Category Archives: Keeping Watch on Earth News

Ask City Council to protect Benicia’s health and safety at the Dec. 19 Council Meeting

A Message from the Benicia ISO Working Group:

The crucial City Council meeting on whether Benicia should consider an Industrial Safety Ordinance will take place on Tuesday, Dec. 19 at 6 pm at the City Council Chambers at City Hall, 230 East L Street, It is vital that supporters of a strong ISO attend and voice our support. Valero is gearing up to oppose this and may bring personnel to the meeting to voice opposition.

By attending and offering comments, you can offer support for the proposal by Vice Mayor Scott and Councilmember Birdseye, to be voted on by the Council on Dec. 19, instructing City staff to look into the possibility of Benicia adopting an ISO.

In addition, please voice support for not just the Scott-Birdseye proposal but for a strong ISO. This has become very important because of a highly problematic and highly unusual Benicia City staff report issued a few days ago. We will be in touch with more details in the next 24 hours.

If at all possible, your showing up early can help ensure that supporters of a strong ISO are near the front of the audience. But even if you can’t make it until later, that will be ok since other agenda items may take up some time.

Also, participation by Zoom is an option. You can find the link that explains how to access the meeting here: https://granicus_production_attachments.s3.amazonaws.com/benicia/5f807fdd4c4cce692977198f6f31acd30.pdf. 

Thanks very much for considering all this and for any support you can show for making Benicia safer and healthier for our kids, our older adults and all of us.

See www.bisho.org for more information.

We’re asking City Council to take the “second step” toward adopting an ISO in Benicia. Here’s how you can help

Marilyn Bardet, Benicia resident and community volunteer.
 By Marilyn Bardet, December 12, 2023
At the Dec 19th’s council meeting, the mayor and city council members will be making a watershed decision in the two-step agenda process begun in September, whether to move to direct staff to prepare a model industrial safety ordinance for Benicia [“ISO”] for future consideration. I am urging a unanimous approval of this momentous “second step.”

With the primary duty to protect the community’s health, safety, and sustainability, this council has the choice to gain for the city and public local oversight capacity with enforcement clout to help ensure trustworthy, accountable, operational and management performance at the refinery and at other similarly regulated industrial facilities deemed eligible for inclusion under an ISO.

The community has long deserved enhanced protections that an ISO would provide. Every day, the major polluter in our midst risks public health, safety and environmental quality of the air we breathe and the waters off our shores. Tragically, a 35-year old contract worker died on the job at Valero in November, 2021. Mr. Guitierrez’ death could have been avoided, as could have the 16-year unreported releases from the hydrogen venting unit of benzene and other toxic gases that far exceeded EPA’s public safety thresholds for human health. The Bay Area Air District only learned of the problem in 2019; neither the City or the public was informed of the chronic violations until 2022.

Given the number and seriousness of Valero’s regulatory violations cited by US-EPA and the Bay Area Air District since 2017, it’s a no-brainer that Benicia needs an ISO—one modeled on Contra Costa County’s and Richmond’s, which were established in 1999 and 2000 respectively. Updated several times since, their ISOs go beyond current applicable state regulations and programs, as ours would.

So, while the refinery continues to do business benefiting its parent Texas corporation, a local workforce and city coffers, the council must not ignore its greater responsibility to improve health and safety conditions for our community and downwind neighbors.
We need an ISO that will institute forward-looking best practices—ISO programs and protocols aimed to prevent accidents, reduce and eliminate toxic air emissions, and audit ISO compliance to improve the refinery’s safety culture and clean up the air.

Benicians formally proposed a draft ISO in 2018. Instead, Valero and the City entered into a voluntary contract, the City of Benicia-Valero Cooperation Agreement, which had limited purposes, inherent weaknesses, onerous termination clauses that advantaged Valero, and an expiration date. There was no role for the public. The Agreement could never carry the weight of authority of an ISO that would be part of our municipal code.

With respect to the city’s drastic budget deficit and the costs of an ISO’s on-going administration: those annual costs would be paid for by industries as is the case for Contra Costa County and Richmond. The initial costs incurred over the next months to develop the draft ordinance should and can be absorbed: our city attorney can petition the Air District and US-EPA to direct a sufficient portion of fines assigned to Valero to be directed back to the city to implement the ISO’s creation. Surely it would behoove regulators that the City of Benicia would, through an ISO, be assuming a proactive oversight role to help ensure regulatory compliance and enforcement, including for accurate, trustworthy air quality monitoring.

Finally, to draft the ordinance, city staff will need to consult outside engineering expertise, likely from Contra Costa County. In addition, staff should invite the public’s input and insights: a voluntary ISO Working Group has been meeting for almost a year, researching possible elements of a “B-ISO”. Creating a model ISO, with public input, would be a very positive sign of the City’s commitment to uphold community values and protections for our collective good into the future.

