Tag Archives: Benicia Mayor Steve Young

Benicia mayor says Valero’s latest alleged emissions violations ‘should bother all Benicia residents’

Valero Benicia Refinery. | Scott Morris / Vallejo Sun.

Vallejo Sun, by Scott Morris, August 10, 2023

BENICIA – The Bay Area Air Quality Management District announced Thursday that it had discovered continued violations at the Valero Benicia refinery during its investigation into years of toxic releases.

Specifically, the air district said that Valero had failed to install required pollution control equipment on eight pressure relief devices,  safety devices that prevent extreme over pressurization that could cause a catastrophic equipment failure. The violations led to 165 tons of illegal emissions, the air district said. [Emph. added by BenIndy contributor.]

The air district said it is seeking an abatement order from its independent hearing board that would require Valero to immediately correct the violations.

“The extensive violations discovered at Valero’s Benicia refinery are of great concern,” air district chief counsel Alexander Crockett said in a statement. “Our priority is to protect the health and well-being of our communities, and we will vigorously pursue enforcement measures to achieve cleaner and safer air for all residents of the Bay Area.”

A Valero spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Benicia Mayor Steve Young said in a statement that Valero’s alleged continued pattern of emissions violations is “particularly concerning” and “should bother all Benicia residents.”

“The City is also waiting, with increasing impatience, to see how the separate, bigger, case of 16 years of unreported hydrogen emissions will be ultimately resolved,” Young said. “The citizens of Benicia deserve much more transparency from the refinery about these operational deficiencies than we have been receiving.”

The air district discovered the violations during its investigation into the release of toxic emissions from a hydrogen vent at the refinery that went on for nearly 20 years. The air district separately obtained an abatement order for those violations last year, though by the time it revealed the excess emissions publicly, it had already worked with Valero to correct them for some time.

Those excess emissions were first detected by Valero in 2003 when it started measuring output from the hydrogen vent, but the air district believes it likely had been going on even earlier and has no measurements from that time.

Since 2003, the air district estimates that the vent was releasing about 4,000 pounds of hydrocarbons per day, far more than state regulations allow. Overall, the district found that Valero released more than 10,000 tons of excess hydrocarbons over 16 years, including 138 tons of toxic air contaminants ethylbenzene, tolyrene, zolerine and the especially carcinogenic benzene.

Click here to finish reading . . . 

(You will be redirected to the Vallejo Sun’s website. There is no paywall.)


Click here to sign up free for independent local journalism from the Vallejo Sun.


Read more! As Air Quality is so essential to our health, you might want to check out these resources:

State senate race heats up, Benicia Mayor Young endorses Chris Cabaldon

Mayor Steve Young endorses former West Sac Mayor Chris Cabaldon for State Senate

State Senate District 3 Candidate Chris Cabaldon. | Image from campaign website.

By Nathalie Christian, June 26, 2023

After speaking with two front-running candidates, Benicia Mayor Steve Young has endorsed Chris Cabaldon to replace Sen. Bill Dodd for State Senate District 3.

Benicia Mayor Steve Young

“Having spent a substantial amount of time talking with both candidates,” Mayor Young wrote, “it was clear to me that Christopher is far more familiar and knowledgeable about the many diverse challenges facing Solano County and the 3rd District. He is someone who is both a progressive and accomplished elected official.”

“When I worked in Sacramento, Chris was the Mayor of West Sacramento for more than 20 years,” Mayor Young continued. “Under his leadership, W. Sacramento transformed from a primarily industrial city as shown by the construction of Raley Field and the redevelopment of the riverfront across from Sacramento. We were both active in the League of California Cities, where he chaired the Asian-American caucus and was the first Filipino LGBTQ Mayor in the US.”

 

The endorsement was first announced in the Vallejo Times-Herald last week, where Cabaldon responded: “I am honored to have earned the support of Mayor Young. Benicia is a beautiful community, and I look forward to working with Mayor Young to protect access to clean drinking water, create good paying jobs, and invest in the infrastructure our Delta communities – and cities throughout Solano County – need to thrive.”

