Category Archives: Communities For A Better Environment (CBE)

Sorting Out Air Quality Regulations After Cap-And-Trade’s Renewal

Repost from Bay Area Monitor – Bay Area League of Women Voters

Sorting Out Air Quality Regulations After Cap-And-Trade’s Renewal

By Leslie Stewart, October-November edition
Communities for a Better Environment’s Andrés Soto (in red shirt) speaks at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District’s board of directors meeting on September 20. A large number of stakeholders attended to participate in a lively discussion about emissions regulation. | Photo by Alec MacDonald.

Now that the dust is settling from the legislative tumult surrounding renewal of California’s cap-and-trade program, participants are taking stock of the changed landscape for air quality regulation, both statewide and regionally. Legislation passed this summer sets a more ambitious goal for greenhouse gas reductions through cap-and-trade, while also shifting some duties for regional air districts. Under the new laws, these local agencies will see a reduced role in greenhouse gas regulation, but an added responsibility for implementing a statewide community-focused air quality monitoring and enforcement program.

The cap-and-trade program is a complicated balancing act between protecting the environment — specifically by reducing greenhouse gas emissions — and retaining industries that contribute to the state’s economic base. As the limit on permitted greenhouse gas emissions decreases (the “cap”), businesses which exceed the limit must obtain allowances (the “trade”), either through state auctions or from other businesses which are under the cap and therefore have extra allowances. The state opted to give some allowances away for free, initially to ease adoption by industries and utilities, and now to reduce the financial burden on companies which may otherwise decide to relocate.

Passed in July, Assembly Bill 398 (E. Garcia) extended cap-and-trade to 2030 from the program’s original sunset year of 2020. This created more certainty for industry, which was increasingly reluctant to pay for allowances, fearing these might lose value if the program ended soon. The bill also raised the bar for the state’s Air Resources Board. The agency’s goal for 2020 has been to decrease greenhouse gas emissions down to 1990 levels; AB 398 adds a target for 2030, requiring a 40 percent reduction below 1990 levels. Stanley Young, ARB’s director of communications, noted that “the cap has decreased by two to three percent over the previous years of the program, and will drop by four percent by 2020, but then will need to drop exponentially to achieve this goal.”

Additionally, it is now up to ARB, rather than regional air districts, to regulate emissions of carbon dioxide from any source covered by cap-and-trade, whether in industry, agriculture, or elsewhere. Many environmental groups and agencies that were generally supportive of cap-and-trade renewal, including the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, opposed this aspect of AB 398. Following its passage, the Air District announced it expected to shelve a proposed regional cap on refinery emissions, Rule 12-16, which environmental groups had been working toward for five years.

“Victory snatched away at the last minute,” was Andrés Soto’s description of the regional air district restrictions in AB 398. Soto is a community organizer with Communities for a Better Environment, a strong proponent of Rule 12-16. However, his organization is refocusing. Soto noted that “local air districts can’t touch CO₂ reductions, but methane and other gases can still be regulated regionally.” CBE is planning a new campaign to pressure the Air District to cap non-CO₂ refinery emissions at current levels before permitting any new refinery infrastructure projects.

Meanwhile, Tom Addison of the Air District’s Legislative Affairs division commented, “Given passage of AB 398 and its restrictions on local air districts, we are considering how best to coordinate with ARB on actions on greenhouse gases moving forward. Our climate problems are so large and pressing that it makes sense for everyone to work together to address them.”

Greenhouse gases are not the only emissions from industry, and often the attempts to curb them get intertwined with grassroots efforts to limit the local impact of other categories of air pollution. However, not everyone agrees with this approach, since greenhouse gases harm the environment on a global level, not a local one. As ARB’s Young asserted, “We have an equally ambitious goal to address toxic air contaminants and criteria air pollutants, but the system works better when you do that separately [from greenhouse gases].”

That separation was the rationale for AB 398’s companion bill, AB 617 (C. Garcia). The bill requires the state to set up a uniform databank, where data gathered from emission monitoring throughout California will be publicly available. The databank will inform a new ARB strategy to reduce toxic air contaminants and criteria air pollutants, including identifying the most environmentally-burdened communities and locations where additional monitoring is needed.

When the state identifies those sites, local air districts will be required to set up new monitoring there, and also create community-specific pollution reduction plans. Districts may also require individual facilities to set up monitoring at their fencelines. As Young pointed out, “there has been a technical revolution in air monitoring, so that viable, accurate, and consistent monitoring can be done at the community level.”

