Benicia videographer and educator Constance Beutel has a stellar history of advocating for sustainable clean energy in Benicia. The former chairperson of Benicia’s Community Sustainability Commission recently made five short educational presentations before our City Council during the Open Comment period. The presentations are about 5 minutes each, and were videotaped, as follows below. (Don’t miss the last one, on Valero and our Benicia air!)
Air Quality – August 21, 2018
Air Monitors – September 4, 2018
Air Quality and Health – September 18, 2018
Air Quality and Benicia’s Health – October 2, 2018
Another 3-2 vote. Very disappointing, again. The Council majority voted again, 3-2, not to consider an industrial safety ordinance for Benicia. Now, we wait for a yet-to-be determined date in November or December for Council to reconvene and review the progress Valero has made toward its commitments.
It appears the Council majority on these votes thinks another one or two monitors will address Benicia’s “monitoring issue” and that the “communication issue” is already taken care of. What monitoring is out there, or soon to be, is in no way comprehensive or sufficient for our community. Better communication? Thank you, Valero, for sharing all that information at the July 17 Council meeting – after 14 months of Council’s two-step process, and more than 10 years of community requests for Valero to address air monitoring.
Disappointing Council vote, yes. But, now we at least know how many monitors Valero has, and where they are located. And, three are community monitors, not just for fence line. Valero even says it has mobile monitors available. Probably more information than any of us had 14 months ago, certainly 10 years ago.
But this is of little value unless Council takes the next step, uses the data from these monitors (and other monitors perhaps to come), as well as all the other information Valero committed to share on a real-time, easy to access and use, public web site with the City as a “partner”, to address community health and safety concerns. With or without an ISO, Council has already started this process, and Council cannot go back. Council now knows the resources are out there. We’ll see what Council does with them. Passage of a Benicia ISO is the most effective tool for ensuring the community’s health and safety.
So, what now? Over the next 6 months, let’s keep in mind what’s been left on the table or yet to be considered by virtue of Council’s 3-2 vote. What are the deficiencies an industrial safety ordinance would correct?
Progress report. The minutes from June 19th Council state that there will be a progress report in November and then in December there will be (or should be) a meeting with choices of moving forward with an ISO or not depending on the progress report. What are the performance measures for that report? What choices will be presented to Council? More questions than answers, which is why Terry Mollica said, “we are kicking the can down the road” if we don’t have the rehearing to set the parameters and future steps and outcomes.
Funding: For the City to meaningfully “communicate”, i.e., have knowledge, skills set, and be copied and comment on reports, the City will need to increase staff which requires funding. An ISO would provide the funding through fees assessed on businesses subject to the ISO. How will staff follow up without funding?
Promises: The record is clear that Valero does not fulfill its promises and conditions of approval for permits. Watch and see….
Confusion and misdirection: Valero distracts the staff, Council and public with their pat on their own back for their community contributions and their expressions of concern for public health protection. The City and community recognizes these actions on the part of Valero and its contribution to the City’s tax base. It is nice to have non-governmental groups receive Valero money, but the issue we are talking about is air quality.
Monitors: There is great confusion about monitors – what they monitor, how they monitor, and when they do it. Council members in the 3-2 majority did not receive the benefit of Eric Stevenson’s recent meeting in Benicia discussing air monitors, nor do these Council members seem familiar with or understand the work of Air Watch Bay Area which is a data resource much more nuanced than understood. Will the City and public be kept in the loop as Valero acquires and installs air monitoring equipment? Will the City and public be asked for input?
Regulations: It is true that we have good state regulations, but the recent KQED story where the California Public Utilities Commission found PG&E at fault because it did not follow those regulations, makes the point of why Benicia needs an ISO. When will state regulations be implemented? Will public utilities and private enterprises like Valero follow the regulations? Who will report to us, how and when? We should have reports of the required training, the fulfillment of the training, and periodic protocol reviews to be assured that new regulations are adequate, and that they are being followed.
Missing in Benicia. Finally, as an important point of reference and comparison, the Mayor of Martinez says his city has a great relationship with Shell, who invites city people to training exercises, shares reports, and offers meetings and a myriad of other “communicating” actions. Without Contra Costa County’s ISO, his city would not be included in these ways. Absence of news is rarely news. That is, we won’t be seeing newspaper headlines like “Benicia did not get a quarterly report yesterday.” Or, “On Saturday, Valero did not train City Staff on emergency response.” Stay alert for what we DON’T hear over these next months.
So, the fight continues for a Benicia ISO. Let’s keep our eyes and ears open for the next piece of information that supports the need for an industrial safety ordinance in Benicia.
