Benicia to move forward with regulation of Valero refinery

The Valero Benicia refinery | Scott Morris / Vallejo Sun.

Residents felt that state and regional regulatory agencies had not followed through on enforcement.

Vallejo Sun, by Ryan Gellar, December 20, 2023

BENICIA – The Benicia City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to begin a community engagement process to create stronger regulations of the Valero refinery and other industries in the city through an industrial safety ordinance.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the council chambers were filled with community members who expressed concerns about deficiencies in Valero’s fence line monitoring, accident reporting and the company’s dismissal of community input.

Many felt that state and regional regulatory agencies have allowed delays in monitoring programs and had not followed through on key avenues of enforcement. Mistrust was also fueled by a revelation in 2022 that the Bay Area Air Quality Management District had discovered that Valero illegally released toxic emissions for 16 years but the agency failed to notify Benicia residents until three years after the discovery.

In 2018, the city council considered adopting an ordinance to regulate the refinery similar to legislation in Contra Costa County and Richmond, but instead formed a cooperative agreement with Valero which is set to expire in 2025. After four years of the cooperative agreement, residents said that it has not provided sufficient oversight of industrial practices in the city.

Mayor Steve Young encouraged residents to define the areas where the current agreement falls short to indicate a direction for provisions that could be included in an ordinance.

Benicia resident Terry Mollica, who was involved in the drafting 2018 ordinance proposal and spoke on behalf of the Benicia Industrial Safety and Health Ordinance working group, said that the deficiencies are too numerous to list at the meeting. But he highlighted a key issue that the working group found to be particularly problematic.“It has absolutely no enforcement mechanism,” Mollica said. “In fact it includes a provision that allows Valero to unilaterally terminate the entire cooperative agreement at any time if it thinks it is being over-regulated.”

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