History of Activities, 1999 to 2011 - Provided by Marilyn Bardet
Supporting Environmental Quality, Public Health and Community Safety
• In 1999, a small group of Benicia residents meets to discuss the news that EXXON was being required to sell its Benicia refinery, ordered to do so by California’s Attorney General as a consequence of the merger between Exxon and Mobil, in order to diversify northern California’s retail market especially for CARB gasoline. “The Good Neighbor Steering Committee” [GNSC] forms as a citizens’ association, out of initial concern for the “cloud of uncertainty” hanging over the fate of the refinery and over the community. GNSC founding members include Kitty Griffin, Marilyn Bardet, Elizabeth Patterson, Mary Frances Kelly Poh and Jan Cox Golovich. Dana Dean and Mary Werhle join subsequently. Early supporters include Tom Busfield, Gregg Renfrow, Peter Bray, Mary Shaw, Brad MacLane and other members of the public.
• GNSC members determine to follow the course of the sale of the refinery; formal letters are sent to all potential buyers, including Valero Energy Corporation, expressing local concern and announcing the existence of GNSC as a citizen’s watchdog group. GNSC members gather information and background history of the independent refining companies bidding to purchase. Contacts are made with Communities for a Better Environment, a non-profit based in San Francisco, that helps communities address the risks associated to living near polluting, hazardous industries.
• At such a pivotal moment, with the outcome of the refinery sale still pending, GNSC’s emergence encourages others to consider the long-term consequences for the community, from a public health and safety standpoint, should the refinery be purchased by an unreliable “independent”. GNSC expresses concerns to local and state elected officials and the community regarding the the potential effects of the refinery’s impending sale. Several public meetings are held to discuss community concerns.
• GNSC’s mission and purpose begins to take shape: to encourage public participation in on-going oversight of the operations, maintenance and future projects of the Benicia refinery, to help ensure the health and safety of the community and to improve the quality of life for all Benicians. GNSC recognizes all relevant and applicable state regulatory policies and guidelines, local, state and federal law, such as the Clean Air Act of 1972, the California Environmental Quality Act [CEQA], and the recently adopted 1999 City of Benicia General Plan, whose over-arching principal goal is that of “sustainability” with regard to economic development, environmental protection and social well-being of the community. GNSC supports the public’s “right to know” in the interests of environmental protection, public health and safety.
• GNSC meets with staff of the California Attorney General’s office to express concerns about the sale of Benicia refinery, for employee job protections, maintaining Exxon’s safety culture and improving environmental quality with regard the transfer of ownership and management to an independent refining company.
• Valero Energy Corp. purchases the Benicia refinery. GNSC has learned that Valero is growing fast, having purchased 7 refineries in a short span, to make it the largest independent refiner in the US, owning 14 refineries with the purchase of Benicia’s, including the asphalt plant.
• In 2000, GNSC requests a first meeting with Valero Corp’s top management about their purchase of the Benicia refinery; GNSC is invited to meet with CEO, Bill Greehey Valero Energy CEO | The Businessweek Video Library , CEO EXCHANGE . Episodes . William E. (Bill) Greehey | PBS and other Valero representatives to represent community concerns: for maintaing safety standards at the refinery; for job protection for Exxon employees; and to promote overall reduction of toxic air emissions and other pollutants. Denny Larson of Communities for a Better Environment also attends the meeting with Mr. Greehey; GNSC members are interviewed by Bay Area T.V. reporters following the meeting. Valero’s management style is judged to be cordial, matter-of-fact, and approachable.
• In 2001 and 2002, GNSC holds several community meetings to discuss concerns about the refinery’s performance and future operation, especially the community’s “right to know” regarding kinds of products stored on site, toxic air emissions, particulate matter, flaring, accidental releases with potential “off-site” consequences and emergency preparedness. Worries are expressed by the public about community safety, local air quality as related to public health, and about the high incidence of asthma in Solano County as reported by the American Lung Association.
• In the wake of 9/11/01, new protocols are put in place by Valero in response to new federal policies meant to protect vulnerable and strategic industries from possible terrorist attack; these new regulations also bar public access to certain kinds of information considered sensitive, thus affecting other federal legislation protecting a community’s “right to know”.
• A primary goal of the GNSC is to promote improved local air quality and to provide opportunity for independent public oversight, recognizing the many constant sources of local and regional air pollution, to better assess and understand local ambient air quality. GNSC envisions creating a local, comprehensive, independent air-monitoring station that would operate 24/7.
• In 2001, Valero seeks a permit to build a Co-gen unit to guarantee energy supply to the refinery. GNSC reviews the proposed project and attends Valero’s “Title V” review, conducted at the Air District. The Title V program is a comprehensive “facility review” of regulatory compliance required of major polluting industries under federal regulation and is intended to enhance nation-wide compliance with the Clean Air Act. [From the BAAQMD website: Renewal of Title V use permits to operate are contingent on certification of compliance. Title V permits to operate must be reviewed and renewed every 5 years under federal EPA review process. The public must be noticed about Title V hearings and the public’s comments must be addressed and answered before certification and permit renewal can occur. EPA has authority to terminate, modify or revoke and re-issue a permit if cause exists. Permits are federally enforceable and may also be enforced by citizen lawsuits. Modification procedures are dictated by EPA regulations.]
• In June, 2002, at the time of initial start up of the new Co-gen unit, there are a series of three unexpected power outages at the refinery, in each case causing emergency shutdowns of refinery operations. The cause is attributed to the Co-gen start-up procedures. Later on, and into early 2003, there are other problems: repeated flaring, oil spills from storage tanks, and several fires in the hydro-cracking unit. GNSC is on alert and consults with the Air District about new guidelines then being discussed to regulate routine use of flaring during normal operations, and to control flaring emissions generally.
