Category Archives: San Francisco Bay Area

Valero Benicia sues BAAQMD, demands $57M in Clean Air Credits

Repost from Courthouse News Service

Refiner Demands $57M in Clean Air Credits

By Dave Tartre, July 29, 2015 5:37 AM PT

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Valero Refining Co. sued the Bay Area Air Quality Management District on Monday, claiming it abused its discretion by denying it $57 million in emissions-reduction credits.

Improvements from a major modernization of Valero’s Benicia refinery brought significant and permanent reductions in air pollution, Valero claims, but the Air Quality Management District last year rejected its application to bank $57 million in emissions reduction credits for the work it did of its own volition.

The refinery, next to the Carquinez Strait about 25 miles north of San Francisco, emits fewer nitrogen oxides and less particulate matter greater than 10 microns in diameter than it did before the project, and also reduced organic compounds and sulfur dioxide, Valero says.

It claims that the Air Quality Management District has not disputed that “the emissions reductions were real, permanent, quantifiable, enforceable and not legally required.”

A Bay Area Air Quality Management District representative on Tuesday said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

Valero says it relied on a senior district engineer for guidance during the project, only to find out that the district was not bound by her decisions.

After the project was complete, Valero says, the Air Quality Management District changed the baseline emissions figures for the before-and-after comparison it uses to grant or deny credits.

The district’s hearing board upheld the denial on appeal.

Valero on Monday asked the Superior Court to declare the ruling a prejudicial abuse of discretion not supported by substantial evidence in the administrative record.

Valero claims the district’s hearing board mischaracterized its 3½-year project as a “simple shutdown of equipment.”

To the contrary, Valero says, the refinery was outfitted with new furnaces, new flue gas scrubbers and other equipment that “reduced emissions of various pollutants … by thousands of tons per year, thereby significantly improving Bay Area air quality.”

Though the work was prompted by a 2005 consent decree with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Valero says it went far beyond the agreement’s requirements, to retool the refinery’s equipment and operations.

Valero says that $500 million of the $750 million spent on the project went to “achieve emissions reductions beyond those required by the Consent Decree or by other provisions of law.”

Valero seeks writ of mandate to evaluate the fairness and consistency of the district’s rejection, not just whether it was reasonable.

A spokesman from Valero declined to comment, saying the company would let the filing speak for itself.

It is represented by Ronald Van Buskirk with Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, in San Francisco.

Oil train organizing in Davis, California

Repost from an email, Lynne Nittler, of Davis, CA
[Editor:  Lynne Nittler and her friends at Cool Davis and Yolano Climate Action do a great job of organizing.  Davis is a primary “uprail community” that would be at high risk if Valero Benicia Refinery’s Crude By Rail proposal is permitted.  I appreciated Lynne’s recent update and summary, below.  – RS]

Oil Train: photos, Ca Energy Commission powerpoint, & actions

From: Lynne Nittler
Sent: Wednesday, July 22, 2015 3:15 PM

Dear oil train friends,

1.  July 11 Stop Oil Trains Action –  photos

On July 11, over 80 Davis residents turned out to remember the 2013 oil derailment that decimated Lac-Megantic, taking 47 lives.  Davis faces the threat of a similar accident.  Currently, at least one oil train of Bakken Crude per week passes through Davis headed to the Bay Area.  Two more 100-car trains per day are planned for the near future for the Valero Refinery in Benicia and the Phillips 66 refinery in San Luis Obispo…unless citizens stop them.

The Davis Stop Oil Trains action was one of many during the Week of Oil Train Action.  Check out photographs from actions across the country here.  Look for Davis!

See our own review with photos here:

2.  Review of July 11:

Locally, the ForestEthics map shows endangered homes and businesses along 2nd Street including the police station, Carlton Plaza Senior Living and Rancho Yolo.  The entire Davis downtown is vulnerable along with parts of UC Davis campus and apartments complexes along Olive Drive.

The July 11 Vigil and Rally highlighted public opposition to oil trains passing through Davis. Too many residents live in the oil train blast zone, the one mile evacuation zone recommended by safety officials in the case of an oil train derailment and fire. ForestEthics calculates that nationwide, 25 million Americans live in the blast zone.

