Category Archives: Bay Area Refineries

We did it! The Air District Passed the Strongest Regulation on Refinery Pollution

By Roger Straw, July 22, 2021

Air District approves Rule 6-5, a new rule requiring Bay Area refineries to clean up their air pollution

Benicia and Bay Area environmental activists are celebrating this week after years of advocacy to get the area’s refineries to reign in the worst of their air pollution.

Our Air District’s newly adopted Rule 6-5, “Particulate Emissions from Refinery Fluidized Catalytic Cracking Units” will require refineries to install “wet gas scrubbers,” like the one at Valero Refinery in Benicia.

Andrés Soto, Communities For a Better Environment

Andrés Soto, Benicia resident and longtime organizer for Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), worked tirelessly for years advocating for rule 6-5.  In a CBE press release, Soto wrote,

“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,”

Benicia Mayor Steve Young

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”

In a Wednesday blog posting, 350 Bay Area urged thank-yous for the Air District Board members who voted yes in the 19 to 3 vote to approve Rule
6-5.  Thank goodness, both of Solano County’s Board members voted yes!  Take a minute and send your thanks to Solano Supervisor Erin Hannigan and Suisun City Mayor Lori Wilson.

Solano Supervisor Erin Hannigan
Phone: (707) 784-6662
ehannigan@solanocounty.com
675 Texas Street, Suite 6500
Fairfield, CA 94533-6352

Suisun City Mayor Lori D. Wilson
City Hall: 707-421-7300
Direct: 707-410-0585
lwilson@suisun.com
701 Civic Center Blvd.
Suisun City, CA 94585

More from 350 Bay Area:

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

Toolkit: thank your representative!
The final vote was 19 YES and 3 NO.
350Bay Area Staff comment:

“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.

For truly cleaner air,
Your 350BA Organizers

VIDEO: Benicia candidate forum on Air Quality and Refinery Issues

Many thanks to Benicia’s Good Neighbor Steering Committee for hosting this important event!

Video by Constance Beutel for the Good Neighbor Steering Committee

The Benicia Good Neighbor Steering Committee wants to thank all the participating Mayoral and City Council candidates and those who attended the Educational Forum on Air Quality and Refinery issues on October 5, 2020.

The Zoom webinar was recorded, and is now available on Youtube (and viewable below). There are several viewing options, including the full video from start to finish, as well as individual candidate videos highlighting each candidate and their responses to the Good Neighbor Steering Committee questions.

While watching, you may want to view or download a copy of the 9 questions asked each candidate, including excellent background material.

Below are the videos and Youtube links.

[BenIndy editor: Note that each video begins after a 20-second “title screen” followed by an 8 minute introduction by Marilyn Bardet.  After watching those sections once, you may want to jump ahead to the first question at 8:00 or the candidate response, beginning around 8:45. – R.S.]

Full video, start to finish:   Good Neighbor Steering Committee City Council and Mayoral 2020 Candidates Forum: October 5, 2020  
Christina Strawbridge, Mayoral Candidate: https://youtu.be/zy6CH3sgU-w
Steve Young, Mayoral Candidate:  https://youtu.be/DW0pl3MgLP4
Tom Campbell, City Council Candidate:  https://youtu.be/26cNpMEqqb0
Trevor Macenski, City Council Candidate: https://youtu.be/j7gtD4XqV1Q
Terry Scott, City Council Candidate:  https://youtu.be/pHaONqUlL6I

Good Neighbor Steering Committee Candidates’ Forum on Air Quality and Refinery Concerns, Benicia, Mon. Oct. 5

Press release, via email…

GNSC Candidates’ Forum, Benicia
Topic: Air Quality and Refinery concerns
Monday, Oct 5th, 2020, 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
See Zoom link below…

We, the members of the Benicia Good Neighbor Steering Committee, cordially invite you to join us for an educational Benicia City Council and Mayoral Candidates’ forum on issues relating to Air Quality and Refinery concerns.

Candidates have been given 9 questions prior to this forum. The candidates will have 3 minutes to respond to each question. The Zoom forum will be recorded and links will be provided to the community for viewing later.

Marilyn Bardet, Mary Frances Kelly Poh, Nancy Lund,
Kathy Kerridge and Constance Beutel
Good Neighbor Steering Committee
(A refinery and community watch dog on community environmental health and safety issues)

Join Zoom Meeting
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/88625849949 ?pwd=Uk5EU09wRll0NlpGTFlRSEUrL2ZzQT09

Meeting ID: 886 2584 9949
Passcode: Local
One tap mobile
+16699006833,,88625849949#,,,,,,0#,,225810# US (San Jose)

End of big oil and its revenue impact on Benicia

Benicia is a “mini-petrostate” — What’s Next?

(Chris Riley/Times-Herald)
The city of Benicia was given a shelter in place alert and areas south of the Valero Refinery were evacuated after a power outage caused a flare up sending plumes of black smoke across Interstate 680.
By Grant Cooke, Benicia Resident and President Ag Tech Blends, September 24, 2020
Grant Cooke

I recently warned that Benicia faces a self-induced calamity. If the town doesn’t come to grips with the reality that it’s game over for the oil industry and that the tax revenue from Valero will end, the town’s future will be grim.

I suggested that by mid-century most, of it not, all Bay Area refineries—Valero included—would be shut. It may be sooner, as recently, Governor Gavin Newsom announced an executive order that would phase out gasoline-powered cars and pickups by 2035.

