposure to particulate matter from the Chevron refinery in Richmond increases mortality in the region by up to 10 deaths per year, while the PBF Energy refinery in Martinez adds up to six deaths per year.
The proposed changes to the Chevron plant alone could result in up to $27 million in health cost savings to those living nearby, according to an air district analysis, based on fewer days missed from work, fewer respiratory ailments and other health impacts.
Environmentalists pointed out that the technology has been widely used for years across the country, including in oil-friendly states like Texas.
“It’s hard to believe regulators in Texas 15 years ago valued their constituents’ lives more than Bay Area representatives do,” Jed Holtzman, a senior policy analyst with the environmental organization 350 Bay Area, told the board Wednesday. “So this should not be a complicated decision for you.”
Yet the refineries — backed by allies in organized labor who work at the plants — insisted that the cost to install the technology would be prohibitive, making the plants uncompetitive and leading to massive job losses.
The $800 million cost of implementation would “force us to close the Martinez refinery,” Timothy Paul Davis, PBF Energy Western Region president, wrote to the air district in April. That would put 600 full-time employees out of work, plus another 2,000 members of the local building trades union who work on other projects at the plant, said Kevin Slade of the Western States Petroleum Association, an industry group.
The air district found Davis’ estimate to be grossly inflated, estimating that it would cost just $255 million to make the changes at the PBF Martinez refinery and $241 million for the Chevron refinery in Richmond. The district found that the oil companies could pay for the cost of the upgrades by a one or two-cent per gallon fuel increase. Other speakers Wednesday were skeptical that PBF would shutter a refinery that it just bought in 2019 from Shell Oil for $1 billion.
Dozens of local union members and leaders — among the 198 people who addressed the board Wednesday — said they feared losing their jobs if the technology were mandated.
Andrew Scheiber, a Benicia resident who used to work for a refinery, was among the speakers skeptical that plant workers could find a “just transition” to another line of work should the refineries cut jobs.
“This ‘just transition’ everybody loves to talk about doesn’t exist,” Scheiber said. There are few other kinds of jobs that involve similar skill sets “and when they do come up there are hundreds if not literally thousands of applicants.”
A letter to the board signed by the leaders of six Bay Area building trades unions said: “Union members — your constituents — living and working in the Bay Area depend on these refinery jobs to raise their families well, put food on their tables, put their kids through college, and live a successful and fulfilling life.”
An alternative analysis conducted by UCLA’s Lufkin Center for Innovation found that new technology wouldn’t kill jobs, but rather create thousands more.
The UCLA report, conducted in conjunction with Communities for a Better Environment and the environmental research firm Inclusive Economics, found that installing the wet gas scrubbers would yield “thousands of engineering, construction, and other installation jobs, upwards of 4,600 jobs between the two refineries.”
“Our lungs can’t any longer,” said Zolboo Namkhaidorj, Richmond Youth Organizer for Communities for a Better Environment, after the meeting, urging the air district to approve the cat cracker rule.
“Refineries have mounted a massive misinformation campaign to sink this rule, threatening our communities with false doomsday scenarios,” Namkhaidorj said. “Shame on them, after decades of spewing pollution that has cost local Black, indigenous, and people of color families their health and livelihoods.”
Bonnie Lockhart of Oakland was one of several speakers Wednesday who questioned seeing the issue as one of workers versus greens.
“Why are we framing this decision as jobs versus the environment, when it’s really health versus corporate profits?” Lockhart asked.
Instead of suggesting that the only way to pay for the cost of the upgrades would be through layoffs or higher gas prices, Lockhart questioned why the discussion wasn’t focused on “the obscene profits” of the fossil fuel companies and the high salaries of its CEOs.
Her suggestion to the oil companies and their top executives: “Don’t buy a yacht this year.”
Joe Garofoli is The San Francisco Chronicle’s senior political writer.
