Category Archives: Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD)

If California is so climate friendly, why are Bay Area air regulators allowing increased tar sands oil refining (and offshore drilling)?

Repost from Red Green and Blue

If California is so climate friendly, why are they upping tar sands oil refining (and offshore drilling)?

By Dan Bacher, September 4, 2018

As thousands get ready to march in the Rise for Climate Day of Action in San Francisco September 8 and the city gears up to host the Governor Jerry Brown co-sponsored Global Climate Action Summit next week, area climate and environmental justice advocates say local air regulators mandated to protect air quality and the climate are taking significant steps to allow increased tar sands refining and creeping refinery emissions in the Bay Area.

No Fossil Fuels for California
(Photo by Peg Hunter)

Major public protest is expected tomorrow, September 5,  at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) Board of Directors meeting at 9:30 a.m. at the agency’s headquarters at 375 Beal St., San Francisco.

The event will preceded at 8 a.m. by an Idle No More SF Bay-led prayer circle and teach-in outside BAAQMD headquarters, according to a press release from the Communities for a Better Environment, 350 Bay Area and the Sunflower Alliance.

The local climate and environmental justice advocates say they plan to “sound the alarm about the widening gap between lofty California climate goals and the reality on the ground here in the Bay Area and other refining centers in the state.”

A recent public records request reveals that BAAQMD staff issued an administrative permit on August 16, 2018 to increase production capacity at the Phillips 66 refinery by 61.3 million gallons per year.

“This permit allows for increased heavy oil processing, or hydrocracking, at the Rodeo facility, and will enable the refiner to process the increased amounts of Canadian tar sands oil it proposes to bring in across San Francisco Bay via nearly tripled oil tanker traffic in a wharf expansion project,” the groups said. “ This small but highly significant step actually allows Phillips 66 to begin implementing its goal of switching its San Francisco Refinery over to tar sands.”

“The Rodeo refinery is connected to its sister refinery in Santa Maria by pipeline; together they make up the larger San Francisco Refinery.  Two years ago, multi-community protest shut down a Phillips 66 proposal to increase tar sands deliveries by oil train to the Santa Maria facility,” the groups said.

“The company is trying to sneak its expansion past regulators and the public by pretending each little increase is unconnected, but we aren’t fooled,” said Sejal Choksi-Chugh, Executive Director of San Francisco Baykeeper regarding the permit:

The groups said the permit was issued without any public review or notice while Chief Air Pollution Control Officer Jack Broadbent was meeting with First Nations representatives and touring tar sands mining sites in Alberta, Canada.

“The fact-finding tour, which included several BAAQMD board members, took place at the urgent request of members of Idle No More SF Bay, who urged local regulators to connect the dots between the destructive impacts of Canadian tar sands mining on carbon-sequestering boreal forest and First Nations peoples, soaring greenhouse gas emissions and local Bay Area air quality and public health,” they said.

Pennie Opal Plant of Idle No More SF Bay said, “It is wildly irresponsible for Phillips 66 to add to the problems that are causing sick refinery communities and the climate disruption impacting us in California and around the world.  Phillips’ expansion proposal must be stopped and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District is the agency to stop it.”

Jed Holtzman of 350 Bay Area stated: “BAAQMD has committed to a vision of a fossil-free Bay Area in 2050, starting now with steep reductions of the pollution that causes premature death in our communities and destroys the stable climate.  Yet its action to allow Phillips 66 to expand its refinery infrastructure ensures more local air pollution and more greenhouse gas emissions. Air District permits must be aligned with agency goals.”

Area climate and environmental justice advocates said news of the secret permit was distressing to many of them.

“This type of rubber-stamping of refinery permits demonstrates how BAAQMD serves at the pleasure of the fossil fuel industry, not the citizens who live in the Bay Area,” said refinery neighbor Nancy Rieser of C.R.U.D.E., Crockett-Rodeo United in Defense of the Environment.

Ironically, the permit was issued nearly five years to the day after the Air District board passed a resolution condemning the KXL pipeline, noted Rieser.

That resolution warned against the more intensive processing required by tar sands oil, which causes enormous quantities of toxic, criteria and greenhouse gas pollutants to spew from refinery smokestacks.  As the 2013 resolution made clear, “any increase” of these pollutants will cause negative impacts on the health of local residents.

”Tar sands bitumen is the most carbon-intensive, hazardous and polluting major oil resource on the planet to extract, transport, and refine. Despite this, the Air District staff is intentionally bypassing California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review and refusing to evaluate the climate impacts of its permit, which opens the gates to increased tar sands refining,” the groups said.

“Staff argues that it must bypass CEQA, one of California’s greatest environmental protections, because the revised cap-and-trade program (AB 398) that Governor Brown so aggressively pushed for last summer has withdrawn the authority of all regional Air Districts to directly regulate refinery-emitted greenhouse gases.   California’s carbon pollution-trading program is now BAAQMD’s chief alibi for eliminating public and board review, and for refusing to protect the climate from oil pollution,” the groups said.

Activists said they are also alarmed by the “gutting and indefinite postponement of a long-awaited particular-matter reduction regulation impacting the Chevron, Marathon (formerly Tesoro) and Shell refineries.”