• In 2002, GNSC calls for Valero to establish a “Community Advisory Panel”, an official, industry sponsored panel to be composed of representatives of a broad spectrum of the community. Valero agrees to establish a CAP and GNSC is granted a permanent seat. Valero CAP members are GNSC History appointed by the City Council to represent the community at large and the Benicia business community. CAP members are also appointed to represent city staff and the City Council. The purpose of the CAP is to provide opportunity for community members to express concerns and become better informed, through discussion with members of the refinery management team, about routine operations and maintenance, development projects underway, future plans, accidents, emergencies and other problems. Valero convenes CAP meetings on a quarterly basis. Regular CAP meetings are not open to the public or the press. Special workshops or meetings are held for the public as stipulated by Valero, and as recommended to Valero by CAP members.
• In 2002, Valero presents to the City its plans for the “Valero Improvement Project” [“VIP”], which calls for a major overhaul and upgrade of the refinery to allow expansion of the refinery’s maximum throughput and to allow for processing of more quantities and types of heavy, more sulfur-laden “sour crudes” that are also more corrosive. Valero explains their dependence on open market purchasing of available crude types, and that “sweet crude” is more expensive, getting harder to get since Exxon’s fields in Alaska’s north slope are diminishing – all justifying the need to revamp the refinery, which had been built in 1968 to process mainly sweet crude from Exxon’s own fields in Alaska.
• Valero hires ESA to prepare for the City of Benicia a Draft Environmental Impact Report [EIR] on the Land Use Application for the Valero Improvement Project. The Draft EIR is published in October, 2002, and is circulated to the public for a 45 day review period. GNSC actively encourages citizens with technical experience and training in biology and chemistry to comment on the Draft EIR, whether independently or in collaboration with GNSC.
• GNSC reviews the Draft VIP EIR and is concerned that various analyses project significant increases in air emissions, especially sulfur dioxide [“SOx”], nitrous oxides [“NOx”], volatile organic compounds [“VOC’s”] and other toxic air emissions, yet claim that these potential increases will be mitigated by construction of a new Sulfur Recovery Unit, changes and improvements to other units, and especially, the proposed construction of a “Main Stack Scrubber”, which, as stated by the Draft EIR, would significantly reduce flue gas emissions from the main stack by “washing out” increased SOx and NOx with what is described as a “water shower”. The scrubbing method then proposed would require significant additional amounts of treated raw water – an increase of 1 million gallons per day – over and above the refinery’s total daily raw water requirements (which are equal each day to the total daily amount of water used by the entire Benicia community). GNSC cites concern about the projected extra water demands, and also, the need for an extra 32 watts of power – an amount which exceeds the limit of what Valero’s single new Co-gen unit could supply.
• In early 2003, to elevate GNSC local concerns about potential negative impacts of VIP and to reach regional neighbors whose communities would potentially be impacted by increased air emissions, GNSC initiates formation of a regional coalition called C.R.E.A.T.E, [“Coalition of Responsible Environmentalists Against Toxic Emissions”] with the Solano chapter of the Sierra Club, the Solano County Green Party, members of Solano Peace & Justice, Vallejo for Community Planned Renewal [Vallejo citizens then formally addressing the Shell Oil/Bechtel Corp proposal to build a Liquified Natural Gas shipping terminal operation and 900 megawatt power plant on Mare Island], and West County Toxics Coalition. In creating the regional coalition, several GNSC members work to support Vallejo citizens’ opposition to the proposed LNG Project, and also attend public meetings held by Communities for a Better Environment, as well as hearings in Richmond regarding public concerns about air quality and proposed changes at Chevron. Attention from C.R.E.A.T.E. bears down on the Draft VIP EIR. GNSC History
• During review of the VIP EIR, GNSC seeks advice from scientist, Julia May, who worked at the time with Communities for a Better Environment. At the time, Ms. May was reviewing Chevron’s proposals for various unit changes and upgrades on behalf of members of the Richmond community; some of Ms. May’s comments are found to be relevant to the Draft VIP EIR and are incorporated into GNSC’s official comments.
• GNSC submits formal comments on the Draft VIP EIR stating that the document is fatally flawed – its analyses vague, incomplete and inaccurate, thus inadequate – especially regarding data for estimated increases in local air emissions derived from out-of-date “baseline” data from distant monitors in Vallejo and Concord operated by the Air District. GNSC disputes the Draft EIR’s claims that there will be no potentially significant negative cumulative impacts to local and regional air quality that will not be mitigated by improvements called for by VIP. GNSC’s comments also cite the excess raw water demands of the proposed design for the Main Stack Flue Gas Scrubber. Most problematic: the Draft EIR leaves open the possibility that the Scrubber could be considered an “option” – not firmly committed to being built – and thus that a “bare bones” VIP project without the Scrubber could be allowed under the draft EIR as written. GNSC argues that if Valero gains approval for VIP with such a vaguely implied “option”, e.g., without the necessary requirement to install a Scrubber, excessive emissions of SOx and NOx, with other increases in toxic pollutants (including particulate matter from coke terminal operations, increased shipping traffic, etc.) would negatively and permanently impact local and regional air quality and contribute to cumulative, negative public health impacts caused by all existing pollution sources in the region.
• By spring of 2003, to address the outstanding issues pointing to the inadequacy and failure of the VIP EIR, GNSC hires an expert CEQA attorney, James G. Moose, (of Remy Thomas, Moose & Manley in Sacramento), paying $6,000 out of personal pockets for a 15 page letter addressed to the Planning Commission that documents reasons for GNSC’s dispute with the EIR’s conclusions and to insist on various conditions for approval, including the construction of the proposed Flue Gas Scrubber.
• In June 2003, at the official Planning Commission hearing on the Draft VIP EIR, GSNC explains its position and the contents of the letter from CEQA Attorney Jim Moose, and recommends the set of permitting conditions for VIP that include:
• In 2003, The Planning Commission approves the VIP EIR “as is” and recommends that the City Council approve Valero’s Use Permit without the permitting conditions cited by GNSC in its official comments. The Commission adopts the Mitigation and Monitoring Program. GNSC appeals the Commission’s decisions, based on unresolved issues and insufficient analysis of outstanding issues (as described previously above).
