As environmentally conscious folks, many of us gladly fill up our green bin every week, and giddily anticipate free compost giveaways at Richmond's Earth Day celebrations. But what if our city’s compost facility is not that green?
At the beginning of this year, Contra Costa County health officials issued a cease and desist letter to Republic Services’ Richmond composting facility. City and County agencies had received some 400 calls about foul smells emanating from the site, including some people reporting nausea, headaches and throat irritations. When county health officials visited the site, they saw seven fires burning – not a good sign. Also, it turned out that Republic Services was handling 350,000 tons of materials when they were only permitted for 1/10 that amount.
A few months later, the California Water Board found that the facility was in violation of other regulations; one of the slopes on the landfill had failed, threatening local water resources. Then in September, Cal Recycle (the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery) notified the City Council that because of the fire problems at the facility, the landfill had been put on a list of facilities that chronically violate state minimum standards for solid waste handling. And as a result, the CCC Health Services Department was going to put the facility under a strict compliance schedule.
The landfill’s Land Use permit is apparently expiring soon, and needs to be re-permitted; the City should take this opportunity to ensure that Republic addresses these issues, for the sake of our environment, residents and facility workers.
This is a big deal! For the first time in many years, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) will be considering revisions to their permitting process. The Air District’s permitting track record is littered with examples of them rubber stamping projects that endanger community health and destabilize the climate. Can that behavior be reformed?
With enough public pressure it can! Unfortunately, the Air District is claiming that AB 398—the recently passed cap and trade extension bill— prohibits them from directly regulating CO2 emissions. Although the bill specifically restricts Air Districts from taking actions that produce CO2 reductions, BAAQMD legal staff insists that this also prohibits them from preventing future emission increases.
As a result, staff’s proposed improvements to current permitting rules, Rules 2-X, intentionally do nothing to control future CO2 emissions. The result is that dangerous projects—like the proposed expansion of crude-by-ship into the Phillips 66 marina at the Rodeo refinery—will continue to be rubber stamped. The “improvements” fail to prevent the increased emissions that inevitably follow from changes to dirtier, more GHG- and toxics- emitting crude sources.
Staff is using the same interpretation of AB 398 to argue that Rule 12-16, the proposed refinery emissions cap, can no longer be considered.
Governor Brown jetted to Bonn, Germany last month in an attempt to showcase California’s leadership on climate change. While there are indeed inspiring things happening in this state, savvy enviros and grassroots activists are not buying the Brown’s greenwash. When he was confronted with climate justice and indigenous peoples organizations chanting “Keep it in the ground!,” Brown retorted in Trumpian style, “Let’s put you in the ground.” (Ouch!)
A recent oped by Bill McKibben in The New Yorker, titled “Why Governor Jerry Brown was booed at the climate summit,” sums it up:
Brown may be captured by corporations like Chevron, which contribute millions to his campaigns, but real leadership is coming from the grassroots across California. Five counties have banned fracking (something that Brown is loathe to do). The most closely-watched ban is Monterey County’s Measure Z, which voters approved in a 2016 countywide ballot initiative. It calls for an end to fracking, new oil wells and a phaseout of wastewater injection in the county; and is being challenged in the courts by Chevron and other oil companies. A Monterey Superior Court judge is expected to rule soon on it.
“This little neighborhood, nobody seems to care about,” says Paul Marquis, who moved to Parchester Village three years ago.
Marquis says in the last year, he’s seen more trains go by, and more black dust on his property.
“It’s everywhere,” he says. “If your truck sits here for two, three days without moving you can write your name on the front.”
To demonstrate, Marquis pours a bucket of water down his screen door.
It runs off dark.
--“Coal dust worries Richmond Residents,” KQED Science, June 22, 2015
At the Levin-Richmond Terminal, which at its peak moved more than a million tons of coal per year, the wind blows over massive uncovered piles of dirty coal, carrying toxic dust into nearby neighborhoods and into the Bay. Coal dust is laced with toxins such as arsenic, lead, and mercury; and prolonged inhalation is linked to chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and cancer. According to the Sierra Club, “each open-top rail car can lose up to 600 pounds of coal dust on the journey from the mine to the port; this translates to 60,000 pounds of toxic fine particulate matter entering our air and water for every trip made by a coal train.”
Activists have worked for years to curb exports of coal and petroleum coke (petcoke), which not only create local health impacts but also spell climate disaster. A Clean Water Act lawsuit filed by Baykeeper introduced some improvements: in 2014 the company agreed to enclose the conveyor system it used to load the ships and to pause operations on very windy days. This helped prevent coal from dropping and blowing into the Bay, but unfortunately did nothing to address the coal dust problem.
Shortly thereafter, the Richmond City Council passed two resolutions: one calls on the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to ensure that all piles of coal and petcoke to be stored in enclosed facilities. The other opposes the transport of coal and petcoke along waterways and through densely populated areas, and prohibits exports from city land. Those were important signals, but much more needs to be done to protect our community’s health.
Environmental activists vowed to redouble their efforts on the Levinson-Richmond terminal at a campaign meeting at the Bobby Bowens Progressive Center.