A letter submitted to the Air District by 25 environmental justice organizations on August 16 points to yet another “secret agreement”—this one signed with the oil industry by the District’s Chief Air Pollution Control Officer. The agreement commits the Air District to propose and advocate for weakened emissions limits.

”As the Global Climate Action Summit rapidly approaches, our air quality regulators and designated climate protectors need to stop coddling the oil industry and start demonstrating real accountability to the public. People’s lives depend on it,” the groups concluded.

Read the Demand Letter to BAAQMD for Refinery PM Clean-Up at www.CBECAL.org.

While California is often lauded as a “climate leader” and Governor Jerry Brown is praised as a “climate hero” in national and international idea, the reality is much different, as we can see in the  widening gap between lofty California climate goals and the reality on the ground in the Bay Area and other refining centers in the state.

The reality is that Big Oil is the largest and most powerful lobby and the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) is the largest and most powerful lobbying organization. As a result of the enormous political influence of WSPA and the oil industry on the Brown administration and the Legislature, Governor Brown’s oil and gas regulators have approved over 21,000 new oil and gas permits in the past seven years — and Brown controls 4 times the number of offshore wells that Donald Trump does.

WSPA and Big Oil wield their power in 6 major ways: through (1) lobbying; (2) campaign spending; (3) serving on and putting shills on regulatory panels; (4) creating Astroturf groups: (5) working in collaboration with media; and (6) contributing to non profit organizations.

This article on Big Oil Regulatory Capture is a must-read for everybody going to the BAAQMD meeting tomorrow, the Rise for Climate March on September 8, and the many other climate events planned for the coming week: Before the Rise for Climate March Sept. 8, read this: Big oil’s grip on California.

    ISO Working Group: Benicia Deserves a Local Industrial Safety Ordinance (Part 3)

    Repost from the Benicia Herald

    ISO Working Group: Benicia Deserves a Local Industrial Safety Ordinance (Part 3)

    By Benicia ISO Working Group, June 19, 2018

    In Parts 1 and 2 of this series, we examined the health effects and costs of particulates and other air pollutants and pointed out the inadequacies of Valero’ proposed air monitoring plan, now under review at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD).  Today we will look at other statewide developments on air quality, and the continuing need for a LOCAL Industrial Safety Ordinance (ISO).

    Valero and others have pointed out that community air monitoring programs are part of the recently adopted California Air Resources Board (CARB) statewide mandate to determine which communities are most impacted by poor ambient air quality.  The expectation is that local air districts will install community monitors on a prioritized basis, and that Benicia might qualify and benefit. This is a reference to AB 617, and we understand that Benicia could self-nominate to seek funds through AB 617. However, City staff has declined to spend time on an application, and even if it did, would likely not benefit much.  Only $5 million is available statewide for communities who qualify, with a priority on disadvantaged communities.

    At this point in time, the ISO Working Group expects a draft Benicia ISO to incorporate a provision that requires a communitywide air monitoring program, one which integrates existing programs and data collection to the extent relevant and practical. Any additional air monitoring that becomes available to Benicia through AB 617, CARB, the BAAQMD or other outside source can be integrated into the Benicia ISO’s overall plan for monitoring, oversight and correction.

    Benicia deserves better! Benicia deserves a communitywide monitoring program, not fence line only.  Benicia deserves a program that provides data and meaningful analysis and information to the general public on a 24/7, real-time basis. Valero’s current proposal will not do this, and other regional and state monitoring programs on the horizon that may include Benicia have unclear implementation dates and are severely underfunded. In the meantime, what’s in Benicia’s air remains unclear.

    A Benicia ISO will give City staff, Council members and representatives of the schools and residents a seat at the table when decisions are made concerning air monitoring and more.  A Benicia ISO will strengthen the City’s response during emergencies and “rare conditions,” and provide detailed reporting to City staff, Council members and the public during and after such events.  A Benicia ISO would improve cooperation and communication between industry and the City, County, local fire departments and regional and statewide oversight agencies.  A Benicia ISO would – after years of waiting – bring community-wide air monitors to Benicia.  A Benicia ISO would bring a strong measure of local control and locally nimble response when it comes to our own health and safety.

    Finally – and importantly – an ISO would be budget neutral for the City, supported from fees through implementation and enforcement of the ISO. Benicia’s ISO will engage the experts we need to participate as equals at the table reviewing documents and regulations on behalf of the City and community.

    Please contact the Mayor, City Council members, and Benicia’s City Manager to let them know you support a community industrial safety ordinance for Benicia.    


    The Benicia ISO Working Group is an ad hoc citizen’s group of about a dozen Benicia residents.  Since October 2017, the Working Group has been studying, writing, meeting with officials and advocating that Benicia join all other Bay Area refinery towns in passing a local community industrial safety ordinance.  More information: beniciaindependent.com/iso.