Wearing fiery red, yellow and orange shirts, Davisites met at the train station and walked through the Davis blast zone downtown to the Rotary Stage in Central Park.

We sang feisty songs led by the Raging Grannies.  We’ll be starting a group in Davis.  Let Lynne know if you’re interested.

Mayor Dan Wolk explained the city council’s resolution opposing oil by rail, available at

City Councilman Lucas Frerichs spoke on the Sacramento Area Council of Government’s nearly unanimous decision to confront the issue.  SACOG is composed of 22 cities and 6 counties.

At the state level, Senator Lois Wolk shared the past and present legislative responses to the sudden surge of crude-by-rail transport into California aimed at protecting the public as well as sensitive habitat and waterways.

Supervisor Jim Provenza and Damien Luzzo focused on the extraction side of the issue in Yolo County.  Damien offered his story about how he came to oppose fracking at and the Pledge of Resistance at  Sign his petition to ban fracking!

3.  Urgent Action:  Urge Assemblyman Bill Dodd to support SB32 & SB350!   Information on the proposed Yolo ban on fracking were available as well as a letter to Assemblyman Bill Dodd urging him to support two critical climate bills due for a vote in mid-August:

  • SB32 extending our CA carbon reduction bill, and
  • SB350 aiming for 50% lower car emissions, 50% greater building efficiency, and 50% more solar and wind-generated electricity  by 2030.

4.  Conclusion:

There is NO safe way to transport extreme tar sands and Bakken crude. Two years after Lac-Mégantic, oil trains keep exploding and carbon pollution keeps rising.  Oil trains are a disaster for our health, our safety, and our climate.

Given the unresolved dangers of crude oil transport by rail and the overload of carbon emissions already in the atmosphere, a more prudent path is to leave all extreme crude in the ground, transition to clean, renewable energy, and practice energy conservation in an effort to reverse climate change and live sustainably on a finite planet.

5.  Next oil train actions:

Powerpoint by CA Energy Commission: Read attached, a thorough and up-to-date powerpoint, to educate yourself on national and state oil and crude by rail issues in CA.  Excellent resource!

Santa Maria refinery in San Luis Obispo:  We are waiting for a hearing announcement where we can testify.

Valero Refinery in Benicia:  The revised DEIR will be released on Aug. 31 for a 45-day written public comment period.  Our letters will be crucial when the Planning commission and late the City council makes their decisions whether to finalize the EIR and permit Valero’s rail spur.

Billion Dollar Project Will Bring Millions Of Tons Of Coal To Area Next To Bay Bridge Toll Plaza

Repost from CBS San Francisco / 5KPIX / KCBS740AM-106.9FM

Billion Dollar Project Will Bring Millions Of Tons Of Coal To Area Next To Bay Bridge Toll Plaza

By Christin Ayers, July 1, 2015 9:15 PM

OAKLAND (CBS SF) — Coal is so polluting that demand for it as an energy source is way down in the U.S. The industry has to increase exports to survive. To do that we’ve learned it’s got its eye on the Bay Area.

On the grounds of the old Oakland Army Base a transformation is underway. A new billion dollar rail and marine terminal, called the “Trade and Logistics Center” will open in just three years as a world class hub for the export of bulk commodities, mostly to Mexico, Japan and China

“It’s going to be great for Oakland,” said Jerry Bridges. He’s been hired by the developer to run a project centerpiece, a rail to ship transfer facility right next to the Bay Bridge toll plaza. “Our goal is to have soda ash moved through the facility, pot ash, borax, umm sodium concentrate, coal.”

Coal, Bridges says will be a big part of it. He says he’s close to signing a lucrative contract with 4 counties in Utah to receive and ship out 3 million tons of coal a year. “And let me just say about the coal out of that region: It’s the highest quality coal in the country, and thereby it’s the highest quality coal in the world.”

Coal is already exported through a private transfer yard in Richmond, where it sits in open rail cars right next to homes. Residents are complaining about the coal dust, an air pollutant known to cause asthma and cancer. But Bridges says his terminal will be different. “Every commodity that ships through our facility will arrive at the facility on the railroad in covered rail cars,” he said.