• To address the GNSC appeal, Valero enters into negotiations with GNSC over a three day period in attempt to resolve the issues of the appeal and settle the GNSC’s dispute over the claims of the Draft EIR. • GNSC in good faith withdraws its appeal at the last minute, right before the June 4th City Council hearing on VIP, pending official acknowledgement and acceptance of the terms negotiated with Valero under the “Good Neighbor Settlement Agreement”, dated June 6th, 2003. The conditions are supported by Mayor Messina and the City Council. The Council certifies the VIP EIR and grants a use permit to Valero to construct VIP that includes conditions stipulated by the Good Neighbor Agreement.
• GNSC contacts scientist Julia May, seeking recommendations about where to find expertise on community-based air-monitoring systems. Ms. May recommends Don Gamiles, Phd, a CEO at that time with CEREX Environmental, in Atlanta GA that assembles air-monitoring equipment. Thus begins GNSC’s long association with Dr. Gamiles. In 2004, Dr. Gamiles launches his own company, Argos Scientific, headquartered in Oregon. Argos has national and global experience working with communities and industries, setting up customized air monitoring systems and programs for communities, cities and industry. Argos Scientific purchases equipment and assembles customized systems using standard EPA certified air monitors and also state-of-the art “real time”, “open path” air-monitoring equipment, including the UV Hound and other infrared open path monitors. Argos offers systems and data management and analysis for communities, government and private agencies and polluting industries.
• On July 16, 2003, GNSC, along with members of the regional alliance “C.R.E.A.T.E.” hold a first-ever air-monitoring workshop and demonstration, held in Bob Craft’s backyard that overlooks the Valero refinery buffer zone. Attending are members of the public, City of Benicia elected officials, Valero, BAAQMD, Solano County supervisors, Congressman George Miller, City of Martinez, Contra Costa County’s Emergency Responders (including staff from CAER) and Hazmat Program. The purpose of the workshop is to demonstrate the capabilities of the UV Open Path Monitor called “The Hound”, to be purchased for Benicia’s community air-monitoring station.
• Leaders of GNSC, the Mayor of Benicia, city officials and Valero managers meet with top management of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District at their offices in San Francisco to discuss feasibility of the Air District supporting and directing an “air monitoring experiment” to measure ambient air quality in Benicia, as required under terms of the 2003 Settlement Agreement. The Air District would seek support for this independent venture from their parent at state EPA, the California Air Resources Board [CARB].
• The planned experiment for testing ambient air quality is approved by CARB. A trailer outfitted with Air District monitors is made available to Benicia, under a state-sponsored EPA program, initiated and funded by AB25, to test air quality at school sites. The trailer would have its own meteorological tower to measure wind speed and direction and temperature. The experiment to be conducted would compare raw data results and performance of various standard Air GNSC History District monitors and the community’s new UV Hound over the course of one year. The experiment would be led by the Air District in collaboration with Argos Scientific. The UV Hound, at the time, is not familiar to the Air District; thus the experiment, which would evaluate the “real time” performance capability of the Hound and its capacity to capture and record very low detections of gases typically found near refineries – detecting in the range of parts per billion of benzene, toluene, etc., as the gases pass through an ultra-violet light beam that reads their chemical signatures – interests the Air District’s monitoring team and Valero.
• An independent air-monitoring station is planned to be located in Benicia within Valero’s western buffer zone, near residential areas. In July of 2003, GNSC hosts a first public “Air Monitoring Workshop” in the backyard of resident Bob Craft. Invitations are sent to elected officials, city staff, the Air District and members of the Contra Costa CAER Program [Community Alert and Emergency Response]. The workshop is led by Don Gamiles, who demonstrates the detection capabilities and explains the advantages of “real time” air monitoring and data storage the UV Hound offers. The workshop is a big success and many express appreciation for GNSC’s efforts.
• GNSC consults with the City, BAAQMD and the Valero CAP, agreeing to the proposed location of an air monitoring station west of the refinery in Valero’s buffer zone just west and north of residential areas. Valero finally purchases the UV Hound through Argos Scientific. The contract includes maintenance of the Hound by Argos, for the duration of the air monitoring experiment.
• In the summer of 2003, there is a major fire at Valero’s asphalt plant that causes public alarm – a huge black plume floats off-site and drifts toward downtown. Earlier incidents in the same year – persistent flaring, crude spill around tank, shutdowns caused by start-up of the Co-gen unit – coupled with the asphalt plant fire, spur GNSC members to inquire further into the circumstances of the fire. GNSC requests from the Benicia Fire Department a copy of the “MSDS” [manufacturer’s documentation of the characteristics, chemical constituents and health risks associated to a particular material], to learn about the possible health risks and consequences of burning 500 containers of styrene pellets – a co-polymer product used as an elasticizer in asphalt production. GNSC discusses the fire with Don Gamiles of Argos Scientific who recommends a company in Durban South Africa that does “air modeling” to determine the presence and amount of chemicals that may be found during emergencies and routine operations under various adverse circumstances. GNSC sends to the company all available first hand observational data, meteorological information collected at the time of the fire, and the MSDS for Styrene; GNSC subsequently receives a reply stating that, given the information supplied, there would have been formaldehyde present within a 100 yard radius of the fire as a result of burning styrene. GNSC is thereby able to submit an independent report of the technical air modeling results that cite the potential “undetected” formaldehyde, which could have potentially affected Valero employees on site and residential neighborhoods had the toxic plume lingered.