      KQED: In Wake of Valero Refinery Incident, Benicia Weighs Whether to Pursue Safety Ordinance

      Repost from KQED News (NPR / PBS)
      [Editor: Also tune in to an incredibly important 8-minute KQED audio report for interviews about asthma and Valero refinery pollution: When Oil refineries flare, what happens to the air.  – RS]

      In Wake of Valero Refinery Incident, Benicia Weighs Whether to Pursue Safety Ordinance

      By Ted Goldberg, Jun 18, 2018
      A power outage on May 5, 2017, at Benicia’s Valero refinery led to a prolonged episode of flaring during which more than 80,000 pounds of sulfur dioxide were released into the air. (California Environmental Protection Agency)

      Thirteen months after a major air-pollution incident at Valero Energy Corp.’s Benicia refinery, city leaders will decide whether to assume more oversight of the facility.

      On Tuesday, the City Council plans to decide whether to direct staff to begin developing an industrial safety ordinance that would require Valero to pay for a set of air monitors, submit a safety plan to the city and provide Benicia with reports on serious refinery malfunctions.

      The issue is the latest to pit Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson, other city officials, environmentalists and some residents against the San Antonio-based energy company, which is the city’s largest employer and taxpayer.

      Patterson began pushing for the reforms in the weeks following the May 5, 2017, refinery power outage that triggered the release of more than 80,000 pounds of sulfur dioxide.

      “The space for the city is to be at the table and not be kept in the dark,” said Patterson.

      The outage sent flames and black smoke into the sky, leading to shelter-in-place and evacuation orders. At least a dozen people sought medical attention for breathing difficulties. It took weeks for the refinery to return to full operations, and analysts said the incident prompted a rise in the state’s gasoline prices.

      Patterson says that since the outage, neither Valero nor regulators have given the city detailed information about the incident.

      For instance, city officials learned from KQED, not from Solano County, that county environmental health investigators concluded late last year Valero did not violate state regulations in connection with the accident.

      “We don’t get those reports,” said Patterson in an interview last week. “We never did get a presentation by any state or regional agency, let alone Valero, about what had happened.”

      “The public has a right to know,” she said.

      Valero has consistently opposed a city safety ordinance, which would be modeled after those used in Richmond for the Chevron refinery and in the rest of Contra Costa County for the Shell, Phillips 66 and Andeavor (formerly Tesoro) facilities.

      “We believe you will see there will be no need to pursue a duplicative and divisive Benicia Industrial Safety Ordinance,” Donald Cuffel, the refinery’s director of health, safety, environmental and regulator affairs, wrote in a letter to the City Council late last month.

      Cuffel argued state and county agencies, as well as the local air district, already have similar regulations in place.

      Last October, California officials approved rules similar to Contra Costa County’s ordinance for refineries statewide.

      That prompted Solano County’s Department of Resource Management to spend close to 500 hours inspecting, reviewing and documenting the Valero refinery, according to Benicia city staff.

      Currently, neither the Bay Area Air Quality Management District nor Benicia have air monitors in place to measure air quality after refinery accidents. Air district officials say they rely on monitors in nearby cities to gauge Benicia’s air quality.

      Patterson’s proposal calls for Valero to pay for monitors to be placed throughout Benicia’s residential and industrial areas as well as on the refinery’s fence line. Data from those devices would be placed on a website.

      Last week the regional air district approved a fence-line air monitoring plan by Valero, according to agency spokesman Tom Flannigan. The refinery has one year to install the devices.

      The district is in the initial phases of looking for a location for a community air monitor, said Flannigan.

      Iron Workers Local 378, which represents some of the refinery’s workers, is also opposed to the safety ordinance, calling it a “duplicative, outdated, go-it-alone strategy.”

      “A local ISO won’t make sure our workers, trainees or this community any safer,” Jeff McEuen, the union’s business manager, financial secretary and treasurer, wrote in a letter to the City Council last week.

      But a group brought together after last year’s refinery outage to develop safety reforms says the law is needed.

      “This is a signature moment for Benicia, as it will signal whether the City Council puts the health and safety of Benicia, its citizens and community members over the Valero refinery’s ‘just trust us’ stance to its industrial safety record,” said Constance Beutel, a member of Benicia’s ISO Working Group.

      At least one other member of the council sees the proposed ordinance as a way for the city to get information more quickly when the next refinery accident takes place.

      “There is a problem with getting sufficient information out in a timely manner,” said Vice Mayor Steve Young. “There is a need for greater transparency.”

      Young noted that the conflict over an industrial safety ordinance is the biggest between city leaders and Valero since the council rejected the company’s oil-by-rail proposal in 2016.

      Councilmembers could either direct city staff to draft an ordinance that the council would vote on in the coming months, or the city could continue to rely on Solano County’s work in employing the new state regulations.

      Meantime, the California Public Utilities Commission expects to complete its investigation of the refinery outage this summer, according to Garrett Toy, a CPUC lawyer.

      Valero sued Pacific Gas and Electric after the incident, seeking $75 million for damage to refinery equipment and lost revenue. The company blames PG&E for the episode and claims it “shut off all electricity” to the refinery the day of the outage.

      PG&E hired a third party engineering firm, Exponent, to review the outage. The company submitted that report to the CPUC. Both PG&E and the commission have declined to release that report.

      Valero’s lawsuit is expected to go to trial next year.