With major input from Benicia and area activists and experts, Air Watch Bay Area is now up and running…
Press Release, Wednesday, August 9, 2017
[Contact listing at end]
Air Watch Bay Area launches new digital platform for reporting and investigating oil refinery pollution
Staying informed about what’s in the air is a priority for Bay Area residents living near the region’s five oil refineries. As we mark the five-year anniversary of the Chevron Richmond refinery fire, a new suite of digital tools designed to reveal and act on air pollution is now live at: http://airwatchbayarea.org/. The Air Watch Bay Area website and reporting app (available for Android or iOS) build on and extend residents’ successful activism for real-time air monitoring for many of the region’s frontline communities (Richmond, Rodeo, Crockett and Benicia). The website and app enable users to:
Report air pollution — rate smells, upload photos, and describe symptoms;
See pollution reports in context, alongside chemical levels, wind direction, and reports from other community members;
View the history of chemical levels measured by fenceline and community monitors;
Contribute to an independent community database of incidents, while also submitting reports to regulatory authorities at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD);
Connect with community organizations and resources to advocate for cleaner air, particularly in frontline communities;
Grow the community of people engaged with Bay Area air quality and environmental justice advocacy.
Frontline community residents, in collaboration with the Fair Tech Collective at Drexel University and the Community Robotics, Education, and Technology Empowerment Lab (CREATE Lab) at Carnegie Mellon University, helped to develop these tools — to build capacity for broadened civic engagement with air quality. “Air Watch Bay Area builds on a community of people who are dedicated to refinery air quality vigilance and for the first time shows the Big Picture of all the refineries in the Bay Area,” according to Constance Beutel of the Benicia Good Neighbor Steering Committee.
Exposing oil refineries to public scrutiny
In a region where many are committed to environmental sustainability and health, local oil refineries too often operate beyond public scrutiny. Air Watch Bay Area helps expose refineries to scrutiny by highlighting air pollution data across frontline communities in Richmond, Crockett, Rodeo, and Benicia. As fenceline monitoring requirements recently adopted by BAAQMD come into force, the site will expand to include data from Martinez, where neither Shell nor Tesoro currently have fenceline monitoring programs, as well as additional data from other communities.
Air Watch Bay Area features residents’ own pollution reports alongside both historical and real-time air quality data, made available through successful environmental justice advocacy. The site is the first to present such archival air quality data, which are necessary to help residents “connect the dots” between chemical levels in ambient air and health issues that may not appear until hours or days after exposure. Residents from all refinery communities can make pollution reports, adding to available air pollution data even where monitoring is not being conducted.
Holding regulators & public officials accountable to public health, environmental justice
Ultimately, Air Watch Bay Area’s digital tools offer Bay Area residents new levers for holding regulators and elected officials accountable to public health, environmental justice, and sustainability. “Often when citizens file air pollution complaints, the information seems to drop into a black hole. The ability for fenceline communities to archive their complaints is key to holding refineries and regulatory agencies accountable,” stated Nancy Rieser of Crockett-Rodeo United to Defend the Environment (C.R.U.D.E.).
When people report odors or photos to Air Watch Bay Area, they contribute to a publicly visible “paper trail” of incidents. This public paper trail, alongside individuals’ direct reports to BAAQMD, helps Bay Area residents advocate for cleaner air. It helps foster community empowerment and ownership of data, to address persistent air quality problems. “This site will be an important tool for anyone researching and evaluating refinery emissions that endanger health in our community,” said Rieser.
New data stories: Giving monitoring “teeth”
“Air monitoring has become a popular answer to the environmental health concerns of frontline communities. Just look at the state of California’s recent move to increase community air monitoring while undercutting environmental justice groups’ calls for caps on refinery emissions [in AB 617 and 398],” says Dr. Gwen Ottinger, Drexel University professor and principal investigator on the National Science Foundation grant that funded the creation of Air Watch Bay Area. “The problem with that approach is that monitoring in isolation is toothless.”
For monitoring to really have an impact, communities need to be able to leverage air quality data while challenging “upstream” causes of emissions. According to East Bay resident Cheryl Holzmeyer, a research and outreach associate of the Air Watch Bay Area project, “It’s crucial that air monitoring go hand-in-hand with efforts to cap emissions and prevent the refining of tar sands and heavy crude oil at Bay Area refineries. Decision-makers need to embrace new data stories — bridging people’s lived experiences of health and illness, refinery emissions levels, oil feedstock quality, and alternative visions of just transitions away from fossil fuel dependency.” By making historical data accessible and bringing people’s experiences into the picture through online pollution reporting, Air Watch Bay Area’s digital tools offer new ways to contribute to such stories.