Category Archives: Contra Costa County

TODAY! ISO BENICIA PANEL DISCUSSION TUES. NOV. 14

TOWN HALL MEETING TONIGHT!
An Industrial Safety Ordinance (ISO)
for Benicia

To learn more about ISO Benicia,
please attend a panel discussion with State Officials, and Contra Costa County experts on why and how Benicia can better protect our community.

Why:  Currently, Benicia is the only refinery town in the Bay Area not protected by an ISO. In Contra Costa County, the county Hazardous Materials Division of the Health Department is responsible for enforcing an ISO that governs the three refineries in the county unincorporated areas – Shell, Tesoro and Phillips 66. The City of Richmond has an ordinance that mirrors the county’s and contracts with Contra Costa County for enforcement activities governing the Chevron refinery and other industries.

When:   TODAY! Tuesday, November 14, 2017 at 7pm.

Where:  The Benicia Public Library in the Doña Benicia Room at 150 East L St. in Benicia.

Who:   

  • Gregory Vlasek, Local Program Coordination and Emergency Response, California Environmental Protection Agency
  • Clyde Trombettas, Statewide Manager and Policy Advisor for California OSHA, Process Safety Management Unit
  • Randy Sawyer, Contra Costa County Chief Environmental Health and Hazardous Materials Officer
  • John Gioia,  Contra Costa County Supervisor
  • Staff representatives from Solano County were invited to participate and declined the invitation.
  • You:  There will also be an opportunity for the public to ask questions and make comments at the end of the presentations.

For more information:  Contact Andrés Soto at 510.237.6866 or andres@cbecal.org  [See also below: Quick Facts, and Where To Write.]

Event Sponsors:

Benicians For a Safe & Healthy Community | Progressive Democrats of Benicia | The Benicia Independent | Communities for a Better Environment  |  ALSO: Solano County Supervisor Monica Brown |  United Democrats of Southern Solano County  |  Carquinez Patriotic Resistance


Quick Facts

What is the purpose of an Industrial Safety Ordinance (ISO)?
The main goal of an Industrial Safety Ordinance (ISO) is to prevent and/or minimize the effects of devastating accidents on the employees close to the accident and the surrounding communities.

Why does Benicia need this when the State has an ISO?
After the near-catastrophic May 5th Valero Refinery emergency shutdown and major flaring incident, it was even more apparent that Benicia is at risk without an ISO. Benicia is the only jurisdiction in the East Bay with a refinery or chemical industry that does not have a local safety ordinance such as the City of Richmond and other refinery communities have. The City of Benicia is covered by Cal/OSHA and Cal/EPA safety regulations.  However, there are additional concerns not addressed by Cal/OSHA and Cal/EPA, such as no direct safety reports filed at the City of Benicia, leaving Benicia in the dark.  An ISO would correct this and other safety matters. 

How would this improve communications between Valero and the community of Benicia?
A local ISO would facilitate cooperation between industry, the City, the County, local fire departments, Cal/OSHA, Cal/EPA, other agencies that have oversight of businesses, and the public in the prevention and reduction of incidents at refineries like Valero. An ISO would also establish local air quality monitors for access to real time data.

Why is the Valero refinery the only Bay Area refinery not involved with a county or local ISO?
In 1998 Contra Costa County adopted an ISO, and revised and updated it after the Chevron fire. The City of Richmond also has a local ISO.  These ISOs require among other things, refineries and other chemical businesses to submit a safety plan, undergo safety audits, and have risk management plans, each of which would allow more community input and access. The Contra Costa ISO has been praised as the best safety ordinance in the country, so effective that Cal/OSHA and Cal/EPA adopted many elements for state regulation and oversight.  Benicia is the only city in Solano County that is home to refinery and currently our County has no plans to develop an ISO.  It is up to the City of Benicia to develop and implement its own. 

How would the ISO be managed and can Benicia afford it?
Contra Costa County’s ISO enables the county to collect fees from industrial facilities to pay for comprehensive public safety alerts and local information about environmental risks and exposure to toxins due to an “event”.  