As this report was being prepared, no one could have predicted the context in which we are releasing it. California is the center of oil refining in the western U.S., with nearly 50% of its refining capacity in the five closely spaced oil refineries of Contra Costa and Solano counties. As the U.S. attempts, under failed federal leadership, to recover from the COVID-19 crisis, the International Energy Agency reports that any economic recovery that fails to step up to the urgency of addressing climate change will make it impossible to prevent climate catastrophe.
“Starting [a phase-down] sooner allows state climate targets to be met by cutting oil use more gradually, which makes transitions that protect workers and communities possible and climate goals feasible,” said Greg Karras, who authored the report for CBE.
Here are the report’s major conclusions and calls for action:
All paths to a livable climate involve refining much less oil.
Steep reductions in petroleum are necessary to meet our health goals.
Early action to decommission refining capacity is a critical component of the least-impact, most socially just, most feasible path to climate stabilization in California.
A planned, gradual phase-down gives us the time to develop sustainable alternatives for workers and communities economically dependent on oil.
Actions that limit refining in California can cut emissions across the petroleum fuel chain.
We must pair gradual reduction of refinery output with aggressive measures to insure clean mobility for all people.
Facilities such as refineries are major local emission centers for toxic co-pollutants alongside greenhouse gases, especially fine-sized particulate matter or soot (PM2.5). “From Richmond to Wilmington black and brown communities are on the frontlines of a toxic relationship with oil. This is a blueprint for organizing just transitions out of it,” said Andrés Soto, Richmond Organizer at CBE.
A path of gradual reductions, approximately 4-7% of refining capacity per year, will not even immediately affect California oil consumption. Californians already use significantly less refined fuels than produced by the refineries; refinery exports have grown to nearly a third of capacity. “Refineries around here pollute our communities even more by refining more oil to sell even more of their polluting fuels somewhere else, like black lives are invisible” said LaDonna Williams, a community leader who lives in South Vallejo.
A critical component of the report is addressing the challenges of transitioning workers and communities that are financially dependent upon the fossil fuel industry. Steve Garey, a retired oil refinery worker, former United Steel Workers union official and leader in the Blue-Green Alliance, spoke passionately about bringing workers and communities together to build a new economy.
California should begin gradually reducing output from its oil refineries in order to avoid climate catastrophe and to make the transition to clean energy as equitable as possible. That’s the conclusion of a major new report released July 6 by Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), endorsed by more than 40 environmental and social justice organizations.
While most people agree on the need to use less fossil fuel, many fear that requiring refineries to reduce production could lead to higher gasoline prices and a big economic hit for workers and communities that depend on refineries for income. Report-author Greg Karras responded, “If we start now, doing it gradually, it will give us the time to replace refinery-dependent economics.” The report calls for cutting production 4 to 7 percent a year, starting in 2021.
California has set targets for cutting carbon emissions between now and 2050: the state’s share of global cuts needed to keep temperature increases below catastrophic levels. Because the carbon that causes climate change builds up in the atmosphere, California has a carbon “budget”—the total amount it can emit from now until 2050. According to Decommissioning California Refineries, California will have to refine much less oil per year to avoid blowing through this carbon “budget” by about 2037.
“California is the biggest oil-refining center in Western North America,” Karras said. “Oil refined here emits more carbon than all other activities in the state combined.” Even if all other sources of carbon are reduced on schedule, Karras said, “we must refine much less oil if we hope to meet the state’s carbon limit.”
“We have to break free from our toxic relationship with oil before it takes us over a cliff,” Karras said. “When you’re in a car heading toward a cliff, it matters when you start putting on the brakes.”
The sooner we start, the more likely we are to escape the worst impacts of climate change.
The issue is not just climate, said Andres Soto of CBE. He pointed out that refinery pollution is concentrated in communities like Richmond, centers of racial and economic injustice.
“Only 20 percent of Richmond is Euro-American,” he said.
