Category Archives: Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson

SF Chronicle opinion: Mayors urge governor to end fossil fuel production in California

Repost from The San Francisco Chronicle

Mayors urge governor to end fossil fuel production in California

By Elizabeth Patterson and Melvin Willis, Aug. 24, 2018 3:31 p.m.
FILE – This March 9, 2010, file photo shows a tanker truck passing the Chevron oil refinery in Richmond, Calif. A U.S. judge who held a hearing about climate change that received widespread attention has thrown …

As San Francisco prepares to host Gov. Jerry Brown’s historic Global Climate Action Summit in September, we, the San Francisco Bay Area mayors of cities impacted by the toxic consequences of fossil fuel production, are standing with elected representatives from frontline communities and throughout California in calling on the governor to phase out fossil fuel production.

Benicia and Richmond both face the toxic consequences of California’s complicity in one of the most toxic, polluting, dangerous industries on Earth and the primary driver of climate change: the oil and gas industry.

Benicia is home to the Valero oil refinery, and our residents are regularly exposed to emissions during standard operations. In May 2017, a power outage sent flames, heavy black smoke and toxic gases spewing into the air for two straight weeks. Among the pollutants were nearly 80,000 pounds of toxic sulfur dioxide — five years’ worth of “normal” emissions — and carbonyl sulfide, a highly toxic and extremely flammable gas. Accidents are only the most visible of the toxic pollution that impacts our public health, day after day. Our asthma rates are three times the state average.

The Valero refinery in Bencia,Ca., as seen on Tuesday June 20, 2017. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District on Wednesday is expected to approve the nation’s first limits on greenhouse gas emissions from …

The Texas-based petroleum giant’s Benicia refinery employs 480 people and supplies nearly a quarter of our city’s tax revenue, but at what cost?

When Valero proposed a crude-by-rail project to bring 70,000 barrels of tar sands and Bakken crude oil per day by rail through the Sierra, Sacramento and Davis to Benicia, our residents resisted, and our small, historic town stood up to our biggest employer and taxpayer. After three years of environmental review, national attention and a failed effort by Valero to get the federal government involved, the City Council voted unanimously against it.

Farther south on San Francisco Bay is Richmond, one of the poorest communities in the Bay Area. Our city of largely Hispanic, African American and Asian residents fought against toxic industrial pollution from Chevron’s Richmond refinery that processes 250,000 barrels of crude oil daily. Chevron is our largest employer and taxpayer. Nonetheless, our community has risen up, defeating Chevron-backed candidates in 2014 that outspent us 5 to 1 in our local election, and elected true champions for our community. Richmond forced major environmental conditions on Chevron as it expands the refinery and strengthened our Industrial Safety Ordinance in response to the refinery’s toxic explosion and fire in 2012 that sent 15,000 residents to seek medical treatment.

Toxic pollution isn’t the only threat we face. With 32 miles of shoreline, more than any other city on San Francisco Bay, Richmond is at extreme risk from sea level rise that will soon cost our community far more than we can afford. So, Richmond, home to an oil giant, became the ninth city in less than a year to bring major fossil fuel companies to court over climate change. We filed a lawsuit against 29 oil, gas and coal companies — including Chevron, along with BP and Exxon — to hold them accountable for their role in climate change and its impacts on the community.

The fossil fuel industry’s business plan is destroying not only our health and communities, but also the survival of our species.

Yet, under Gov. Jerry Brown, the state of California has not only tolerated the fossil fuel industry, but expanded it — granting permits for drilling 20,000 new oil wells.

The Bay Area has had enough of this climate hypocrisy. It is wrong to make communities sick. As one of the top oil-producing states, it is time to bring the fossil fuel era to an end.

While our small towns have the courage to stand up to a billion-dollar fossil fuel industry to protect our public health and climate, why hasn’t Brown?

On the toxic front lines of climate change, we stand with 150 local elected officials from a majority of counties in California that are taking bold steps to stop fossil fuels. We all are urging Brown to make a plan to phase out oil and gas production in California, to clean up our cities, towns and agricultural lands, and protect our people.

If our cities can say “no” to expanding fossil fuels, Gov. Brown, you can, too — and we’ll have your back.

Elizabeth Patterson is mayor of Benicia. Melvin Willis is vice mayor of Richmond.

    Benicia Mayor Patterson on State decision not to penalize PG&E

    From Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson’s E-ALERT
    [See also: KQED NEWS, California Report.]

    From: Mayor Elizabeth Patterson
    Sent: Thursday, August 9, 2018 9:32 AM
    Subject: State Decides Not to Penalize PG&E for Major Valero Outage

    My full statement to KQED was:

    Without an Industrial Safety Ordinance residents and workers in Benicia are at risk because the CPUC cravenly fails to ensure that PG&E provide adequate training when working on power supply to Valero Refinery.  Without an Industrial Safety Ordinance Benicia has no way to check on the adequacy and timeliness of PG&E training.   