Sure, it feels like Groundhog Day in September, déjà vu all over again. But, hey, climate justice activists are used to beating our heads against the wall. So when Jack Broadbent, Chief Executive Officer/Air Pollution Control Officer for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, tells us to abandon hope for capping refinery emissions because, well, the latest cap and trade bill -- we’re supposed to roll over and fade politely into the polluted Technicolor sunset, right?
For purposes of BAAQMD, the 2017-18 season opens on September 20th. Despite the questionable assertion Broadbent made at the August Board meeting—that everyone in Sacramento knows the general consensus was to remove “duplicative regulation” of greenhouse gases via the cap-and-trade extension bill (AB 398) -- we’ve been hearing the exact opposite. Highly placed friends in Sacramento wanted to make sure that BAAQMD’s cap on refinery emissions was protected under the new legislation.
Caps on refinery emissions prevent increases of emissions. They don’t actually reduce emissions. Therefore, they are not preempted by AB 398. The RPA will be working to get caps on criteria pollutants and carbon dioxide back on the BAAQMD agenda where they belong. The original version of Rule 12-16 addressed both criteria pollutants and greenhouse gases and is now more relevant than ever.
In the early morning of July 31, for the second Monday in a row, protesters locked themselves in front of the gates of Kinder Morgan’s Richmond facility, leaving tanker trucks stranded for hours while police and firefighters figured out how to detach the blockaders.
Kinder Morgan, one of North America’s largest oil infrastructure companies, is now attempting to triple the size of its pipeline that runs from the Alberta Tar Sands to the Pacific Ocean. The planned pipeline runs through the land of several First Nations, who are fighting to stop it. If completed, the project would deliver tar sands crude oil to ships for transport to refineries in Asia and the US West Coast, including the Bay Area. Increasing the refining of tar sands crude oil would not only further endanger the climate, but increase health and safety dangers to already polluted communities.
The action for two consecutive Mondays, organized by Diablo Rising Tide, was a show of solidarity with the First Nations fighting the pipeline. It was also part of the Bay Area’s fight against an influx of tar sands oil to local refineries.
Phillips 66 hasn't heard of "buying locally": apparently they want Canada's toxic tar sands oil, and they're pushing for a permit that would more than double the number of ocean tankers they can use to get it. The Bay Area "Air Quality Management" District will decide if this could possibly have any negative impact (hint: it will). The district, whose board is made up of our elected officials, loves their rubber stamp, so we need a flood of comments to stop it.
The potential doubling of ship traffic comes on the heels of an Air District approval allowing an increase from 30,682 to 51,182 barrels per day in 2013, so the currently proposed increase of 78,818 would let them churn through 130,000 barrels every day -- over four times the level they were doing just a few years ago. Needless to say, pollution controls cannot keep up.
In addition to drastic changes in quantities coming across our bay and into our communities, it's quite possible the type of oil will be the heavy, dangerous kind coming out of Canada. Because it sinks it's very hard to clean, and chemicals it contains are especially dangerous to human health.
Deadline for comments is August 28! Send an instant comment here, or skim through the short BAAQMD project description and email your thoughts directly to P66MarineTerminalPermitRevision@baaqmd.gov (potential impacts are on page 5-6; it's most helpful if you can reinforce or add to those based on your own knowledge or personal concerns).
Check out this new Opinion-Editorial in the New York Times, “A Dangerous Idea: Eliminating the Chemical Safety Board.” Steve Early points out one of the many ways in which Trump’s budget would be harmful for people and the planet.
If the board is abolished, hundreds of thousands of people who live near chemical factories and refineries will be at greater risk. I came to appreciate the board five years ago, when its experts came here to my hometown to investigate a huge fire at the Chevron refinery at the end of my street.
To read the entire OpEd, click here.
On June 21st, Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) staff tried to "grandfather in" exceptions to the first-in-nation rule to regulate local refinery-emitted greenhouse gases. But a coalition that includes Communities for a Better Environment, Sun flower Alliance, the RPA, Sierra Club, 350 Bay Area, Center for Biological Diversity, Asian Pacific Environmental Network and many other groups from around the Bay Area brought more than 200 supporters, as well as local print and TV media, to the meeting, making it impossible for the last-minute changes to take place.
As reported by CNA Community Organizer Alyssa Kang: Good news! The BAAQMD Board voted 13-6 to set aside the staff's eleventh hour proposed changes to Rule 12-16 (refinery emissions caps on greenhouse gases) that would have allowed increased refinery emissions by the oil industry and would result in pollution worse than current levels! We will need to mobilize again and continue to organize. The fight continues!
You can read more about this victory in this post from the Sunflower Alliance.
--Photo by Alyssa Kang
We are coming up to a critical juncture in the four-year effort to set transparent, enforceable caps on refinery emissions.
At issue is Bay Area Air Quality Management District Rule 12-16, which would finally set facility-wide emission limits on greenhouse gases, particulates, and toxic sulfur oxide and nitrous oxide from refineries. Right now BAAQMD only regulates various parts of refineries, and if the District does not quickly put a facility-wide cap on emissions, oil refiners such as Chevron will be allowed to process dirtier, heavier crude (such as tar sands) that could increase overall refinery emissions by 40-100 percent region-wide.