BENICIA (BCN) – The Bay Area Air Quality Management District has announced that it is seeking an abatement order from its independent hearing board to end "significant excess emissions" by Valero Refining Co. at its Benicia refinery.
The air quality agency alleges it found unreported emissions of "harmful organic compounds" coming from the refinery in 2019 that were in excess of regulations. The district is also in discussion with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to determine if federal laws were violated.
"Valero did not report or control the emissions from this source as required by Air District regulations, state and federal law, so we are requesting approval of an abatement order to provide transparency as we seek to hold Valero accountable for its actions," said air district executive officer Jack Broadbent.
Broadbent added that any ongoing air quality violations will now be "brought to light" in a public forum in front of either the board or the state. According to the BAAQMD, this is a "major shift" in the handling of enforcement cases.
"The air district is changing the way we undertake enforcement activities to be more transparent, open, and just," said an email sent out by Suma Peesapati, environmental justice and community engagement officer at BAAQMD. "Filing this case with the Hearing Board allows for increased transparency and public input."
The BAAQMD says threatening to make such hearings public is what has spurred Valero to work toward eliminating harmful emissions. Initially, the air district says it issued a Notice of Violation in the spring of 2019 to allow Valero to come into compliance in Benicia.
Though Valero "immediately" got to work on the problem, according to the air district, the refinery's fixes did not eliminate the problem entirely, only reducing emissions by 71 percent.
"Faced with a public hearing in front of the Independent Hearing Board, Valero has now agreed to the Air District's demands to stop the remaining emissions," air district spokesperson Kristine Roselius said.
The abatement order would legally bind Valero to the agreement and require them to pay a monetary penalty.
Benicia Mayor Steve Young said that the people of Benicia take their health and air quality "very seriously."
"We are troubled to learn of Valero's actions that led to this order," he said. "Today's action makes clear that not adhering to air district regulations will not be tolerated."
Young said that he was "hopeful" that the stipulated order would lead to positive reforms and improved public health.
Valero did not immediately return a request for comment.
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