    On top of that the city cannot require Valero to “power down” when major work is being done by PG&E.  The CPUC fails to consider the public – the City of Benicia and its school district are the only public entities in the near catastrophic May 5th PG&E power outage at Valero Refinery. The Public Utilities Commission fails to consider the city in its investigation.  There was no effort to determine the costs to the city for opening and operating the Emergency Center; no cost for deploying our police and fire personnel; no cost for all staff on deck for the entire episode; no cost for the loss of public trust .  No effort to determine the costs to the BUSD for shelter in place.  No effort to determine the cost to loss of business in the Benicia Industrial Park.  Without the ISO the City of Benicia could not present this information to the CPUC.  Sleeping on the “Public” of the CA Public Utilities Commission does not extinguish the need for Californians’ access to safe and reliable utility infrastructure and services.

    • Mission Statement:  The CPUC regulates services and utilities, protects consumers, safeguards the environment, and assures Californians’ access to safe and reliable utility infrastructure and services.
      CPUC Investigation Conclusion:
    • My [CPUC] investigation found that PG&E violated General Order 174, Rule 12 because: 1) PG&E failed to maintain the CCTV for its intended use and also2) PG&E failed to provide adequate training, documents, or diagrams for its operators to identify the CCVT as part of the anti-islanding protection scheme since the documents, diagrams, and training on the protection scheme did not provide enough clarity on the activation conditions and how they relate to the failed CCVT.

      KQED: State Decides Not to Penalize PG&E for Major Valero Outage

      Repost from KQED NEWS, California Report
      [See also: Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson’s full comment.]

      State Decides Not to Penalize PG&E for Major Valero Outage

      The Valero Benicia refinery. (Craig Miller/KQED)

      The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), which recently blamed PG&E for causing a major power outage at Valero’s Benicia refinery last year, has decided not to punish the utility for the mistakes that led to one of the worst Bay Area refinery accidents in years.

      The commission concluded that PG&E’s inadequate training of operations personnel and slow response to the failure of an electrical component led to the May 5, 2017, outage, which triggered a major release of toxic sulfur dioxide and prompted emergency shelter-in-place orders in Benicia.

      But the state agency — at this point — does not plan to penalize the company.

      “PG&E has agreed to take corrective actions that, in CPUC staff’s opinion, would prevent a recurrence of the problems,” commission spokeswoman Terrie Prosper said in an email.

      “SED (The CPUC’s Safety and Enforcement Division) does not plan to issue a citation with penalties at this time, but will monitor to ensure that PG&E addresses the problems sufficiently and in a timely manner,” Prosper said, adding that if things change, the commission could reopen the probe and cite the utility.

      The CPUC’s decision did not sit well with the area’s elected leaders.

      “I think it’s outrageous,” said state Sen. Bill Dodd (D-Napa), who represents the area. “Not only continually has PG&E’s safety protocols been called into question, but now this leads me to call into question the oversight of the California Public Utilities Commission.”

      Dodd plans to send a letter to CPUC President Michael Picker in the coming days, expressing outrage over the agency’s decision.

      “They clearly violated the law,” said state Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), a longtime critic of PG&E, in an interview Thursday.

      “To give them a pass certainly does not bode well for the change in culture and policies and prioritization at the PUC where safety is supposed to be paramount,” said Hill, who’s been pushing the commission to be a stricter regulator of PG&E since the 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion.

      “It indicates a systemic problem with PG&E,” he said. “The CPUC should do its job, enforce the law and cite PG&E.

      Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson, who has been pushing for the city to have more oversight over the refinery, said the CPUC’s decision means it failed to consider that the city was gravely affected by the outage.

      “Residents and workers in Benicia are at risk because the CPUC cravenly fails to ensure that PG&E provide adequate training when working on power supply to the Valero refinery,” Patterson said.

      The mayor says the commission should have considered fining PG&E for costs associated with the city’s opening of its emergency center and the work its police and firefighters did the day of the outage, among other sacrifices Benicia made in dealing with the refinery accident.

      The Valero shutdown led to several government investigations, a brief increase in gas prices and a lawsuit by Valero against PG&E.

      The CPUC said a lack of training and unclear company documents led PG&E workers to misunderstand the importance of a key piece of equipment that went down before the outage.

      Valero, when asked to comment on the commission’s decision, reiterated that blame was on PG&E for the entire episode.

      “We agree with the CPUC report, which found that PG&E violated state regulations and is solely responsible for the May 5, 2017 power outage,” company spokeswoman Lillian Riojas said in an emailed statement.

      “PG&E must take the necessary corrective actions to prevent this from happening again,” Riojas said.

      PG&E disputes the CPUC’s findings and continues to blame Valero for the incident, but says it’s taking steps to prevent a similar problem.

      “Since this incident, we have completed several corrective actions … including adding alarms and alerts, regularly reviewing work processes and making changes to verification status of protective systems and holding regular refresher trainings for operators,” said Deanna Contreras, a PG&E spokeswoman, in a statement.