What are the next steps and how can I get involved?
Because Benicia deserves to be properly protected and informed, Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community, Progressive Democrats of Benicia, The Benicia Independent, Carquinez Patriotic Resistance, Communities For a Better Environment and additional community groups are urging the City Council to adopt and implement an Industrial Safety Ordinance for Benicia.  To learn more and get involved, visit BeniciaIndependent.com.  To write to Benicia city staff and council members, see below…


WHERE TO WRITE…

EMAIL:
Mayor Elizabeth Patterson (epatterson@ci.benicia.ca.us)
Vice Mayor Steve Young (syoung@ci.benicia.ca.us)
Tom Campbell (tcampbell@ci.benicia.ca.us
Mark Hughes (Mark.Hughes@ci.benicia.ca.us)
Alan Schwartzman (aschwartzman@ci.benicia.ca.us)
City Manager Lorie Tinfow (ltinfow@ci.benicia.ca.us)
Interim Fire Chief Josh Chadwick (JChadwick@ci.benicia.ca.us)
Police Chief Erik Upson (EUpson@ci.benicia.ca.us)
City Attorney Heather McLaughlin (Heather.McLaughlin@ci.benicia.ca.us)

MAIL / PHONE / OFFICES:
Mail to or visit City Hall: 250 East L Street, Benicia, CA 94510
Phone numbers are listed on the City’s CONTACT PAGE

SEND YOUR THOUGHTS TO THE NEWS MEDIA:
Benicia Herald, 820 First St, Benicia, CA 94510, or by email to the editor at beniciaherald@gmail.com
AND
Vallejo Times-Herald, P.O. Box 3188, Vallejo, CA 94590, Fax: 643-0128, or by email to Editor Jack Bungart at opinion@timesheraldonline.com.

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Solano County report on Valero near-catastrophic incident on May 5, 2017

Repost from the Vallejo Times-Herald and the East Bay Times
[Editor: Note that the Solano County analysis and report was not sent to City of Benicia elected officials nor released to the public.  The existence of the report came by way of a contact for information by KQED News.  See also: KQED: Solano County Probe Finds No Violations in Valero Refinery Outage.   For details, download the Solano County Incident Report.  – RS]

Second regulator finds Valero committed no violations in May 5 flaring

By Katy St. Clair, 10/24/17, 5:19 PM PDT 
(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.
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. | (Chris Riley/Times-Herald)

A second agency has ruled that Valero Oil Co. did not violate any regulations in connection with the May 5 power outage that sent plumes of toxic gas into the air as the result of emergency flaring.

The Solano County Environmental Health Division could not find any safety or regulatory deficiencies on the part of Valero, according to Terry Schmidtbauer, assistant director of resource management.

“We looked at their processes — did they have safety plans in place, were they handling the chemicals properly? Did they report their emissions, did they have the proper plans in place to minimize the releases?” Schmidtbauer said.

Schmidtbauer’s team found that Valero had followed all protocol, though he said that his agency is still getting new information and that new regulations that went into effect on Oct. 1 will need to be taken into consideration when it examines Valero’s process going forward.

California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) conducted its own probe in May and also didn’t issue any violations.

The event occurred after PG&E shut down two main power feeds to the refinery, which initiated emergency flaring and ended up pumping more than 80,000 pounds of sulfur dioxide into the air. Valero is suing PG&E in excess of $75 million for the power outage, which the power company admits to causing.

Critics of Valero say that the oil refinery should have had sufficient, independent backup power to cover such emergencies, though there are no state or federal regulations that require it to do so.

Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson responded to the county’s ruling by saying that just because Valero didn’t violate any regulations doesn’t mean that what happened wasn’t dangerous and preventable.

Valero wasn’t required to have backup power beyond PG&E and therefore could not be found to be violating any laws when all power was cut off.

“Lack of violations does not mean that we are safe,” Patterson said. “The next step is to have an incident review of what could be improved.”

Patterson has been pushing for Benicia to spearhead an Industrial Safety Ordinance patterned after one created in Contra Costa County that has some of the most stringent oversight in the United States, according to the county’s Health Services division. Contra Costa’s I.S.O. offers another set of eyes beyond regulators that requires refineries to be evaluated for safety and other concerns and then make changes if necessary. These changes and recommendations can vary from plant to plant, according to Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia, whose district includes the Chevron refinery in Richmond that was the site of a major fire in 2012.

This year, the Governor’s Interagency Working Group on Refinery Safety adopted the Contra Costa model for its “best practices” dictate for refineries across the state. It went into effect Oct. 1.

Though this new oversight expands the Industrial Safety Ordinance statewide in order to strengthen health and safety issues around refineries, Patterson still wants to explore creating an ordinance in Solano County.

“We need an I.S.O. so that we provide the public’s right to know in an effective and transparent way and that we can have the expertise to assess the status of these programs,” she said in an email.

Although rules, procedures and regulations may be put into place, it is important to have local, expert oversight ensuring that they are all followed, she said. It would also be easier to share information with the community.

“This (would not) give us regulatory authority over the state but could go beyond the state in certain categories mostly dealing with noticing, reporting, investigations, inspections and public right to know,” she said.

Patterson likened it to how water pollution is overseen.

