FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 21, 2023 – Benicia, CA – On Tuesday, the Benicia City Council unanimously approved a proposal by Vice Mayor Terry Scott and Councilwoman Kari Birdseye to instruct staff, under the direction of a Council subcommittee led by the two, to conduct research, solicit substantial expert and public input and produce a resulting draft Industrial Safety Ordinance (ISO) for the city. If the Council then adopts the ISO, it will cover Valero Benicia Refinery as well as other industrial sites in Benicia that meet the determined criteria.
“City Council’s primary responsibility is to safeguard the health, safety and well-being of our residents, businesses and visitors,” said Vice Mayor Scott. “That includes policing, fire protection, clean water, and now we have the opportunity to create an Industrial Safety Ordinance that provides common-sense legislation to transparently monitor and protect the air we breathe.”
“Benicia deserves a ‘state of the art’ industrial safety and health ordinance that will best protect our community,” said Councilwoman Birdseye. “We will take the lessons learned in other refinery towns, from county experts, and local community members who have been impacted by refinery pollution for decades.”
Benicia is the only Bay Area refinery city without an ISO, as other communities have realized the importance and value of strengthening their relationships with and oversight of their resident refineries. In lieu of an ISO, Benicia currently has a Cooperation Agreement (CA) with Valero, initiated in 2019 and due to expire in 2025. Many citizens and city leaders believe the CA has not been strong enough, given Valero’s continued lack of transparency in reporting numerous violations of federal and state law.
Well over a dozen Benicians testified about the issue at the Council meeting, almost all in favor of a strong ISO, providing both scientific data and personal experiences. One resident of Benicia’s East Side, the area most affected by Valero emissions and fumes, spoke movingly about his family’s and neighbors’ experiences in which his son’s elementary school was evacuated because of an air spill of toxic oil pollution from the Valero Asphalt plant. “The county gave us an emergency order to lock down. A teacher went to the hospital. Valero denied all responsibility. The City and state appeared powerless to do anything substantial to protect against another incident,” he said.
“We can’t protect public health without knowing what is in the air we breathe,” Scott said. “Moving forward with an ISO gives the city an effective tool for providing our community with an additional level of enforcement and trust.”
Earlier this year, a call for the passage of an ISO was launched by a group of concerned citizens who believe that Benicia needs ways of monitoring, obtaining information about and taking enforcement actions regarding Valero emissions. Called the Benicia Industrial Safey and Health Ordinance (BISHO) working group, the initiative has more than 150 supporters in the community.
“We are grateful to Vice Mayor Scott and Councilwoman Birdseye for bringing this critical concern to City Council and for the entire Council for their support,” said Terry Mollica, a leader of BISHO. “We need to make sure our community is notified immediately of refinery and other industrial emergencies or failures to meet state and federal regulations. We also need strong, enforceable penalties for the failure to do so.”
“It is our hope that everyone involved, the City, Valero, and the community, will have a seat at the table,” continued Mollica. “It is in all our best interest that we work together to make Benicia a safer, healthier place for all of us.”
To find out more about the issue, BISHO, and how to get involved, go to the organization’s website, www.bisho.org.
“We want as many people as possible to read the materials, recognize how important this issue is to our community and become supporters of a strong Industrial Safety and Health Ordinance,” Mollica said.
BISHO Working Group Contact:
Terry Mollica, firstname.lastname@example.org, (707) 385-9972