• The GNSC report on the asphalt plant fire is submitted as part of GNSC’s official comments on the 2003 Title V Review of the asphalt plant. GNSC notes that the MSDS instructions for storage of styrene suggest that the fire self-ignited from fumes rising from the styrene containers which had been stored outside in 100 degree weather and covered with tarps – against manufacturer’s advice. Thus GNSC assumed the fire cold have been avoided, had been caused by human error, bad judgment and lack of proper oversight. The potential toxic air emissions had not been accounted for by the City’s and Valero’s immediate reports of the incident; The Benicia Fire Dept. declared during the fire that there was no cause for emergency precautions to “shelter in place”, that there was “no health risk” associated to the off-site plume for Valero employees in the immediate vicinity of the GNSC History fire or for nearby residents. GNSC publicly questions the analyses supporting their claims.
• As a result of the series of “inexplicable” series of accidents in 2003, Valero initiates an exhaustive Safety Reliability Study and Audit, conducted by Brecht Engineering, to review their entire operation. Valero management admits it doesn’t have complete knowledge of why the series of incidents had occurred and they profess their determination to understand and improve their practices. GNSC supports the City’s hiring of an independent consulting engineering firm, “MRS”, to review Brecht’s reports. GNSC participates for over 2 years in discussions and reviews of the Reliability Study, through CAP meetings and special workshops held to inform the public. Public trust begins to be restored in the refinery’s management team, given the rigor of the Study and the careful oversight by MRS, the City’s consultants. The Reliability Study proves to have remarkable currency among all parties reviewing it; marked improvement in safety performance are noticed in operation of the refinery over months and years to come.
• In 2003, a City Council-appointed committee called PURE [People Using Resources Efficiently] is formed to address creation of the Water Reuse Project called for in Valero’s 2002 “Commitment of Support” for the Project and under terms of the 2003 Good Neighbor Agreement. PURE meets for one year to plan the project with the City, spending $1 million of the $15 million allocated under the Agreement to build the Project. However, by the end of that year, Valero financial auditors report to City Council that they estimate that the Project’s construction costs would likely escalate, rising 6 - 12 % between 2006 and 2009, thus pushing the ultimate projected cost of construction to roughly $46 million. Valero decided it could not go forward with the Water Reuse Project, given the new cost estimate. The City Council agrees to shelve the Project, albeit the $14 million remains as part of the 2003 Good Neighbor Agreement for environmental benefit. At the time, it is assumed by Council Member Patterson, who represents Council on the PURE Committee, that the funds remain virtually “reserved” and at some point could possibly be made available specifically for a future water conservation project. This suggestion is acknowledged by Bob Craft, the chair of the PURE Committee, and also by the GNSC. Thus, remaining funds of $14 million are “left on the table” without further designation for environmental benefits.
• In 2007, Valero announces that they want to update VIP—e.g., to make improvements to design of various units using the most current, energy-saving “best available technology”. Modifications to VIP are suggested that are expected to provide further environmental benefits. Such changes are subject to further review under CEQA. Valero hires the same firm, ESA, which had produced the Draft VIP EIR, to prepare an “Addendum” intended to be added to and augment the certified 2003 VIP EIR.
• As reported by City staff in its report to City Council, dated May 21, 2007: “. . . An April 25, 2007 submission to the City requesting various amendments to the Valero Improvement Project does include a request to change the Main Stack Flue Gas Scrubber technology, which will require installation of an associated Regeneration and Solids Handling Facility. While this application will be evaluated by the City through a separate review process, it is important to note that along with the proposed amendments Valero is also requesting various associated revisions to the conditions of approval of the VIP Use Permit, which relate to the subject at hand.”
• Ultimately, Valero decides upon a design alternative for its new Flue Gas Scrubber that would remove sulfur by a different method using an “amine solution” that would thus require much less water. [When construction of the newly designed Flue Gas Scrubber is finally completed in 2011, the final cost, as reported to the CAP by Valero Manager, Doug Comeau, is $790,000,000 – more GNSC History than the total original purchase price of the entire refinery paid by Valero to EXXON in 2000.].
• Regarding the fate of the Addendum, which discusses and analyses the potential impacts of the proposed modifications to VIP, GNSC understands that Valero would likely be subject to a legal challenge on procedural grounds, given that an Addendum could be considered under CEQA as an insufficient level of review for project modifications of the nature and complexity being proposed. Also, an Addendum is not required to be circulated for public comment. GNSC discusses its concern about this procedural issue, a CEQA fact that Valero recognizes as its legal vulnerability.
• Because Valero wants to keep its schedule for VIP construction, they take the unusual decision to invite GNSC and the City to comment on the Addendum. Both GNSC and the City agree to formally submit comments. The City contracts an outside attorney and also an environmental consultant to review the draft Addendum. Dana Dean, spokesperson for GNSC and also a practicing land use attorney, advises GNSC to provide comments, and GNSC member Marilyn Bardet drafts initial comments, which are reviewed by Ms. Dean and other GNSC members.
• GNSC submits comments on the Addendum that fundamentally challenge the use of an Addendum, on solid arguments set by CEQA, citing the substantial nature of the VIP modifications being proposed, and therefore, the inadequate level of review provided, considering that CEQA would require, under these particular circumstances, a Supplemental EIR as the appropriate level of review and also, thus, its circulation to the public for a 30 - 45 day review period to receive public comments. GNSC also disputes the Addendum’s analysis of VIP’s contribution to Green House Gases [GHG] and cites potential “positive feedback” effects of global warming on the refinery’s own daily operation, given the location of the refinery’s wastewater ponds in a flood plain of the Suisun Marsh, and given the predictions of the Bay Conservation and Development Commission for a minimum 5 ft. sea level rise in coming years along the Strait and nearby marshes. GNSC also questions the adequacy of the City’s water supply to meet demands under conditions of severe, prolonged drought, changes in the amount of winter snowpack, and changing seasonal rainfall patterns. Thus GNSC’s challenge are both of a procedural and substantive nature, and are presumed to have legal merit. In its comments on the Addendum, GNSC also recognizes the merits of Valero’s proposed modifications that GNSC agrees would create overall operational savings of energy and water from a re-designed Flue Gas Scrubber that uses an alternative “amine wash” (instead of H20) to further reduce NOx and SOx emissions.