And the health consequences of having a refinery as a neighbor are severe.
Rodeo, another Contra Costa refinery town, “is in the 98th percentile for asthma,” said resident Maureen Brennan, and it has high rates of skin disease, autoimmune disease and cancer—all linked to refinery-generated pollution.
Retired refinery worker Steve Garey, past president of a United Steelworkers local in Washington state, said starting now to plan for reduced refinery production could actually benefit refinery workers, since “the movement away from fossil fuels and toward renewables is going to accelerate. It’s an economic reality. Renewables are cheaper than fossil fuel and getting cheaper all the time.”
Recently when the pandemic cut demand for gasoline, Garey said, the Marathon refinery in Martinez shut down, leaving the workers and community stranded.
The current drop in oil use, Karras said, gives us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to turn away from the cliff and build a cleaner and more equitable recovery.
Prices and Jobs
The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) said in a statement that requiring cuts in refinery production is a bad idea: “We believe we can support our people, our communities, our planet, and our shared prosperity without having to sacrifice one at the expense of the other. However, arbitrarily working to limit refining or production in the state will leave many Californians short of energy, without work and at a greater risk for displacement.”
The California State Building Trades Council recently joined in a partnership with WSPA to protect petroleum-industry jobs, although council President Robbie Hunter said he agrees that “dropping output in refineries is necessary. I believe we need to get rid of fossil fuels.” His unions have often lobbied for clean-energy programs like the Renewable Portfolio Standard, which requires electricity providers to use an increasing percentage of renewable energy.
But, like WSPA, Hunter opposes refinery production cuts, fearing an increase in gasoline prices that would, among other things, hurt building-trades workers such as his sons, who “sometimes drive 80 miles a day to job sites.” He argued for relying instead on programs to cut demand. “If the need goes down, I’m 100 percent in,” he said.
Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia represents a district that includes the Richmond Chevron refinery. He also sits on the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. A longtime environmental champion, Gioia said he agrees with the report’s authors that “both demand and supply side strategies are necessary” to reduce petroleum use fast enough to meet climate goals. Last year the state legislature authorized studies to come up with strategies to reduce both supply and demand for greenhouse-gas-producing energy.
Gioia pointed to several new CARB regulations to reduce petroleum use, including a recent first-in-the-nation rule that sets a schedule for replacing diesel with electric trucks, as well as a schedule passed last year for switching to electric buses. But he said, “we have to be really thoughtful about the impact [of climate measures] on the hardest-hit communities. It’s the lowest-income Californians, communities of color, who are the most impacted by rising fuel costs and don’t always have access to public transportation.”
Karras responded to these concerns by pointing out that, as demand for petroleum products in California has fallen, refineries have not reduced their output but, instead, started exporting more of their product—now at least 20 percent and rising. So production could be cut by 20 percent or more without reducing the amount available to Californians. And, he added, “It’s a pure injustice for Black and Brown people in fence-line communities” to suffer pollution “so refineries can manufacture fuel that Californians don’t need, to export our oil dependency to other countries.”
Union leaders don’t buy that argument.
“As long as there’s a market for the product somewhere, American workers should produce it,” Garey said. For members of his union, cuts in refinery production mean “losing the best job they ever had.” In addition, many workers in construction trades depend on refineries for jobs. And, Garey said, “this is a community-wide issue.”
Refineries contribute a big share of the taxes communities rely on. And there’s what economists call a “multiplier” effect: every high-paying job creates seven to 10 other jobs providing the goods and services that refinery workers can afford to buy.
Start Planning Now
According to the Decommissioning California Refineries report, those very economic facts are the reason why it’s important to start immediately creating ambitious programs for supporting workers and communities in the switch to a clean-energy economy.
Doing that “will take state, local, and county action as well as a national plan,” said Soto of CBE. And, he added, the plan must be based on “justice for workers and the people who have paid the heaviest price of having polluters in their communities.”