“While the feds and state set standards, and the regional water boards issue permits and violations, the local government has ordinances that apply the standards and collect the fees to ensure those standards are met,” she said.

Patterson is organizing a meeting for mid-November with Gioia, Cal/OSHA and other entities to conduct an incident review of the flaring in May, discuss a possible I.S.O. here, and figure out how closely the new Oct. 1 statewide guidelines mirror those in Contra Costa County.

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Letter: Bay Area Air Board needs to step up for cleaner air

Repost from the Vallejo Times-Herald

Where our mayor, supervisor stand

By Michelle Pellegrin, 08/04/16, 4:09 PM PDT

There are 24 people in the Bay Area with the power to regulate the air we breathe. Their decisions cause or reduce asthma, cancer and other illnesses that can and have resulted in death.

This regional board has so much power to affect peoples’ lives and deaths, yet most people haven’t even heard of this agency with the unwieldy name: The Bay Area Air Quality Management District — or BAAQMD.

The 24 members of this board — which includes Vallejo Mayor Osby Davis — have a mandate to protect public health.

The neighborhoods around the refineries have suffered severe health effects from emissions. The 2012 Chevron toxic explosion and fire in Richmond sent more than 15,000 people to the hospital, which is now closed. A broad coalition of Bay Area groups would like to see refinery emissions, which have continuously gone up for the past 20 years, capped and then methods found to reduce harmful emissions. The first step in this process is an Environmental Impact Report (EIR).

On Wednesday, July 20, after four long years and several refinery incidents, the board, in a room with standing room only, was to vote on this. What appeared as a simple slam dunk became a political football between clean air advocates and Big Oil.

Bay Area refineries have been preparing to process heavier dirtier crudes, which will increase emissions and their diseases. The wave of Crude By Rail (CBR) of proposed projects, such as the Valero Benicia CBR project, are designed to facilitate the importation of extreme crudes, such volatile oil from the Bakken fields and volatile heavy crude from the Canadian Tar Sands.

BAAQMD staff, in what can only be seen as another move to interminably delay implementing modern and necessary emission standards on Bay Area refineries, supported combining the simpler refinery emission cap EIR with a complex EIR on toxic chemical emissions for up to 900 businesses.

Bay Area refinery corridor communities and their allied cities want the EIRs to be conducted separately, as the EIR on refineries can be done much more quickly than the more complex toxic chemical EIR because it requires no infrastructure changes. They want answers and relief from the constant health problems they are suffering.

And here is where our mayor stepped in to show his stripes. Davis, just recently appointed to the board, gave a critical speech supporting combining the two EIRs. Who would have thought the BAAQMD’s newest member would have such sway with the board?

Anyone with respiratory health problems or cancer can give a big round of applause to our mayor and Solano County Supervisor Jim Spering, who made the motion to combine the two EIRs. We in Solano County have the dubious distinction of having the most anti-public health, pro-corporate members on the board.

Even the Contra Costa appointees where four of the five refineries are located weren’t as instrumental as the Solano reps in pushing for the delay of this most important EIR.

Luckily, other board members did uphold their duty to the public’s health and a compromise was reached. The EIRs will be combined but if they become bogged down then they will be separated out. In addition, and a very important one from the public’s point of view, there will be citizen oversight of the process.

The irony here is that this is a false dichotomy. Big Oil will keep functioning and we need them for those cars we drive. These companies provide jobs and add to our economies. But it is no longer legitimate to trade health for jobs. It is an outmoded model and has no place in deciding public policy. It is no longer acceptable for companies to dominate local economies and the policies of the people in those communities where they are located.

Big Oil has known for years that this is the direction things are moving. A 2014 article in the San Jose Mercury News notes the refineries are already working on improving their systems in anticipation of processing the dirtier and volatile oil from outside California.

As Tom Griffith, head of the Martinez Environmental Group back in 2014 stated, “The missed opportunity here is for the oil companies to refocus their sights on the future of renewable energy.”

We should be working together to improve public health. The corporate stranglehold on such important regional boards must end. Citizens need to be attend BAAQMD board meetings and provide input on upcoming board decisions for this to happen. The next meeting is Wednesday, Sept. 21, at 9:30 a.m. at the BAAQMD headquarters at 375 Beale St. San Francisco.

And here in Vallejo we need to do the same and be more engaged. We have seen the result of complicity between politicians and corporations that excluded public input: The absurd notion of putting a cement factory in a residential area with its disastrous public health consequences. Don’t let Mayor Davis and his cronies put our community in harm’s way. Say “no” to the Orcem/VMT cement plant and don’t vote in November for any candidate who supports it!

— Michelle Pellegrin/Vallejo
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