• As it turns out, the City’s hired experts report that they could find no fault with the Addendum, and they recommend that City Council adopt the Addendum and thereby uphold Valero’s use permit without any added conditions or modifications.
• In 2007, the Benicia City Council “took its first steps to combat climate change by adopting Resolution No. 07-126 authorizing membership in ICLEU and their Cities for Climate Protection Campaign. . .” The City agrees to: “conduct a baseline emissions inventory and forecast; adopt an emissions reduction target for the forecast year; develop a climate action plan; implement policies and measures; and monitor and verify results.” [Quotes taken from the introduction to the Benicia Climate Action Plan, which was adopted by Council in 2009.] The City’s Emissions Inventory was completed in the fall of 2008 by the City Manager’s office in conjunction with the other City departments and funded predominantly by the Air District’s Climate Protection Grant Program. Members of GNSC support the City’s initiatives that call for addressing climate change at the local level, to GNSC History reduce energy consumption, reduce GHG gas emissions and reduce the community’s overall carbon footprint.
• In 2008, the City hosts public workshops to help develop priorities and strategies for a climate action plan to be created with leadership by Cal Poly and the guidance of City staff member, Mike Marcus, a Benicia native and recent honors graduate of Cal Poly in urban planning. YouTube - Benicia Climate Action Plan Community Workshop. Members of GNSC participate fully in the workshops.
• Benicia citizens, including Kathy Kerridge who is a member of the GNSC, form a task force to consider formal establishment of a new “community sustainability commission” to encourage, advocate for and oversee implementation of the climate action plan then in the process of development by Cal Poly.
• In 2008, Valero implicitly recognizes the legitimacy of GNSC‘s disputes regarding use of the Addendum and also the adequacy of the analyses provided, and invites GNSC to enter negotiations toward achieving a Settlement Agreement to resolve the issues cited. GNSC agrees to negotiate.
• Legally referred to as “The Valero/Good Neighbor Steering Committee Settlement Agreement”, the new Agreement provides $14 million in environmental benefits to the City and community, including BUSD. The Agreement specifies allocations decided upon by the GNSC and agreed to by Valero that address the unresolved issues raised by GNSC’s comments, specifically related to water and energy use at the refinery and the inadequate and incomplete analysis, required by AB32, of impacts of global warming. Benefits are:
– Provide continued operation of the recently acquired “open-path” air monitor equipment, site maintenance, data management and communication with the public: funds not to exceed $10,000/year over 5 years;
– Construct a permanent monitoring shelter (estimated $200,000) for air-monitoring equipment;
– Sponsor a joint community workshop with Bay Area Air Quality Management District; – Valero will work in good faith with GNSC, the CAP and BAAQMD to maintain permanently an air monitoring station at current location;
– Provide routine air quality data reports to the CAP, and the City upon request
b. Commitment to buffer zone protection: to protect areas from refinery operations – $1,000,000
c. Commitment to GHG Reduction Initiatives supporting the Climate Action Plan:
– Implement projects at the refinery that improve energy efficiency and reduce GHG emissions;
– City-wide Tree Planting & Maintenance Program: $700,000;
– Purchase 2 hybrid vehicles for the City: $50,000;
– Provide for City projects identified in the City’s Climate Action Plan [then] under development: not to exceed $200,000 over 3 years;
– Implement GHG reductions, with energy audits at BUSD: $400,000
– Provide routine reports for AB 32 directly to the CAP and ensure such information is available to the City upon request.
d. Commitment to Water Conservation:
– Provide for City-approved water conservation projects: not to exceed $2,000,000 per year for 5 years; the annual amount must be used for verifiable water reduction projects GNSC History implemented by the City, community residents, Valero and businesses in Benicia. Any proposed Valero water conservation projects must be discretionary and not mandated by state or federal regulation;
– Support acquisition of land on its own or in partnership with others to be used for watershed protection/preservation: not to exceed $1,000,000 to acquire land.
– Provide routine reports about refinery water usage directly to the CAP and make such information available to the City upon request.
e. Commitment to VIP Project Timing:
– Valero to construct and operate the new Flue Gas Scrubber before the beginning of operation of the sulfur unit expansion.
• In June 2008, there are major grass fires in the surrounding area north and east of Benicia with little wind to disperse the smoke and haze. Ozone levels in Benicia register on the Ozone monitor installed at the air-monitoring station located in Valero's buffer zone for the Air District-led experiment in local air monitoring for ambient air quality. Benicia's monitor records ozone levels that are higher than those recorded at the nearest official Air District monitors located in Vallejo. This fact is highly pertinent to GNSC's assertions that air quality data taken from Vallejo and Concord does not necessarily accurately depict or reflect conditions existing within Benicia, owing to geographical features of hills and valleys that trap air, affect wind direction, temp, etc. [This finding demonstrates and reinforces GNSC reasons for establishing a comprehensive local air monitoring program and fully equipped air-monitoring station as called for in the 2008 Valero/ GNSC Settlement Agreement.]
• In 2009, the City of Benicia requests modifications to the 2008 Valero/GNSC Settlement Agreement to provide more clarity about the uses of the funds, specifically to allow for flexibility in allocations of funds for both water and energy conservation projects. GNSC and Valero both agree to re-open discussion of the terms of the original 2008 Agreement and Valero and the GNSC begin to negotiate modifications to the Agreement that accord with the City’s wishes and the principles set forth in the original Agreement. The City is invited to participate, to settle terms of an Amended Agreement. It takes more than a year to bring all parties to a satisfying conclusion, with new conditions provided for by the Valero/GNSC Settlement Agreement. The amended terms include:
– LEED design for new Community Center: $158,000 – Solar panel installation at Hearthstone: 30,000 – Sustainability Commission staff support: 75,000
– Elementary school education program: 10,000
– BUSD BHS Sage Program 40,000 – Public education on Sustainability 10,000
– Climate Action Plan “renewables” projects 85,000
– Solar Installation incentives for residential 185,000 – Energy/Water Audits for residential homes 100,000
– Renewable Energy Manager 15,000
– BUSD, BHS Green Academy 240,000 – BUSD, BHS On-Site Healthy Lunch Program 197,000
– TOTAL INITIAL PROJECTS FUNDING: $1,145,000.
