03/13/2015 Contra Costa Times
The Bay Area’s clean air agency has proposed two new rules to measure, track and reduce oil refinery air pollution as part of a new approach toward curbing oil-industry emissions.
The Bay Area Air Quality Management District will hold four public workshops this week on the rules.
Political pressure for the tougher rules mounted after a 2012 fire at Chevron’s Richmond oil refinery sent thousands to hospitals with eye, throat and lung irritation.
With the new proposals, clean air regulators say they want a more holistic approach that goes further than existing rules and permits aimed at reducing pollution from specific types of boilers, towers, other equipment and manufacturing processes.
“We want to understand and address all the emissions from refineries,” said Greg Nudd, the air district’s manager of rule development. “We want to continue to assure public health is protected even if there is a change in refinery operations, such as a change in the type of crude oil that is refined.”
The rule would apply to the Chevron, Shell, Tesoro, Phillips 66 and Valero refineries along the East Bay’s petrochemical belt.
For the first time, refiners would be required to develop an annual inventory of all their emissions and track
progress toward achieving the district’s new goal for an overall 20 percent overall emission reduction.
Refineries would be required to consider reductions if there was a substantial pollution increase that met certain thresholds, and if it is economically feasible to cut emissions. Industries could be eligible for an exemption from most of the reduction requirements, however, if the increased pollution was caused by the refinery increasing its use of crude oil.
The proposals also would require refineries to develop and operate a network of fence line and community pollution monitors to measure their emissions.
Reaction to the rules is mixed. An oil industry group said the proposed rules go too far in demanding reductions without a proven need. Meanwhile, one environmental leader said the rules don’t go far enough.
“We are very disappointed with the staff proposal,” said Andres Soto, a community organizer with the Oakland-based Communities for a Better Environment. “The community suffers asthma, increased cancer risk and other problems from this pollution.”
Soto said it’s wrong for the industry to exempt refiners from pollution-reduction requirements if an emission increase resulted from processing more crude oil.
“It’s ludicrous to have this loophole,” Soto said. “It was clear the air board wants a 20 percent reduction in
emissions by 2020. This undercuts that.”
Soto also said it would be a mistake to trust oil companies to run the pollution-monitoring stations.
“Refineries should not police themselves,” he said.
Air district staffers said it’s not unusual for industries to be operate pollution monitors under government set standards.
Air district staffers said it’s not unusual for industries to be operate pollution monitors under government set
Guy Bjerke, Bay Area manager for the Western States Petroleum Association, agrees the air district should run the community-monitoring stations. But he said it’s arbitrary to set a 20 percent reduction goal
and require reductions even when a refinery has made big cuts over decades and meets the many existing regional, state and federal reduction-emission rules.
“We think this is unfair and interferes with the existing permits and vested rights of facilities,” Bjerke said.
“We have made a strong argument that approach is not legal.”
He said the new requirements stray far from a traditional approach of adopting rules aimed at bringing air quality into compliance with state and federal heath public health standards for smog and other impurities.
“These proposed new rules are not based on science,” Bjerke said.
Air district officials said they have not yet completed estimates of how much it will cost to comply with the two rules.
Air district spokesman Aaron Richardson said the proposed new rules would protect against emissions increases. “We don’t want to backslide,” he said.
Contact Denis Cuff at 925-943-8267. Follow him at Twitter.com/deniscuff.
OIL REFINERY POLLUTION RULES workshops
Benicia: 5:30 to 7 p.m. Monday: Benicia Senior Center, 187 L St.
Richmond: 5:30 to 7 p.m. Tuesday: Madeline Whittlesey Community Room, 325 Civic Center Plaza
Martinez: 5:30 to 7 p.m. Wednesday: Contra Costa County supervisors chamber, 651 Pine St.
San Francisco: 10:30 a.m. to noon Friday: Bay Area Air Quality Management District board room, 939 Ellis St.
For more information, go to proposed refinery emission tracking and mitigation rules at http://bit.ly/1CeukLu