(originally posted at http://theyodeler.org/?p=9900)
On October 15, the 22-member Board of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District defied the wishes of Chevron, Shell, Tesoro, Valero, Phillips 66, and the Western States Petroleum Association by unanimously passing a resolution that blatantly prioritizes community health and safety and climate protection over corporate profits. The resolution is a victory for the Bay Chapter and a coalition of sympathetic community groups who, since 2012, have lobbied the Air District to issue stricter refinery regulations. This important resolution directs Air District staff to craft “rules” to govern the levels, contents, and tracking of refinery emissions. The regulation requires staff to present the following regulations:
- A rule that inventories emissions and improves fence-line monitoring of pollutants that could harm surrounding communities.
- A companion rule that sets caps for each of the pollutants emitted by the refineries, ranging from carbon pollution to cancer-causing benzene.
- A required 20% reduction of refinery emissions by 2020—or, alternatively, require proof that refineries are using the “Best Available Control Technologies” throughout their facilities (in other words, trying as hard as possible to reach a 20% reduction). Most of the Bay Area’s refineries are nearly 100 years old, and much of the most polluting equipment is so old it was installed before air-pollution controls were implemented in 1955. Currently, these so-called “grandfathered sources” are not required to adhere to present-day regulations because they existed before the regulations began. In some cases, replacing just one of these large grandfathered sources could achieve the required 20% reduction.
Why is the Board’s action significant? Conventional crude oil, sourced from “traditional” drilling practices in California, Alaska, the Gulf, and various sites abroad, is running out. In response, oil companies are turning to what are called “extreme fuels”: crudes that are extracted through unconventional and often unsafe practices. These practices include fracking, well stimulation, and clear cutting forests to mine for tar sands. More energy, more toxic chemicals, and more dangerous practices are required to get these fuels out of the ground and processed. Bay Area refineries want to bring in two types of extreme crude: toxic Canadian Tar Sands and explosive, fracked Bakken Shale Oil (read about what you can do to stop a current proposal to bring extreme oil by rail through Bay Area communities in “Your help needed to protect California from the next oil-by-rail disaster“). Such extreme fuels are appealing to oil companies because they are cheaper to produce than importing dwindling supplies of conventional fuels. Unfortunately, they are also more dangerous, more highly polluting, and have higher costs to society.
In the past two years, multiple Bay Area refineries have filed requests to “upgrade” and “modernize” (their words)—or “retool” and “expand” (our words)—their facilities in order to keep up with the changing crude markets. These refineries want to be able to transport, receive, and process extreme fuels so that they can continue to make record profits at the expense of the health and safety of communities located near the refineries. Also at risk are those communities located along the transport routes from the extraction site to the refinery.
If proposed refinery expansions are approved and acted on before the Air District implements new rules regulating refinery emissions, the baseline emissions levels upon which regulations will be set will be much higher. A 20% reduction of emissions would thus be less significant. In that case, the Air District’s power to curb climate change and protect the health and safety of local residents and refinery workers would be severely constrained. Therefore, the Sierra Club and its partners are urging the Air District Board to implement the new rules before any new projects are approved.
The oil industry has thrown its full weight behind trying to stop, or at least weaken, the Air District’s proposed new regulations. Throughout the process, industry has continually threatened the Board with legal action over the “taking of their vested rights,” meaning the threat to the money they’ve already invested in the process of switching over to these extreme fuels. While the Board’s resolution was a step in the right direction, we can be sure that the oil industry is not giving up the fight. We need you to join us as we continue to push for new refinery regulations!
What You Can Do
Join us at the next Air District Board meeting to defend this important action to prioritize people over corporate profits.
Wednesday, December 17, 9:30am
939 Ellis Street, 7th Floor
RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org