 

District 3 includes all or portions of Solano County as well as Contra Costa, Napa, Sacramento, Solano and Yolo counties. The district has been represented by Sen. Dodd since  2016. State senators are limited to serving two 4-year terms, which disqualifies Dodd from seeking another term.

Only the top two candidates in the March 5, 2024, primary will advance to the general election next November, regardless of party affiliation.

The candidates

Per the best of my web sleuthing, three candidates have announced their candidacy for the opening seat: former West Sac Mayor Chris Cabaldon, Vallejo Vice-Mayor Rozzana Verder-Aliga and Rohnert Park City Council Member and former Mayor Jackie Elward. All three candidates are running as Democrats.

Dr. Rozzana Verder-Aliga

State Senate District 3 Candidate Rozzana Verder-Aliga. | Image from campaign website.

Dr. Rozzana Verder-Aliga is the first Filipino-American woman elected to public office in Vallejo and Solano County. She is a mental health professional and licensed marriage and family therapist, and serves Vallejo as Vice-Mayor.

Verder-Aliga served on the Vallejo School Board for 12 years and the Solano County Board of Education for 6 years before being elected to a partial term on the Vallejo City Council in 2013 and re-elected to full terms in 2016 and 2020.

According to various press releases, Verder-Aliga has been endorsed by sitting State Senator Bill Dodd, CA State Treasurer Fiona Ma, CA Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis, former CA Superintendent Delaine Eastin, Napa Mayor Scott Sedgley and current West Sacramento Mayor Martha Guerrero, as well as Benicia Independent‘s very own Roger Straw. Lionel Largaespada, a former Benicia council member, also endorsed Verder-Aliga. A full list of Verder-Aliga’s endorsements was not available on her campaign website.

“My goal is to reinvigorate the California dream and strengthen the opportunities it promises its people in the state Senate,” said Verder-Aliga in a press release announcing her campaign.

Jackie Elward

State Senate District 3 Candidate Jackie Ellward.| Image from campaign website.

Jackie Elward is a first-generation immigrant from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Although she has been described as a relative political newcomer, she is a veteran labor organizer and activist as well as a professional educator.

Elward was elected to Rohnert Park City Council in 2020, unseating a six-term council member in the process, and was unanimously selected to serve as mayor by her fellow council members. As the leader of a diverse and progressive majority on City Council, she was the first Black, immigrant woman to serve Rohnert Park.

Elward has spoken openly about the discrimination she has encountered as a Black woman in office, but said that the support of community and labor groups encouraged her to run for higher office regardless.

A list of Elward’s endorsements is available at her campaign website, although it is unclear if the endorsements included there are for this upcoming race and not previous campaigns.

In news releases, Elward has described herself as a “bridge builder” focused on uniting people from different backgrounds  even around the most fractious of issues, and she has said she would work to fill a similar role in Sacramento.

Valero hit with $1.2 million penalty for toxic flaring in Benicia

[BenIndy Contributor Nathalie Christian – Texas-based Valero raked in about $11.5B of profit in 2022 — and that’s pure profit. While this fine represents progress, it also represents less than 1 hour of Valero’s 2022 profits. That’s right — in 2022, Valero made more than $1M just in profit per hour, 24 hours a day, for 365 days (Valero doesn’t stop profiting just because it’s a holiday or weekend). It’s clear Valero treats fines like these as fees; they represent just another minor cost of doing business in Benicia. Examples of fines from recent years: Valero Benicia Refinery was fined $266,000 in 2018, $122,500 in 2016  and $183,000 in 2014. It is rare for fines like these to actually financially benefit Benicia. The full text of the EPA News Release is available below this article from the Chronicle.– N.C.] 

U.S. EPA hits Valero’s oil refinery in Benicia with $1.2 million penalty for two toxic flaring incidents

San Francisco Chronicle, by Julie Johnson, April 5, 2023

A picture of Valero's Benicia Refinery
Incidents at the Valero refinery in Benicia in 2017 and 2019 forced people to shelter in place because of the risk of exposure to harmful chemicals, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (Samantha Laurey/The Chronicle 2022)

Oil refining giant Valero must pay a $1.2 million penalty for major flaring incidents at its Benicia facility that spewed dark plumes of pollutants into neighborhoods, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday.