But Jess Dervin-Ackerman of the Sierra Club is skeptical. “They could promise to do that and then not do it,” she said. “Nowhere in the U.S. is coal transported with covered rail cars so how can we know that they can actually do that and protect the community,” she said.

And she says it’s not just about Oakland and the Bay Area. The coal will release tons of greenhouse gases in Mexico and China. “What we are saying is not in anybody’s back yard. We want to leave the coal in the ground,” she said.

Oakland leaders agree. In fact they’ve voted to divest in coal. But we’ve learned they may have tied their own hands when it comes to this deal. The development agreement they signed  says “all approvals shall be made by the city administrator,” which leaves the city council and the public out of the loop, even though the city owns the land that the terminal will be built on.

“Right now we are just focusing on getting it built,” said Mayor Libby Schaaf’s spokesperson Erica Derryck. KPIX5 asked her if the mayor was comfortable with coal exports being part of the project. Her response: “I think it’s too early to say what exactly is going to be part of the commodity group that will be coming through the facility.”

But KPIX 5 obtained an email that shows the mayor is working behind the scenes to put the kabosh on the coal deal. “I was extremely disappointed to hear Jerry Bridges mention the possibility of shipping coal into Oakland,” she writes to the developer.  “Stop it immediately.”

But Jerry Bridges says he has no plans to back down. “The CEQA entitlement gives us every right to build and transport what we need to transport in order to be a viable and feasible project,” he said.

The project’s developer and landlord, prominent Oakland businessman Phil Tagami, turned down our request for an interview. In a statement he says it’s not up to him to decide what comes through the new terminal, it’s up to the man he hired to run it, Jerry Bridges.

Phil Tagami’s complete statement:

The City of Oakland approved an agreement to create the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal (OBOT), a multi-commodity bulk marine terminal at the former Oakland Army Base, in 2012. The City’s agreement with California Capital & Investment Group (CCIG) was comprehensively analyzed and endorsed under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and reflects a modern, industry-standard marine terminal facility and operation that is consistent with state and federal law. Nothing has changed since the 2012 approval.  OBOT’s construction and operations are designed consistent with the lawful expectations of potential customers – accommodating three or four of the full spectrum of approximately 15,000 bulk commodities regulated by federal law. This is standard industry practice and uniform at marine terminals throughout the United States.

In analyzing OBOT’s development under CEQA, the City imposed a comprehensive series of mitigation measures and conditions that the terminal operator will adhere to. No commodity may be transported through OBOT without full compliance with all applicable state and federal regulations.

CCIG is constructing OBOT, but is not and will not be the terminal operator. Neither CCIG nor any prospective terminal operator has made commitments to shipping any particular commodity through the terminal at this point in time. But, the issue is not about any single commodity. The City reviewed and approved OBOT as proposed. And in reliance on those approvals, CCIG and others have made binding and enforceable commitments to deliver OBOT for operations as entitled to ensure the viability of the entire revitalization plan for Oakland’s working waterfront.

Valero refinery in Benicia fined $122,500 for past air pollution violations

Repost from the Contra Costa Times
[Editor:  It takes the Air District over 3 years to “settle” with Valero for polluting our air?  In the past City officials have asked that these kinds of fines be redirected to the communities where the violations occur.  My understanding is that BAAQMD Executive Officer Jack Broadbent indicated he would consider it, but never took any action.  Seems the Air District wants to continue to use the fines for their own operations: “The penalty money will be used to fund air district inspections and enforcement actions.” – RS]

Valero refinery in Benicia to pay $122,500 in air pollution penalties

By Denis Cuff, 06/25/2015 12:49:50 PM PDT
Valero Refinery, Benicia, California

BENICIA — The Valero oil refinery has agreed to pay $122,500 in civil penalties for air pollution violations during 2011, clean air regulators announced Thursday.

The settlement between Valero and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District covers 25 notices of violations, including one over odors at the refinery wastewater treatment plant.

Another 14 violations concerned excessive pollution detected by monitors at the Benicia plant, officials said.

“Violations of air quality regulations, no mater how minor, must be addressed and refineries held accountable,” Jack Broadbent, the air pollution district chief, said.

The penalty money will be used to fund air district inspections and enforcement actions.

The air district regulates stationary air pollution sources in the nine Bay Area counties.