Category Archives: Richmond CA

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.

    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,

      BNSF train car derails in Richmond, CA

      Repost from The Contra Costa Times
      [Editor: see also this NBC Bay Area video news report by Cheryl Hurd.  Apologies for the commercial ad.  – RS]

      Burlington Northern Santa Fe car carrying pork derails in Richmond, raising concerns about more hazardous materials

      By Robert Rogers, December 3, 2014

      RICHMOND — The derailment Friday of a single rail car containing refrigerated pork is under investigation by Burlington Northern Santa Fe officials, who say it occurred during a low-speed movement within its rail yard and suggests no added risk for the rail transport of more hazardous materials in Contra Costa County.

      “This was a very minor incident with a single car going less than 10 mph,” BNSF spokeswoman Lena Kent said. “There are many precautions we take to ensure that 99.997 percent of all hazardous materials we transport reach their destinations without a release caused by an accident.”

      The car was being pulled by a locomotive through the yard just west of Richmond Parkway near Pennsylvania Avenue when it tipped over.

      Kent said people cut through a chain-link fence soon after and took boxes of refrigerated pork that spilled from the crumpled hull. Empty cardboard Tyson Foods boxes were seen scattered in the neighborhood nearby.

      Kent said the incident is under investigation, and she declined to say what may have caused it or whether the line on which the derailment occurred is ever used to transport hazardous materials.

      The incident and its aftermath — the car remains broken beside the tracks and will soon be scrapped — has only heightened concerns in a community already on edge over the recent influx of crude-by-rail shipments, much of it from the Bakken region of North Dakota.

      City officials last month sent a letter to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District urging the agency to revoke a permit allowing Kinder Morgan to offload Bakken crude and Canadian tar sands oil at its Richmond rail yard, the major draw for local crude-by-rail traffic.

      In September, a lawsuit by environmental groups seeking to revoke that permit — which was issued without public notice — was tossed out by a judge on the grounds that it was filed too late.

      Kent said BNSF transports two oil-carrying trains per month in California but declined to say exactly where, citing security concerns.

      Industry experts expect crude-by-rail traffic to increase in the coming years, as North American oil extraction grows, and the product must be refined in facilities across the United States, including several in Contra Costa County.

      Randy Sawyer, Contra Costa County’s chief environmental health and hazardous materials officer, said trains of up to 100 cars travel into Richmond before being transferred to trucks or pipelines to be refined. He noted that cars carrying hazardous materials are more robust than the one that carried the spilled pork, and they would be unlikely to spill in a low-speed derailment.

      Nonetheless, “A crude car could tip over also,” Sawyer said. “It’s a possibility.”

      Kent said Friday’s derailment does not indicate a wider problem.

      “We operate all of our trains with safety as our first priority,” Kent said. “However, when it comes to hazardous material we do have more restrictive operating procedures.”

      County Supervisor John Gioia said BNSF officials have told him they are developing “more resilient” cars for crude oil, a development he took to mean that the company expects the crude-by-rail market to continue to grow, and that federal regulators are likely to impose new standards as communities across the country see increased crude-by-rail traffic in their midst.

      “Any train derailment concerns me because there could be anything from injury to a larger public safety issue; it’s all important,” Gioia said. “But this new (incident) hasn’t told me anything new other than what we know already based on derailments in other parts of the country: that trains with hazardous materials pose a risk.”