– $20,000 to Benicia Community Gardens, Inc
– $20,000 to City of Benicia to be used to augment $15,000 already allocated to the Renewable Energy Manager;
– $40,000 to Benicia Community Action Council for energy efficiency improvements (solar panels)
– $40,000 to Liberty High Horticulture Program
– $30,000 to purchase and install bicycle racks throughout the city.
• Between 2007 - 2009, members of GNSC become involved with reviewing the Seeno Corporation's major development plans for building a 500 acre "Benicia Business Park" within city limits, in the hills north of the refinery. Serious concerns about the development plan include removal of hills (14 million cubic yards of soil), negative air quality impacts, (a projected 240% increase in traffic on East 2nd Street would affect nearby residential areas and especially children attending Robert Semple Elementary School – an old school campus, designed to be "open to the air", which is located along East 2nd close to I-780 freeway and just 3/8 of a mile south of the refinery. GNSC member Marilyn Bardet participates in forming Benicia First! to address the Draft EIR for the business park project. Cumulative impacts to air quality caused by additional traffic are cited as key to the failure of the Draft EIR. A public forum entitled "Air Quality & Children's Health" is sponsored by Benicia First, bringing experts from Sonoma Tech (company specializing in air quality monitoring and modeling), UC Berkeley's School of Public Health and the American Lung Association of Northern California, to present latest findings about the impacts of pollution on children's lung development and the affects of tailpipe emissions, especially of particulate matter at 2.5 microns, on public health generally. Benicia First, with others, call for building a "Green Gateway Business Park" to be designed to LEED standards to conserve water and energy, reduce waste, protect the hills and watershed and provide alternative transportation to and from the project area, etc. 190 Conditions of Approval are agreed to by the City Council that conform to requirements implicit in AB32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, and SB375, which identifies ways that cities can implement alternative transportation and smart LEED development to fulfill AB32.
• In 2009, the new Benicia Tree Foundation incorporates as a non-profit, with initial funding from allocations of the Valero/Good Neighbor Steering Committee Settlement Agreement, with a mission to strengthen community through the planting and maintenance of trees, to thereby increase the city’s tree canopy, provide shade to cool and create streets friendly to pedestrians, reduce air pollution, help reduce the community’s carbon footprint and beautify Benicia. GNSC members Mary Frances Kelly Poh and Marilyn Bardet are supporters and participants with the Tree Foundation and serve with others as “community advisors” to the foundation.
• In April, 2009, there is a hydrogen sulfide (H2S) release at the refinery that causes public alarm. GNSC History Rotten egg smell is detected in Southampton neighborhoods. A guest column written for the Benicia Herald by GNSC member Marilyn Bardet captures the incident, how it was handled and advertises a special CAP workshop to be held for the public to present results of the year-long Air District-led experiment in monitoring for local ambient air quality.
• In May, the Valero CAP hosts workshop in which the Air District presents its findings from the yearlong air monitoring experiment just then concluded; Argos Scientific corroborates the Air District's statements but goes farther to suggest the importance of regional cooperation in air monitoring to assess air quality in the event of accidental releases, such as happened when Benicia's Sulfur Recovery Unit shut down, releasing H2S that was detected in Benicia but also by monitors deployed by ConocoPhilips in Rodeo, as well as through complaints called in to the Air District by residents of Crockett and Vallejo.
• On August 18, 2009, the City Council adopts Ordinance No. 09-16 establishing an 11-member Community Sustainability Commission to provide oversight to the Council, advising with regard to sustainability issues, implementation of the forthcoming Climate Action Plan, reduction of GHG emissions and allocation of funds from the Valero/GNSC Settlement Agreement for projects and programs that support energy and water conservation and Green House Gas reductions. The commission’s membership includes permanent seats for non-voting “ex-officio” members representing the Benicia Unified School District, Amports, Valero and the GNSC.
• As quoted from www.beniciaclimateactionplan.com: “The City of Benicia is pleased to announce that the City Council adopted the Climate Action Plan on September 15, 2009, making Benicia the first City in Solano County to address climate change through a comprehensive Climate Action Plan. The adopted resolution and summary of public comments will be posted shortly. The final document with comments and edits will be available in late October 2009. + September 15, 2009 PowerPoint Presentation to City Council (PDF) + September 15, 2009 Staff Report.”
• In late 2009 - early 2010 (dates?) the permanent air monitoring station, with trailer fully equipped with the array of air monitors and a meteorological tower – funded exclusively by the Valero/GNSC Settlement Agreement – is finally established and is made operational. Data begins to be collected by Argos Scientific. Argos, GNSC and Valero's Sue Fisher Jones begin work to create a public website that will allow access to data collected at the new air monitoring station. Website development takes much longer than expected, as contracted between Argos Scientific and Valero. By June 2011, the website is still not completed. This remains a "sticking point" for GNSC.
• On March 15th, 2010, members of the new Community Sustainability Commission are sworn into office at their first meeting in the Commission Room at City Hall. Constance Beutel, a supporter of the GNSC, is elected Chair. Kathy Kerridge assumes leadership as chair of the Commission in early 2011.