Marilyn Bardet
BCAMP board member
Good Neighbor Steering Committee
Valero CAP member
Community Sustainability Commission, ex officio member
BAAQMD Coalition
B-ISO Working Group
Sustainable Solano board member

There is a group of concerned citizens of Benicia who support the adoption of a Benicia Industrial Safety and Health Ordinance (BISHO). To learn more about the effort and add your support, visit www.bisho.org.
If you support Benicia City Council voting in favor of taking the “second step” on the long road toward adopting an ISO in Benicia, consider sending a letter to them as outlined in Stephen Golub’s instructions from his post earlier today (the text that follows comes from that post). You can also support this effort by signing on to this community letter.

 

What You Can Do

By Stephen Golub, from his December 9, 2023 column, first published in the Benicia Herald

If you want to find out more about the need and potential for an ISO, or wish to indicate support for this initiative, please check out the website recently put together to promote it: www.bisho.org

As the site says, employing a suggested name for the proposed ISO:

“We are concerned citizens of Benicia who support the adoption of a Benicia Industrial Safety and Health Ordinance (BISHO) that would help prevent accidents, allow us to receive more complete and timelier information, hold local industries accountable, and give our City a ‘seat at the table,’ as all other Bay Area Communities with refineries have done.”

You can also attend the December 19 City Council meeting, which will start at 6 pm in the Council chambers at City Hall. Or you can Zoom into the session, via a link you’ll find at the Agendas and Minutes page of the City’s website shortly before the session takes place, https://www.ci.benicia.ca.us/agendas

Or you can email the Council members, ccing the City Clerk, stating that you support an ISO for Benicia. It’s best if you send your comments by the Dec. 12 deadline for emails to be included in the public record attached to the Dec. 19 meeting. But an email at any time will be read and considered.

Their emails are:

The Dec. 19 meeting is the first but crucial step in helping to make our community safer,  and more secure for our kids, our older adults, our businesses, our employees and all of us. I hope that you’ll consider attending or emailing our representatives about the proposed ISO.

How to write City Council TODAY to ask that they take the “second step” toward an ISO and a safer, healthier Benicia

A Letter to the Editor by Vicki Dennis, December 11, 2023

Other writers before me have outlined the reasons why Benicia needs and deserves an Industrial Safety and Health Ordinance in place. I agree completely. For me, it is very simple and personal: I want to know that the air I am breathing in my own community is clean, safe and healthy, that the vegetables I pull from my garden are safe from toxic particles floating from the air, that I can open my windows and not worry about damaging my lungs.

Other Bay Area refinery cities have moved the needle in working with their local industry. They have in place a stronger Industrial Safety Ordinance that helps assure them that they are getting up-to-date information about emissions and air quality. In Benicia, we deserve the same respect from our refinery leaders.

I urge our City Council to vote yes to move to the second stage of putting in place a stronger and more effective way to provide us with greater transparency, better communication between Valero and the city, and assurances that Benicians know what we are breathing and that our air is indeed healthy. An Industrial Safety and Health Ordinance will go a long way toward accomplishing those goals.

Vicki Dennis
Benicia


There is a group of concerned citizens of Benicia who support the adoption of a Benicia Industrial Safety and Health Ordinance (BISHO). To learn more about the effort and add your support, visit www.bisho.org.
If you support Benicia City Council voting in favor of taking the “second step” on the long road toward adopting an ISO in Benicia, consider sending a letter to them as outlined in Stephen Golub’s instructions from his post earlier today (the text that follows comes from that post). You can also support this effort by signing on to this community letter.

 

What You Can Do

By Stephen Golub, from his December 9, 2023 column, first published in the Benicia Herald

If you want to find out more about the need and potential for an ISO, or wish to indicate support for this initiative, please check out the website recently put together to promote it: www.bisho.org

As the site says, employing a suggested name for the proposed ISO:

“We are concerned citizens of Benicia who support the adoption of a Benicia Industrial Safety and Health Ordinance (BISHO) that would help prevent accidents, allow us to receive more complete and timelier information, hold local industries accountable, and give our City a ‘seat at the table,’ as all other Bay Area Communities with refineries have done.”

You can also attend the December 19 City Council meeting, which will start at 6 pm in the Council chambers at City Hall. Or you can Zoom into the session, via a link you’ll find at the Agendas and Minutes page of the City’s website shortly before the session takes place, https://www.ci.benicia.ca.us/agendas

Or you can email the Council members, ccing the City Clerk, stating that you support an ISO for Benicia. It’s best if you send your comments by the Dec. 12 deadline for emails to be included in the public record attached to the Dec. 19 meeting. But an email at any time will be read and considered.

Their emails are:

The Dec. 19 meeting is the first but crucial step in helping to make our community safer,  and more secure for our kids, our older adults, our businesses, our employees and all of us. I hope that you’ll consider attending or emailing our representatives about the proposed ISO.

