Category Archives: Contra Costa County

Andrés Soto Letter: Benicians Deserve Better

Repost from the Benicia Herald, Forum Page

Benicia deserves better

Andrés Soto

February 21, 2018, By Andrés Soto

Benicia is the only Bay Area refinery town that does not have the community protection of an Industrial Safety Ordinance, or ISO.

In 1999, the city of Richmond and Contra Costa County adopted their interlocking ISOs. The Richmond ordinance mirrors the Contra Costa ISO, and Contra Costa County Hazardous Materials Division is responsible for enforcement and reporting.

Their experience with repeated refinery and associated hydrogen plant polluting events caused the elected leaders to respond to pressure from the disproportionally impacted communities in Richmond, Rodeo and Martinez for greater protection and information about polluting incidents.

How did Benicia miss out?

Since the adoption of the ISO, there have continued to be dangerous and deadly incidents at these Bay Area refineries, albeit at reduced rates, due to the ISO. Fortunately, the Richmond/Contra Costa ISO allows for corrective provisions that have improved refinery function and provided impacted communities with timely investigative information.

Under the ISOs, a 72-hour post incident report is available to the public. Monthly reports, or more frequently if necessary, follow that report and are publicly posted. To date, neither the Benicia City Council nor the people of Benicia have received any official reports on the nearly monthlong Valero flaring disaster this past May.

Based on the success of the Richmond/Contra Costa ISO, the California legislature adopted some of the process safety management portions of the ISO and made them state law, going into effect in October.

Unfortunately, the legislature did not adopt all elements of the ISOs. Benicia’s ability to receive information, publish the results of investigations to the public and to require Valero to take corrective action simply does not exist. Can we wait for the legislature to strengthen the state law?

While Valero and PG&E point the finger at each other over who is at fault for the Valero flaring disaster in May, Benicia remains in the dark. We know Valero was given permits to construct an adequate backup generator system but only one co-generator was built and the permit for the other was allowed to expire after several extensions, probably because of Valero’s bureaucrats in Texas.

Do we Benicians think we can count on Texas oil men to put our health and safety ahead of their profits? The lesson we learned from the successful battle to stop Valero’s dangerous Crude-By-Rail Project is the company seems to stop at nothing to ensure their profits – even at the expense of Benicians.

Benicia deserves better!

Andrés Soto,
Benicia

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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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