The March 1 City Council meeting also included a brief presentation from and question-and-answer session with Josh Tulino, Vice President and General Manager of the Valero Benicia Refinery. In addition to providing some background on the matter and summarizing steps that Valero has taken to mitigate the emissions, his remarks included (emphasis added):
“As the Air District mentioned, we did have sampling on that stream that went back to the year 2003, but it wasn’t, that we were aware, that the applicability of the regulation applies to that vent . . . With respect to the City of Benicia, I also want to mention that Valero takes its obligations under our cooperation agreement, which was in place since 2019, we take those obligations seriously, and we remain committed to providing notification to the city when there is an immediate or threatened release that could impact the public. This source of emissions did not fall into that category at any time.”
How did Valero not know that a regulation applies to a vent pouring many, many times the legal limits of pollutants into the air? And how do its obligations, under its 2019 agreement with Benicia or simply as a supposedly good neighbor for decades, not include informing Benicia (and the BAAQMD) of the extent of the emissions for over fifteen years?
It must be acknowledged that Valero has taken steps to substantially reduce the emissions since BAAQMD’s 2018-19 investigation compelled action. As of earlier this year, however, the emissions had not yet been brought completely below permitted limits.
In addition, following a March 15 public session to consider selected actions, the BAAQMD reported that its “independent Hearing Board, a quasi-judicial independent body authorized under state law, has approved an abatement order for Valero Refining Co. to cease unreported emissions at its Benicia oil refinery as safely and expeditiously as possible.”
Setting aside the odd wording of this announcement—shouldn’t all “unreported emissions” have already ceased?—the abatement order is an insufficient response to the situation.
Why is that the case? Though fines are being considered by the BAAQMD, neither the District nor Valero have made clear what if any air quality monitoring or other steps they will take or agree to in order to ensure that these kinds of violations and emissions do not happen again – not just from the particular stack that poured so much poison into the air, but from the refinery as a whole. Nor is it clear that Benicia, as opposed to the BAAQMD, will receive any share of negotiated or litigated fines that Valero might pay the District.