• On a warm summer evening, June 27, 2010, there is a huge fire at the refinery, determined to be caused by human error, that damages the coker unit. The Fire Department's Division chief in charge that night is at the refinery and decides that the black plume from the fire is moving eastward offsite. He decides to activate the emergency siren that is meant to tell all residents of Benicia to "go indoors and shelter in place". The damage to the coker unit causes disruption of refinery operations over the weekend and the coker unit remains "down" for weeks while significant repairs are made. Refinery manager Doug Comeau describes at a CAP meeting that the total cost of the fire, in lost revenues, repairs, etc, will cost Valero over $50 million, all due to an unfortunate human error – GNSC History a venerable, long-time employee mistakenly skipped a procedural step during a routine weekly maintenance operation cleaning the coker. The use of the siren by the Fire Department highlights need for improved communication and emergency response protocols, with public needing more ways to be informed during such incidents when there is serious concern for public safety and health risks. GNSC member Marilyn Bardet writes up a two-part column for the Benicia Herald based on conversations with representatives of the refinery and Benicia Fire Department, to explore the scenario of what took place, the potential effects of the fire and the official responses during the emergency.
• Now in its 12th year, GNSC continues to serve the public interest as an independent citizen watchdog group. Through various civic activities, [Benicia Tree Foundation; Benicia Community Gardens; Arts Benicia] GNSC members help promote improvements in air quality, encourage water conservation, advocate for environmental quality, community health and safety, and support the Benicia Climate Action Plan’s strategic goals.
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This document was initially prepared as part of a public lecture in the series, sponsored by the Community Sustainability Commission, entitled “Stewards of our Children’s Future: 2011 . . .” . The 3rd lecture, held May 7th, 2011, discussed the Benicia Climate Action Plan. The lecture was presented by Kathy Kerridge, the Commission’s Chair, and Constance Beutel, Vice Chair. As an ex-officio member of the Commission representing GNSC, I presented a summary of GNSC’s history, apropos the funds made available by the Valero/GNSC Settlement Agreement for grants supporting water and energy conservation projects proposed by community members, civic organizations, non-profits, businesses, the Benicia Unified School District and the City of Benicia. Since May, additional material has been added to this history to give fuller account of the group’s activities over the years. Material was researched from archived material, news media, websites, including those of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and City of Benicia, and from personal files. The final document was reviewed for editorial corrections and accuracy by active members of the GNSC. – Marilyn Bardet, June 19,
To better protect the health and safety of Solano & Contra Costa Carquinez and shoreline communities the Good Neighbor Steering Committee (GNSC, Benicia) and the new regional coalition C.R.E.A.T.E. jointly present A "first" in Solano County AIR-MONITORING WORKSHOP & DEMONSTRATION ***Together we can better protect our communities*** YOU ARE WELCOME! Benicia neighbors, regional community members, refinery and chemical industry community "watchdogs", city & county leaders, emergency/alert "first responders", county hazmat team leaders, Valero management and Bay Area Air Quality Management District DATE July 16, 2003 TIME 6:30 p.m. — 8 p.m. LOCATION: In a Benicia backyard that borders the Valero Refinery buffer zone. The public is invited— but backyard space is limited! If you want to participate please RSVP to Marilyn Bardet (707)-745-9094 and receive directions.** "Hands on" demonstration of "open path" Cerex UV air-monitor with presentation by Don Gamiles (partner in Cerex Environmental Services of Atlanta, GA and former UNSCOM inspector in Iraq) Introduction to air-monitoring, its varied purposes, methods, and types of proven equipment in use today around the world, in the US and Bay Area, as well as other systems in development Discussion of most common air-monitoring applications: capabilities and limitations of canister type "point source" air monitors and "open path" monitoring systems that use infrared and ultraviolet light beams Testing for ambient air quality versus "real time" detection and analysis for "early warning" and emergency response: The Bay Area Air Quality Management District's uses for air-monitoring data, and communities' need for real time "early warning" detection How open path monitors can serve the Community Alert Emergency Response (CAER) program now implemented in Contra Costa County to protect communities during accidental releases, fires, explosions, etc. Developing a comprehensive air-monitoring system for health & safety protection. *C.R.E.A.T.E. = Coalition of Responsible Environmentalists Against Toxic Emissions Representing Sierra Club, GNSC, (Benicia); Vallejo Community Planned Renewal (Vallejo CPR), Solano Peace and Justice; Green Party; West County Toxics Alliance of Richmond.
Air Monitoring Workshop and Demonstration — Benicia CA July 16, 2003 Organized by the Good Neighbor Steering Committee and C.R.E.A.T.E. SIGN IN SHEET PLEASE CHECK YOUR NAME, (or ADD YOUR NAME) to "Sign in". Could you please help us by adding your phone # after your name? Thank you! (Participants invited and/or who called in response to announcements to RSVP) City of Benicia Steve Messina, Mayor Tom Campbell, Vice Mayor Bill Whitney, Council Dan Smith, Council Jim Erickson, City Manager Karen Majors, Ass't City Manager Ken Hanley, Fire Chief Jim Trimble, Police Chief Valero Refinery Bill Tanner, community relations Clark Hopper, Environmental Program Bay Area Air Quality Management District Erik Stevenson, Manager, Air Monitoring Program Solano County Supervisors John Silva - Air District boardmember for Solano County Contra Costa County Supervisors Mark de Saulnier - California Air Resources, Boardmember; also Air District Boardmember for CC County District 8, Congressman George Miller Kathy Hoffman, Field Representative City of Martinez Mark Ross, Vice Mayor, Air District Boardmember Contra Costa County — Emergency Responders Randy Sawyer, Accidental Release Specialist, Sherriff's Dept. Elizabeth Klute, CAER/Community Warning System Manager, Sherriff's Dept. Lou Pascalli, Director of Hazmat Program Greg Lawler, Hazmat Specialist Vallejo Community Planned Renewal (VallejoCPR) Elena DuCharme - VCPR Co-chair Ken Smith, VCPR member; Forests Forever, Boardmember Vicki Gray - VCPR member West County Toxics Alliance, Richmond Henry Clark, Director Shoreline