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Saturday, July 24, 2021

Oil refineries to be forced by Bay Area air quality district to reduce pollution

Air quality regulators voted on Wednesday to require local refineries Dramatically reduce air pollution Manufactured by machinery used to produce gasoline.

The board of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District voted 19-3 to force the Chevron Refinery in Richmond and the PBF Energy Refinery in Martinez to adopt the new technology that will clean pollutants from crude oil as it is refined into fuel. It has been – a move that research shows can lead to healthier air quality in the communities around those refineries.

It’s a major victory for environmental groups and public health advocates who say the district vote will save lives. Data presented by district staff at a meeting last month indicated that 11 people die prematurely each year from air pollution produced by the Chevron refinery, and 6 from PBF.

Unionized workers at both refineries urged the board on Wednesday that oil companies can cut jobs to offset the cost of the new technology. Staff analysis found that Chevron could offset the expense by cutting 62 positions, and eliminating PBF 128.

But several directors on the board pledged to help any laid-off workers “transition” into new jobs and careers, and they criticized Chevron and PBF for potentially improving local air quality to their employees. to bear the cost.

“There’s no way that we have employees from companies that we regulate should be leveraged by employers,” said Cindy Chavez, the Santa Clara County Supervisor and Air Quality Board chairman.

Under the newly passed regulation, refineries will be required to install “wet gas scrubbers,” which spray pollutants from gas streams. Without scrubbers, those pollutants are emitted into the air by “fluid catalytic cracking units” — machines that are critical in the process of turning crude oil into gas and diesel fuel.

By letting refineries adopt these new systems, the district’s policy will implement a significantly larger reduction in air pollution proposed by Chevron and PBF as a pact to avoid spending on scrubbers.

Even as the board voted with a large margin to approve the new policy, some directors worried that the decision would invite litigation from oil companies. PBF Energy’s president of the Western Region said in a recent letter that the cost of installing the scrubbers would force the Martinez refinery to close. Their own cost estimate of $800 million is much higher than the $255 million price tag estimated by district employees’ analysis.

Director Mark Ross, a councillor from Martinez, argued that instead of diving into years of court challenges, it would be better to seek a middle ground with refineries.

“To say, ‘We’re hoping we’ll pass this, we hope it sticks, we hope the courts decide it anyway’ – doesn’t sound like the right way to me. ,” said Ross.

But other directors, including Contra Costa supervisor John Gioia, said threats from oil companies are nothing new. He said that in the last few years every decision of the Air Quality Board has faced litigation and the district has been successful every time.

“It’s mainly black and Latinx residents who live in these communities,” Gioia said of the neighbors of the Richmond and Martinez refineries. “Our responsibility is to those who live in the shadow of the industry to improve their air quality and health.”

Richmond meets the criteria for being a “disadvantaged community” Existing state policy aimed at reducing air pollution. UCSF researchers find that black and Latino communities in the Bay Area record higher levels of asthma and Richmond Asthma rates double the state average.

The district’s decision will only affect refineries in Richmond and Martinez, as there are already wet gas scrubbers installed at Benicia’s Valero refinery. Meanwhile, the Marathon refinery in Martinez is dormant. According to the district staff report, there are no plans to resume refining works.

At Wednesday’s meeting, union workers reached out in large numbers to say the new rules would cause great harm to local labor.

“We build highways and bridges, and we maintain refineries,” said Chris Snyder, Operating Engineers Local 3. “In the meantime, we don’t need to close these refineries. These are some of the highest paying jobs in the Bay Area.”

But other environmentalists, doctors and residents of Richmond and Martinez said air pollution is slowly killing them and urged the board to approve the most stringent controls.

Tarnell Abbott, an activist and librarian at the Richmond Public Library, said it is “horrifying” to live in a heavily polluted city like Richmond, but “we love where we live, and we don’t think we should sacrifice our health” at the refinery. Could run a cheaper operation.”

“It is very disappointing that the brothers and sisters of my union have been forced to beg for their jobs,” Abbott said. “I think it’s a sham.”

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