Under AB 617, ARB will coordinate all these efforts through the newly formed Community Air Protection Program. Its director, Karen Magliano, sees the new program as “fundamentally transforming community-based planning, by bringing in the communities themselves at all levels.” She explained that “we want to look at the problem at a granular level — implementation will be a shared responsibility.”

According to Addison, the Air District is concerned about some aspects of that shared responsibility, especially the financial ones. “We are very supportive of the general philosophy behind AB 617, and some pieces we’re enthusiastic about,” he noted. “For example, AB 617 increases the penalties for strict liability violations. However, there is no additional funding [for districts], and a host of new requirements.” Air District staff subsequently noted that a budget trailer bill signed into law on September 17 contains some AB 617 implementation funding, yet it is unclear whether that funding will be adequate.

Not all of the responsibilities in AB 617 are brand-new to the Air District. Some fenceline and community monitors — measures which will be required by AB 617 in any state-identified communities — are already in place around several Bay Area facilities, because of industry-community agreements or as compliance with the Air District’s Rule 12-15, passed in 2015. Addison observed that better coordination of data reporting on emissions sources is already happening as well. “More data is always helpful, but we want to have that without being forced to divert resources from other programs,” he explained.

Designing community emission reduction plans will be a new task for the Air District, and Addison is concerned that the tool is limited. However, he was quick to add, “We are committed to trying to improve public health and working to implement the bill. Cutting emissions for disproportionately impacted communities is something we have long aimed at.”

Bill Magavern, policy director for the Coalition for Clean Air, is also focused on making the community plans work. “The community action plans rely a lot on implementation by air districts — it’s important that they yield strong measures to help the communities in the areas most impacted by pollution,” he observed. “The concern is not only identifying the problem, but moving quickly to implement solutions.”

Magavern added another area which may require community watchdogs. AB 617 mandates that regional air districts require facilities to use Best Available Retrofit Technology, starting with those which have gone longest since being permitted. “We need to be sure that districts are actually requiring that equipment be updated, and not just letting them use credits,” Magavern warned. Overall, however, he is “cautiously optimistic that AB 617 will yield significant improvements in air quality — but we need to be actively involved to be sure that actually happens.”

Leslie Stewart covers air quality and energy for the Monitor.

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Enviros Sue California State Lands Commission Over Tesoro Terminal Lease

Repost from Law360

Enviros Sue Calif. Land Agency Over Tesoro Terminal Lease

By Juan Carlos Rodriguez, April 20, 2015, 5:59 PM ET

New York — Two environmental groups on Friday sued the California State Lands Commission for allegedly renewing Tesoro Refining and Marketing Co.’s lease at an oil receiving facility near San Francisco bay without adequately considering the business’ impacts on the surrounding area.

The Center for Biological Diversity and Communities for A Better Environment alleged the CSLC violated the California Environmental Quality Act in March when it renewed the 30-year lease for Tesoro’s Avon Marine Terminal. The CSLC’s Final Environmental Impact Report was faulty for a variety of reasons, including that it doesn’t specify what kind of oil will be imported to the terminal, the petition for a writ of mandate said.

It said the Avon Terminal imports crude oil feedstocks to Tesoro’s nearby Golden Eagle Refinery and exports refined petroleum products, like gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel.

“The EIR for the Avon Terminal fails as an informational document as it is conspicuously silent about the types of crude oil feedstocks that will be handled at the terminal and the additional risks that may be created by Tesoro’s plans to process lower quality and heavy crudes at the Golden Eagle Refinery,” the petition said.

It said that Tesoro plans to process increasing quantities of lower quality crude oil feedstocks at the Golden Eagle Refinery, including Bakken crude. The environmental groups said transporting and processing Bakken crude creates numerous health and safety risks because it’s highly volatile and is dirtier than most other crude feedstocks, releasing high levels of benzene, volatile organic compounds, and toxic air contaminants when processed.

The Avon Terminal EIR is deficient in other ways as well, according to the groups. They said that in analyzing the environmental effects of renewing the Avon Terminal lease, the EIR considers only the Avon Terminal’s effects and fails to consider the combined effects of Tesoro’s integrated facilities, including those of the refinery and another nearby terminal.

“This artificial isolation of the Avon Terminal improperly masks the full extent of the effects of Tesoro’s integrated refinery operations,” the petition said.

The EIR also underestimates the annual number of ships that will dock at the relicensed Avon Terminal over its thirty-year lease, resulting in an underestimation of the air, water, wildlife, and other impacts of the Avon Terminal’s future operations, according to the petition.