Environmental Alliance; Crockett/Rodeo Alliance Bill Concannon Howard Adams Jay Gunkelman Ed Tannenbaum Sandra Dare Communities for a Safe Environment Ralph Satler Communities for a Better Environment - San Francisco Julia May - Senior Engineer Good Neighbor Steering Committee, Benicia Dana Dean, spokesperson Marilyn Bardet Mary Frances Kelly Poh Brad MacLane Elizabeth Patterson, council candidate Peter Bray Ed Swenson Benicia community Bob Craft - Valero CAP member Catherine Machalinski - Valero CAP member Mike Lamb - Valero CAP member Brian Tullock - Valero CAP member Diane Dooley - former Valero CAP member Dirk Fulton - Benicia School Boardmember Kitty Griffin Linda Lewis Chris Sanders Ron Glas - planner, Solano County Belinda Smith - planner, Contra Costa County Steve Goetz Jeanine Seeds Donnell Rubay, mayoral candidate John Van Landschoot Ramon Castleblank Sue Kibbe Alan Schwartzman, Planning Commission Don Zampa, Iron Workers Union Steve Gizzi, mayoral candidate Sabina Yates Cathy Hewitt Richard Flynn, analytic chemist, Innovative Technical Solutions Glen Cove Homeowner's Association Mike Grivitte CREATE Coordinating Committee Dana Dean, GNSC Marilyn Bardet, GNSC Jerri Curry, Sierra Club Danika Kavulich, Solano Peace and Justice Doug MacDonald, Independent Peter Weisberg, Green Party Elena DuCharme, VallejoCPR GNSC history
April 14, 2009 Special Guest Column, for Benicia Herald Community air-monitoring is topic for important public workshop, May 6th Early morning, April 6th: folks leaving for work and children at Matthew Turner School playing outdoors noticed the tell-tale “rotten egg smell” of hydrogen sulfide (H2S) permeating parts of Southampton and beyond, which prompted over 100 people to report the odor to our Fire Department. In some cases, the odor was noticed inside buildings. The Fire Department called Valero, and as reported by the Benicia Herald, Valero replied that there was no significant risk to public health, so apparently, the Fire Department decided no alert to “shelter in place” was necessary. Was this the right call? How can we know?
In my eastside neighborhood, I remained unaware of the incident until several friends told me later. I called Valero’s community liaison office to find out about it, to learn what local and regional air monitors had registered. This was of particular concern, since I’m aware of the lethality of H2S as a neurotoxin, in high concentrations in parts per million, and I understand that there’s potential risk to health when exposures are prolonged at lesser exposure levels.* As it happens, I’m an active member of the Good Neighbor Steering Committee (GNSC--a refinery watchdog group formed in 2000). Currently, I’m helping to implement a permanent community air monitoring program funded through the 2008 Valero VIP Settlement Agreement negotiated with the GNSC. I also serve on the Valero Community Advisory Panel.
I was told by Sue Fisher-Jones that the Sulfur Recovery Unit had “tripped” (shut down), and so hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide gases couldn’t make it to the flare to be burned off, causing the accidental release of both gases. It had been windless, so it took until around 7:30 a.m. for the gases to dissipate, according to Sue, when monitors then recorded concentrations fenceline in the “parts per billion”.
The Bay Area Air Quality Management District’s website reported by the end of the day that 35 people had filed odor complaints from Benicia, Vallejo and Crockett, and that “the Conoco Phillips refinery notified the Contra Costa County Community Warning System at approximately 7:30 a.m. because they observed over 100 parts per billion on their Ground Level Monitors (GLM) around their facility from the Valero incident.” The Air District’s brief report also stated “Valero does not participate in the Contra Costa County Community Warning System” and that the “Contra Costa Hazardous Materials Response Team has responded to the Crockett area.” The incident report--not easy to locate on the website--concludes that the “District is continuing the investigation”.
Although there’s still no more data posted on the BAAQMD website than what had appeared on April 6th, the public can hear more detailed report about the incident, at a public workshop on air monitoring, to be held May 6th, at 7 - 9 p.m. at the Benicia Public Library. The main purpose of the workshop is to inform the public about the results of a year-long local air monitoring experiment, funded and conducted by the Air District, whose objective was to sample and analyse local ambient air using several kinds of monitors for a period of one year. The site chosen for the experiment was a hillside adjacent to Tennys Drive, off East 2nd, southwest of the refinery. The data collection concluded in ‘08. Specific regard will be given to implications drawn from data analysis that bear upon concerns for public health.
The workshop, hosted by the Valero CAP, will offer presentations from the Air District’s Eric Stevenson, who leads their technology and air monitoring department, and also from Don Gamiles, of Argos Scientific, a company based in Oregon that assembles monitoring systems and manufactures “open path” monitors that can measure gases in real time. Currently, Don is under contract with Conoco-Phillips, in Rodeo, to support their fenceline monitoring system, and has recently designed a comprehensive monitoring system for Richmond, funded by Chevron. He’s also been instrumental, working with Valero and the GNSC, to support the community’s “UV Hound”, which became part of the Air District’s experiment at the Tennys Drive site. He is also helping to design a permanent air monitoring program for Benicia.
It’s clear from data recorded during the fires in June 2008, and from the recent refinery H2S release, that a community air monitoring program that provides public access to “real time” data will help us better understand what’s in our air from all types of emission sources (including vehicle traffic and port operations). Most important, it can help us work with the City and Valero to determine how best to protect the community in the case of accidents and releases.
Residents randomly surveyed by the City cite air quality as one of their top priority concerns. I highly recommend participation at the May 6th workshop. Your questions will be honored and answered.
* As yet, H2S is not regulated by federal EPA as a toxic air pollutant under the Clean Air Act. According to the ATSDR (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, EPA, Dept. of Health and Human Services), “The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has set an acceptable ceiling limit for hydrogen sulfide of 20 parts hydrogen sulfide per 1 million parts of air (20 ppm) in the workplace. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends a 10-minute ceiling limit of 10 ppm in the workplace.” OSHA’s guideline is what Valero follows to protect their employees.