The “significant chemical incidents” occurred in 2017 and 2019 and forced people, including schoolchildren, to shelter in place because of the risk of exposure to harmful chemicals, according to the agency.

Following a federal investigation, Valero executives agreed to make specific changes to their Benicia operations and pay a penalty totaling $1,224,550 in a settlement reached with the EPA. Martha Guzman, regional administrator for the EPA in California, Nevada and New Mexico, said the changes will help protect Valero workers, Benicia residents and the environment.

The EPA’s announcement is the latest investigation into problems at the Bay Area’s oil refineries. Earlier this year, health officials in Contra Costa County warned people living near the Martinez Refinery run by PBF Energy to avoid eating foods grown in surrounding neighborhoods, four months after the facility sent 20 tons of dust into the community that coated cars, homes and backyards in a mysterious fine white powder.

Last year, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District announced it had found Valero had been releasing unlawful and potentially harmful amounts of hydrocarbons from its hydrogen stacks — undetected — from 2003 to 2019. Valero said it also hadn’t detected the releases and took steps to end them.

On Wednesday, Valero didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment about the federal fines.

Benicia Mayor Steve Young said the city wasn’t notified by the EPA about its investigation or the findings. The city has been pushing for greater transparency from oil refineries and the agencies that oversee them, especially after finding out last year that local air-quality regulators failed to tell the community about harmful releases until three years after the problems were discovered.

“We have concerns that we’re being left in the dark and only find out well after the fact,” Young said.

Oil refineries sometimes burn off flammable gases through tall stacks to keep careful equilibrium within pipes and other equipment and avoid disasters like explosions. But flaring is a highly regulated activity meant to be used sparingly because of the risks those burned gases and other pollutants pose to people nearby.

One major pollutant generated by these flares is sulfur dioxide, which can harm human respiratory tracts, exacerbating problems like asthma, and worsen pollution from particulate matter and acid rain.

On May 5, 2017, Valero stacks began shooting flames and churning out dark plumes of pollutants when the facility unexpectedly lost power. The emissions coated cars in an oily substance and sent employees at a nearby musical instrument factory to the emergency room, according to the EPA. More than 1,000 people were evacuated, including staff and students at both Robert Semple and Matthew Turner elementary schools. Ultimately, more than 10,000 pounds of flammable materials and 74,420 pounds of sulfur dioxide were released from the facility, according to the EPA.

Valero reported the flaring caused more than $10 million in damage to its facility, according to EPA records. The company later sued Pacific Gas and Electric Co. for the outage.

Then on March 11, 2019, another flaring incident led Solano County health officials to warn residents with respiratory issues to stay indoors. Some businesses sheltered in place. An investigation revealed more than 15,000 pounds of sulfur dioxide were released.

The EPA inspected the facility following both incidents and in 2019 found “several” cases where the company was violating the law.

“Valero failed to immediately report releases of hazardous substances, update certain process safety information, adequately analyze certain process hazards, and develop and implement certain written operating procedures,” the EPA said.

The agency found the company had violated the federal Clean Air Act’s regulations for preventing chemical accidents.

Valero is based in San Antonio and operates 15 petroleum facilities in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.

In a press release, Larry Starfield, with the EPA’s enforcement division, said the settlement “sends a clear message that EPA will prosecute companies that fail to expend the resources needed to have a compliant, well-functioning Risk Management Plan to the fullest extent of the law.”

Reach Julie Johnson: julie.johnson@sfchronicle.com; Twitter: @juliejohnson

 

Letterhead image for Environmental Protection Agency Newsroom

EPA Orders Valero Refining to Improve Chemical Safety at Benicia, CA Refinery

Settlement Also Requires Company to Pay $1.2 Million Penalty for Clean Air Act Violations

SAN FRANCISCO (April 5, 2023) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a settlement with Valero Refining-California to resolve violations of the Clean Air Act’s Chemical Accident Prevention regulations at their Benicia Refinery. The company will pay a $1,224,550 penalty and make changes to improve process safety at the refinery.