Carol Zabin, who heads the Green Economy Program at the UC Labor Center, agreed. It will be necessary to “use a lot of levers of government, from direct public investment to business incentives to training and education infrastructure,” she said.
Ramping up efforts to create good jobs in a clean-energy economy is a goal environmentalists and labor advocates agree on.
“The big problem is that there are not enough other good jobs for people without a college education,” Zabin said.
Hunter, of the Building Trades Council, said his unions have been pushing for public programs that create good jobs while reducing demand for petroleum: building solar and wind energy, massive expansion and electrification of public transit, high-speed rail, housing near transit.
Zabin agreed with Karras that each community needs to “figure out in an intimate local setting” how to shift from economic dependence on refineries. “We have to plan locally with state and federal support,” Karras said.
“This is a process that requires community-wide participation,” Soto added. Workers, refinery community residents, and environmental organizations should be involved in the planning, Garey said. They all “need each other as allies – we need the biggest ‘we’ we can get.”
Supervisor Gioia said Contra Costa County should “start now having study sessions and community forums to lay out pathways for this thing that we have to do to save the planet.” He agreed that workers and residents should be part of the planning process and reported that Contra Costa has already adopted “a policy to have a more inclusive planning process—the community has to have a voice.”
“We need strategies to make California the manufacturing center of the new economy,” Gioia added. He pointed to a new factory in Los Angeles County—with good, union jobs—making the electric buses needed for the county’s clean-transportation plan.
But not all investments in clean energy produce good, family-supporting jobs, Zabin said. “We need labor standards on all industries affected by climate policy.” There are none, she pointed out, in California’s program for building electric-vehicle charging stations. And most energy-efficiency projects “have gone low-road.”
When the Air Resources Board was creating standards for energy-efficiency work, she said, the State Building Trades Council pushed for them to include labor standards. Zabin herself submitted two reports calling for the same thing. For environmental programs to build a coalition with labor, she said, “we should put conditions on the $1.5 billion a year we spend on energy efficiency.” But CARB rejected these proposals. “It’s a question of political will,” Zabin said. Government could also create good jobs in other areas, she added, such as rebuilding infrastructure—a green New Deal.
Committing Significant Revenue
But economic development programs are not enough to meet the needs of refinery workers, Garey said. “We need to commit significant revenue, enough to support their income for an appropriate time.” He pointed to a program spelled out in an initiative that narrowly lost in his state of Washington, calling for “income insurance” for up to five years for workers who lost their jobs because of the switch from fossil fuel, as well as health insurance, a path to retirement and support for job retraining.
Building a stronger “social safety net” is necessary, not only for displaced petroleum workers, but for everyone, Karras argues: “The average gig-worker job doesn’t pay enough for rent or mortgage, health care, college.”
Especially in refinery communities like Contra Costa, Gioia said, “we need to look at more robust training programs in our community colleges—opportunities for a new generation to enter trades in a new industry.” At the same time, he added, it might be necessary to “subsidize early retirement for workers late in their career.”
The nonprofit think tank Oil Change International calls for a similar inclusive planning process on the state level, a “Statewide Just Transition Task Force—as has been done in Scotland and in Canada, for example—to facilitate the process of social dialogue and planning between employers, workers, unions, frontline communities and organizations, and local and state agencies.” [The Sky’s the Limit California, p. 10]
Calls for these ambitious programs raise the obvious question of where the money will come from. Oil Change International says the state should charge oil companies a “just transition fee based on the value of their oil production.” Karras suggests a similar principle, which could also be applied on a local or state level: “Make the polluters pay.” He pointed to a federal program that required nuclear power plants to “pay up front into a trust fund to clean up the whole mess—environmental and economic” that they would leave behind when they close.
The important thing—the reason for issuing this report—Karras said, is to “start the conversation. To say, ‘we have to do this,’ and start talking about it. We will have to figure out how.”