Before Dec. 19, Join the Movement to Hold Valero Accountable and Keep Benicians Safe and Healthy

A Crucial Dec. 19 City Council Meeting on an ISO to Protect Ourselves Against Valero’s Toxic Emissions and Potential Explosions

Smoke from the Valero Benicia refinery during a 2017 incident. | Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

By Stephen Golub, first published in the Benicia Herald on December 9, 2023

A Seat at the Table 

Benicia resident and author Stephen Golub

Benicia is the only refinery town in the Bay Area that lacks an industrial safety ordinance (ISO), which could play a crucial role in protecting the safety and health of our kids, our older adults and all of us. On Dec. 19, the City Council will consider a proposal to instruct staff to examine whether the City should adopt such an ordinance.

Unlike the current, voluntary cooperation agreement between Benicia and Valero, an ISO would have real teeth in ensuring that we get timely information about leaks, accidents, violations and ongoing health-and-safety-threatening problems at the Texas-based corporation’s refinery (and potentially at other large corporate facilities here).

An ISO would enable us to learn about these kinds of developments when they occur. It could help prevent such threats in the future, rather than letting them fester for years – with all the increased risks of explosions, fires and poisoned air that come with them. (The cost would be covered by the affected facilities, not your tax dollars. Some estimates put it at several hundred thousand dollars per year. Regardless of the final figure, it would be a drop in the bucket for Texas-based Valero, whose profits were $11.6 billion in 2022.)

More specifically, an ISO would help prevent the kinds of catastrophic fires and explosions that have wreaked havoc on other communities and the many years of toxic, potentially carcinogenic Valero emissions – hundreds of times the legal limits – that have fouled Benicia’s air.

Right now, by and large, we only learn about such dangers at the discretion of Texas-based Valero or various large government agencies whose main focus isn’t Benicia. All too often, we learn little or nothing about these dangerous developments until months or years after they have occurred.

An ISO would give Benicia a seat at the table. 

Potentially Catastrophic, Deadly and Toxic Dangers

In planning this column, I originally thought that I could simply list and summarize articles that document the violations, incidents and dangers that the refinery could pose for the community. But if I tried to do  so, the compilation could well exceed what I have time to write or you have time to read. So here are just a few such items:

“Regulators are seeking an abatement order against the Valero refinery in Benicia to stop what it calls ongoing violations, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District said Thursday. The air district wants to require Valero to install pollution control equipment on eight pressure relief devices (PRDs), which are safety measures used to prevent extreme overpressures that the district says could ‘cause catastrophic equipment failure.’” NBC Bay Area, Aug. 11, 2023

“The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) announced Thursday it has cited the Valero refinery in Benicia and three contractors for violations that led to the death of a worker there last November and is proposing a total of $1.75 million in fines…The oil giant, which reported earnings of $114 billion in 2021, was cited four times for either knowingly violating the law or not taking reasonable steps to address a known hazard.NBC Bay Area, May 24, 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 has announced…’Failure to properly manage hazardous materials can pose serious risks to our California communities,’ [EPA regional administrator Martha] Guzman said…Benicia Mayor Steve Young said the city wasn’t notified by the EPA about its investigation or the findings.San Francisco Chronicle, April 6, 2023.

“Officials in Benicia and Solano County want to know why Valero’s oil refinery there was able to release excessive levels of hazardous chemicals for more than 15 years before regional air regulators discovered the emissions — and why those regulators failed for another three years to alert local communities to the potential danger…The emissions consisted of a variety of “precursor organic compounds,” or POCs, including [carcinogenic] benzene and other toxic chemicals…The district’s investigation found that from December 2015 through December 2018, POC emissions averaged 5,200 pounds a day — nearly 350 times the daily limit.” KQED, Feb. 24, 2022

What You Can Do

If you want to find out more about the need and potential for an ISO, or wish to indicate support for this initiative, please check out the website recently put together to promote it: www.bisho.org

As the site says, employing a suggested name for the proposed ISO:

“We are concerned citizens of Benicia who support the adoption of a Benicia Industrial Safety and Health Ordinance (BISHO) that would help prevent accidents, allow us to receive more complete and timelier information, hold local industries accountable, and give our City a ‘seat at the table,’ as all other Bay Area Communities with refineries have done.”

You can also attend the December 19 City Council meeting, which will start at 6 pm in the Council chambers at City Hall. Or you can Zoom into the session, via a link you’ll find at the Agendas and Minutes page of the City’s website shortly before the session takes place, https://www.ci.benicia.ca.us/agendas

Or you can email the Council members, ccing the City Clerk, stating that you support an ISO for Benicia. It’s best if you send your comments by the Dec. 12 deadline for emails to be included in the public record attached to the Dec. 19 meeting. But an email at any time will be read and considered.

Their emails are:

The Dec. 19 meeting is the first but crucial step in helping to make our community safer,  and more secure for our kids, our older adults, our businesses, our employees and all of us. I hope that you’ll consider attending or emailing our representatives about the proposed ISO.


There is a group of concerned citizens of Benicia who also support the adoption of a Benicia Industrial Safety and Health Ordinance (BISHO). To learn more about the effort and add your support, visit www.bisho.org.

If you support Benicia’s safety and health, consider sending a letter to Benicia City Council as outlined above or signing on to this community letter.