“This settlement sends a clear message that EPA will prosecute companies that fail to expend the resources needed to have a compliant, well-functioning Risk Management Plan to the fullest extent of the law,” said Acting Assistant Administrator Larry Starfield for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.

“Failure to properly manage hazardous materials can pose serious risks to our California communities,” said Martha Guzman, Regional Administrator of EPA Region 9. “This settlement will help protect Valero workers, the Benicia community, and the environment more broadly.”

After significant chemical incidents at the Benicia Refinery in 2017 and 2019, a 2019 EPA inspection at the facility identified several areas of noncompliance, including that Valero failed to immediately report releases of hazardous substances, update certain process safety information, adequately analyze certain process hazards, and develop and implement certain written operating procedures.

Under the terms of the settlement, Valero has agreed to make significant chemical safety improvements at the Benicia Refinery. The company has already made several of these changes, related to chemical safety, in response to EPA’s inspection. These improvements include updating and modifying process hazard analyses, modifying operating procedures, modifying reporting policies, and improving employee training. The settlement also requires Valero to modify several pressure-relief valves and update process hazard analyses to consider hazards of power loss at the facility. As part of the settlement, Valero will continue to implement safety improvements through June 2025.

The Benicia Refinery is one of thousands of facilities nationwide that make, use, and store extremely hazardous substances. Reducing the risk of accidental releases at industrial and chemical facilities like the Benicia Refinery is one of EPA’s National Enforcement and Compliance Initiatives. Catastrophic accidents at these facilities can result in death or serious injuries; impacts to the community, including orders to evacuate or shelter-in-place; and other harm to human health and the environment. The Clean Air Act requires that industrial and chemical facilities that store large amounts of hazardous substances develop and implement a Risk Management Plan to reduce the risk of accidental releases.

For more information on the Clean Air Act’s Risk Management Plan Program, please visit EPA’s Risk Management Program (RMP) Rule webpage.

For more information on reporting possible violations of environmental laws and regulations visit EPA’s enforcement reporting website.

SEE ALSO:

Benicia Mayor Steve Young on the record, Part 2

Stephen Golub Interview with Mayor Steve Young (continued)

By Stephen Golub, March, 2023 (About Steve Golub). Previously appearing in the Benicia Herald, no online presence.

INTERVIEW PART 2 (See also Interview, Part 1)

SG: Benicia recently wrapped up a sometimes contentious process of finalizing and then submitting housing plans to the state, as mandated by state law. What would you like Benicians who haven’t followed the issue closely to better understand about the process and results?

Benicia Mayor Steve Young About Mayor Young.

SY: The State has passed a variety of laws recently addressing the housing shortage that is directly tied to things like homelessness, housing affordability, and climate change (through longer commutes as people cannot find housing near jobs). The state has identified the resistance to new housing in suburban locales such as Benicia as being a real problem and have put strict accountability on cities to plan for new housing across income levels and throughout the community. That is what we have attempted to do through the Housing Element process.

Benicia author Stephen Golub. About Steve below.

SG: Are there any lessons learned from that process? Anything you think could have been done differently, including how this experience might inform future city planning?

SY: We might have been able to start the process earlier and had more time to consider the relative benefits of different sites. With 25% of the City consisting of open space, and all of it off limits to development, our choices were constrained.

SG: Back to Valero: In recent years, Valero has put hundreds of thousands of dollars into political action committees, seeking to influence Benicia’s city council and mayoral elections. What are your thoughts on this? 

SY: I have consistently fought against their outsized involvement in our elections. There is NO place for corporate or union involvement in local elections, and the Supreme Court’s Citizen United ruling was a terrible one, opening the door to this type of unregulated political spending. Instead of spending hundreds of thousands in each election, and turning much of the community against Valero’s candidates of choice, those dollars could have been spent in so many more productive ways. Hopefully, after the last two elections, they will come to the same conclusion. But I am not holding my breath. This is a fight that, sadly, will probably go on every two years.