Most likely the big oil companies will do their best to delay this, but the direction is clear, California is turning away from fossil-powered vehicular transportation. Electric and hydrogen powered vehicles will be the norm sooner, instead of later.

The impact on Benicia and the other towns—Martinez, Rodeo, Richmond—will be significant. Unless those towns plan ahead—a troublesome chore for municipal governments—services will be drastically cut.

Secondly, if the refineries lock the gates and walk away, the cities will be stuck with the bill for cleaning up the hazardous waste that has accumulated for decades on the refinery property.

A couple of other points to consider. The first is the horrendous conflagrations that are besetting our state. Anyone who lives in California and doesn’t accept that climate change is real and life-threatening needs to talk to some of the state’s farmers who live that reality daily. Farmers know the weather and they know the ravages they are facing as the climate changes.

Climate change is not complex. It is caused by excess greenhouse gases caused by excess fossil fuel use. School kids can explain it.

The second is further from Benicia, but relevant. Over the last few weeks, a peace accord has been struck between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. Now Bahrain has joined and eventually Saudi Arabia and Iraq will also.

This is something I never dreamed I would see—peace in the Middle East. After all the trillions of dollars spent, the tragic deaths and wounded US soldiers, the horrific dismemberments by ISIS, and the millions of civilians who lost their homes, villages or lives; the wars are ending.

The stated reason for the accord is that the moderate nations are sick and tired of the Sunni and Shia extremists and decided that working with Israel with its military might and US backing is the lesser of two evils. These guys are ever pragmatists.

On the other hand, the unstated, but probably more significant reason, is the moderate nations, particularly UAE and Bahrain, have leaders who understand that they have to move away from oil-dependent economies. With a growing population of well-educated, underemployed and potentially restless citizens, change has to happen. The Middle East needs economic diversification with renewable energy, science, modern Western technology, risk capital and innovative thinkers, or the moderate nations are doomed.

This too is Benicia’s dilemma. Basically, the city is a mini petrostate with 45 percent of its tax revenue coming from Valero or related businesses. The city’s problem of dependency on oil tax revenue is the same as the Middle East nations, or Louisiana, or any other municipality that fails to plan for a non-carbon world. At least UAE and Bahrain have come to that realization.

If UAE and Bahrain can think this through, maybe Benicia can. The first step is to resist Valero’s and the union’s PAC to take over the city government in the November election. If the town’s oil interests and supporters control the city, planning for a diversified tax base won’t happen.

Vote for Steve Young and anyone else who is willing to refuse campaign contributions from Valero and the union PAC. That’s a simple step.

The next steps are going to be harder. The first is to bring the problem out in open. Ask Valero for their plans as the oil refinery winds down. What will be the decline in tax revenue? How much have they put aside for environmental cleanup? How many of their folks live in Benicia and what will be the job losses?

Supposedly, Valero says that it will be the “last man standing” or the final oil refinery left in the Bay Area. I doubt it. My bet is that Chevron in Richmond will hold out the longest because their corporate headquarters are in the Bay Area. Valero is a Texas company, which probably means they will be one of the first to shut.

The second step is that Benicia has to do what Bahrain is doing, namely diversify the tax revenue by moving from a fossil fuel to a knowledge-based economy. The world is full of examples of cities—Bristol, Vancouver, Melbourne, Singapore, come to mind—that have remade their economies.

There are several examples in the Bay Area—San Francisco, Walnut Creek, Livermore and Pleasanton.

The third step is probably the hardest still. The move to a robust knowledge-based economy with science, technology and innovation to produce wealth should be sub-regional—along the Straits. Benicia is going to have to cooperate with Vallejo.

Wealth is being generated all along 680 and both cities have to adapt quickly, or they will be left behind as Fairfield and Vacaville prosper by growing their knowledge and service-based economies.

Unfortunately, Benicia and Vallejo have flaws and neither has the ability to generate significant change. They do, however, have exceptional geography with beautiful waterfronts and spectacular views. They have more potential than other underdeveloped Bay Area cities, except maybe Richmond.

But neither can develop a robust new economy by themselves. They don’t have the resources or the willingness to overcome the differences that serious change requires.

There are no easy answers for remaking a city’s economy. It takes vision, hard work and a united citizenry with common goals and a willingness to change. Cities are like alcoholics; they usually don’t change their behavior until they reach rock bottom, or their livers give out.

The cities I mentioned that were able to remake their economies had remarkable good luck when a new company suddenly boomed—like Pleasanton with People Soft—or a brilliant and powerful leader like Willie Brown in San Francisco, who could wrench the existing power structure into action.

It is particularly hard for a small town like Benicia that has prospered along with a single industry and has a city council with decent folks but split agendas. Heaven knows there are small company towns—like Benicia—throughout the Rust Belt that are dead or dying because they waited until the gates were locked and the pink slips issued. Look what happened to Detroit.

The Bay Area is maybe the world’s center for science, technology, innovation and risk capital. It is an unparalleled combination that is being copied in China and on a smaller scale in Boston and Copenhagen. The mixture creates wealth like mountain snow creates mighty rivers. Despite the trillion-dollar successes of Apple, Google, Facebook and Sales Force, this era of magnificent knowledge-based companies is just starting. There are untold new wonders to be developed and decades to run.

It would be a pity if Benicia fails to participate.

####

Grant Cooke is a Benicia resident and co-author of two books:
By Woodrow Clark II and Grant Cooke, published by Elsevier and available at Amazon:
Grant Cooke
President, AgTech Blends
https://agtechblends.com