Bay Area air quality regulator to refineries: Refine more crude

by Ann Garrison

KPFA News broadcast March 21, 2015

What will Bay Area oil refineries have to do to comply with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District’s new emissions limits, as drafted? Refine more crude.


KPFA Weekend News Anchor Cameron Jones: Last fall, activists in the East Bay Oil Refinery Corridor celebrated the Bay Area Air Quality Management District’s promise to write new rules imposing a 20 percent reduction in hazardous emissions on Bay Area refineries. This week, however, East Bay activists attended the meetings with the agency staff to express their dismay at the rules as drafted.

Chevron-oil-refinery-Richmond-at-night-090214-by-Doug-Duran-Bay-Area-News-Group, Bay Area air quality regulator to refineries: Refine more crude, Local News & Views
Chevron oil refinery in Richmond at night – Photo: Doug Duran, Bay Area News Group

The staff are essentially proposing per barrel emissions limits instead of absolute limits. This means that refineries can fail to reduce emissions or even increase emissions simply by refining more crude oil.

The agency is also proposing a three year waiting period before it would even consider imposing penalties on refineries that fail to comply. KPFA’s Ann Garrison spoke to Andrés Soto, political organizer with Oakland-based Communities for a Better Environment.

KPFA/Ann Garrison: Andrés, this sounds like a great deal. First, all the oil refineries have to do to avoid new emissions limits is refine more crude oil. Then, if they somehow manage to exceed new limits anyway, they get a pass for three years before the agency would even consider imposing any penalties, right?

Andrés Soto: Yeah, any emissions – it would take three years to correct any excessive emissions. But the loophole itself would actually allow them to continue to pollute more without mitigation if they increased their throughput of crude oil, so it really undermines the entire intent of what the rule is supposed to be trying to get towards.

KPFA: So do you continue to take this agency seriously and imagine there’s any chance they’re really going to help you?

Soto: Well, this is their job. Under both federal and state law, they are responsible for enacting the Clean Air Act.

KPFA: I understand they don’t want to limit greenhouse gas emissions, just hazardous particulate emissions.

Soto: Yeah, one of the things that the staff is saying about why they want to not even include greenhouse gases in the emissions reductions – they didn’t even want to include it at all – they were saying that AB-32, its cap and trade provisions, are going to do the job, and of course we don’t believe that. We don’t support that.

Andres-Soto-on-Democracy-Now-re-Chevron-Richmond-Refinery-explosion-080812, Bay Area air quality regulator to refineries: Refine more crude, Local News & Views
On the Democracy Now! broadcast Aug. 8, 2012, Andrés Soto reports on the explosion and fire at the Chevron refinery in Richmond that sent more than 15,000 to the hospital.

Our air does not stay just here in the Bay Area. It blows into the Central Valley and helps contribute to the San Joaquin Valley having some of the worst air quality in the entire nation. So this isn’t just about us; this is about the state, and it’s about the planet.

There are young people who testified who said they’re fearful. One young woman – she’s 28 – she said she wants to have a family but she’s not sure she’s going to actually make that leap and have children because she’s worried about the future of the planet because of climate change.

KPFA: But the BAAQMD, the agency, does have the power to impose stricter emissions limits than the state or federal government, right?

Soto: Yeah, they do and what the BAAQMD staff has said is that they want to wait and see, to see if AB-32 actually works before they would enact their own standards, and we think that’s way too late. Cap and trade will allow them to increase their greenhouse gas emissions here in the Bay Area, but pay money into a fund to escape restrictions, so we don’t think that’s going to work for us at all.

KPFA: So what’s next for oil refinery corridor activists?

Soto: Frankly, we understand the battle is not going to be won with the staff. It’s going to be getting 12 members of the BAAQMD board to actually implement those changes, despite the industry’s opposition.

KPFA: That was Andrés Soto, political organizer for Communities for a Better Environment and host of the Andrés Soto Show here on KPFA.

In Berkeley, for Pacifica, KPFA Radio, I’m Ann Garrison.

Oakland writer Ann Garrison writes for the San Francisco Bay View, Black Agenda Report, Black Star News, Counterpunch, Colored Opinions and her own website, Ann Garrison, and produces for AfrobeatRadio on WBAI-NYC, KPFA Evening News, KPFA Flashpoints and for her own YouTube Channel, AnnieGetYourGang. She can be reached at In March 2014 she was awarded the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize for promoting peace in the Great Lakes Region of Africa through her reporting.