SG: More generally, what should the city’s relationship with Valero be? How might we plan to adjust to eventual changes in or cessation of its refinery’s operations, especially in view of climate change, pollution, health or economic factors? 

SY: Valero remains the most important company in town, and the largest employer and taxpayer. Since my election, I have been having monthly one on one meetings with their general manager to discuss issues of mutual concern like a possible water reuse project in place of selling them 60% of our raw water. Other topics regularly covered include air monitoring and how they can improve their reporting to the City and community about unplanned flaring and other similar incidents.

SG: Is it time to reconsider an Industrial Safety Ordinance, which the City Council voted down 3-2 in 2018? Do you feel it might strengthen the city’s hand in dealing with issues such as the refinery’s 15 years of undisclosed toxic emissions, which we only learned of last year, or the recent reports of foul odor in certain neighborhoods, including those close to the refinery?

SY: I would want to see that a new ISO would be additive in value. Valero is already highly regulated,  a fact I am becoming increasingly aware of through my service on the board of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD). However, BAAQMD can also do a better job as was demonstrated by the egregious, unreported 15 year release of toxic gases by Valero and the four year delay in BAAQMD reporting the issue to the City. But there has been an ISO in Contra Costa County for many years covering the other four Bay Area refineries, and it seems to be working well and effectively without significant pushback from the refineries.

SG: Back to climate change. As a waterside community, Benicia stands to be affected. What plans or actions might the city government initiate to adjust to this reality?

SY: There is no stopping the effects of climate change short of a major decrease in the use of fossil fuels. One of the more immediate effects will be on rising waters which will continue to threaten our wastewater treatment plant, marina, and downtown. And a climate change caused drought has not gone away despite a wet winter. We need to secure our water future, and it can be done with a water reuse project to use recycled waste water for Valero’s industrial purposes while saving our drinking water. If we can pull this off, we can become self sufficient in water.

SG: Like any community, Benicia is not immune to racial justice challenges and related concerns. What is the city doing to address such matters? What else might it do?

SY: Benicia was the first city in Solano County to hire a part time diversity officer and form an advisory group (CURE) to address issues of equity and diversity within the City. as well as addressing community wide concerns like the La Migra “game” held annually at the High School. The Library has also been holding a number of lectures and programs on this topic.

SG: What major challenges do you see Benicia facing in the years to come, above and beyond those we’ve already covered?

SY: How to pay for existing services in a period of high inflation with flat revenues, and how to retain and recruit excellent staff if our salaries are not competitive.

With the departure of Erik Upson, Benicia needs a new City Manager. What is the process for replacing him?

Given the short notice we got about Erik’s retirement, we moved quickly to interview four highly qualified internal candidates before selecting Mario Giuliani to be the interim City Manager. We are hopeful/confident Mario can prove up to the many challenges facing a City Manager and we will be able to remove the interim tag later this year.

SG: I understand that the brush-munching goats are back! Or they soon will be. What is your opinion on the goats? How do folks find out whether and when the goats might come to their neighborhoods?

SY: I, and most all Benicians, love the goats. They are so popular, in fact, that they are becoming more expensive and harder to schedule. Check with the Fire Department for specific information on their locations.

SG: You recently had a rather bad bike accident. Are there any lessons or advice you’d like to share with fellow cyclists?

SY: Follow the rules of the road (I wasn’t), don’t speed and bike carelessly (I was), and always wear a helmet (thankfully, I was). I was very fortunate that my injury was not much worse.

SG: Thanks very much.

See also INTERVIEW, PART 1 

Stephen Golub, Benicia – A Promised Land: Politics. Policy. America as a Developing Country.

Benicia resident Stephen Golub offers excellent perspective on his blog, A Promised Land:  Politics. Policy. America as a Developing Country.

To access his other posts or subscribe, please go to his blog site, A Promised Land.