“As a result of these and related deficiencies, the EIR fails to fully inform the public and decision-makers of the project’s significant health, safety, and environmental impacts and fails to analyze and mitigate these impacts as the California Environmental Quality Act requires,” the petition said.

Contra Costa County hosts four of the five major petroleum refineries in northern California, and the fifth is nearby, the petition said, making it the second largest refining center in the western U.S. It said residents in the area suffer from high rates of asthma and many are ill-equipped to deal with these burdens, as more than half the residents are low-income minorities.

“Tesoro’s operations also affect wildlife. The project area provides habitat for state and federally listed species, such as coho and Chinook salmon and steelhead; delta smelt; green sturgeon; black and Ridgway’s rails; salt marsh harvest mouse; and three endangered plant species,” the petition said.

The environmental groups are asking the CSLC to void the EIR for the Avon Terminal lease approval; set aside and withdraw approvals of the project; and refrain from granting any further approvals for the Avon Terminal lease approval until the commission complies fully with the requirements of CEQA.

The CSLC declined to comment on the lawsuit Monday.

The plaintiffs are represented by Irene V. Gutierrez and Trent W. Orr of Earthjustice and Roger Lin.

Counsel information for the CSLC was not available Monday.

The case is Center for Biological Diversity et al. v. California State Lands Commission, number 15-0569 in the Superior Court of the State of California in and for the County of Contra Costa.

–Editing by Emily Kokoll.
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Communities for a Better Environment sues Contra Costa County and Phillips 66

Repost from The Contra Costa Times

Rodeo refinery project subject of legal challenge

By Tom Lochner, 03/04/2015 11:37:08 AM PST

MARTINEZ — An environmental group has sued Contra Costa County over its approval of a propane and butane recovery project at a Rodeo refinery, contending it is a piece of a grander plan to process heavy, dirty tar sands crude that would come to California by rail.

Phillips 66, which owns the Rodeo refinery and another refinery near Santa Maria, in San Luis Obispo County, is a co-defendant in the suit, filed Wednesday in Contra Costa Superior Court in Martinez by Communities for a Better Environment. The two refineries together constitute the two-part San Francisco Refinery, according to the Phillips 66 website.

“Phillips 66 cannot meet its propane recovery objective without switching to a lower quality feedstock, like tar sands, and without other Phillips 66 projects to assist in that overall switch,” CBE attorney Roger Lin said in a news release.

CBE has said that the refinery, with the acquiescence of authorities, seeks to “piecemeal” what the environmental group describes as “a tar sands refining project that could worsen pollution, climate, and refinery and rail explosion hazards.” The environmental impact report, CBE contends, “hid the project from the public and failed to mitigate its significant environmental impacts.”

A rail spur project at the Santa Maria refinery, designed to receive about five trains a week, each with about 80 tank cars of crude oil, is under review by San Luis Obispo County.

The trains could arrive at Santa Maria from the south, via the Los Angeles basin, or the north, possibly along the shores of San Pablo and San Francisco bays and through San Jose.

Crude oil is partially refined at the Santa Maria refinery, then sent on to Rodeo via a 200-mile pipeline.

Phillips 66 spokesman Paul Adler said Wednesday that the Board of Supervisors got it right on Feb. 3 and that its decision “will help ensure the long-term viability of the Rodeo Refinery and the many jobs it provides.”

“Our plans for this project reflect our company’s commitment to operational excellence and safety while enhancing the competitiveness of the facility,” Adler said in an email.

“Following two years of careful analysis by the Contra Costa County board and its expert staff, claims that this project is a crude by rail project were dismissed,” Adler added. “Continued allegations by Communities for a Better Environment that this is a crude-by-rail project are inaccurate and misleading.”

Officials at County Counsel Sharon Anderson’s office could not immediately be reached for comment.

Along with the Rodeo project’s environmental impact report, the Board of Supervisors on Feb. 3 rejected two appeals of a November 2013 county Planning Commission-approved use permit for the project. The appellants were CBE and the law firm of Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger on behalf of the Rodeo Citizens Association. The board vote was 4-1, with Supervisor John Gioia voting no.

The Rodeo project calls for installation of new equipment to recover and sell propane and butane instead of burning it as fuel at the refinery or flaring off excesses.

Phillips 66 has said the project would reduce emissions of several pollutants, including sulfur dioxide, partly by using cleaner-burning natural gas as refinery fuel and because sulfur would be extracted to prepare the propane and butane for sale.

The new equipment would include a hydrotreater, six storage vessels and two new rail spurs related to shipping the recovered propane and butane out of the refinery in tank cars.

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