Controversial plan to reduce emissions at Bay Area oil refineries set for air district board

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Controversial plan to reduce emissions at Bay Area oil refineries set for air district board
John Gioia, a member of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District Board of Directors.

A controversial plan to force Bay Area oil refineries to reduce emissions by an unprecedented 20-percent over the next five years is set to be presented Wednesday at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) board of directors meeting.

The air district’s staff is expected to lay out a strategy to cap and reduce emissions of certain toxic air pollutants and greenhouse gases at the region’s five refineries. It remains unclear how the stated goals would affect operations at the refineries or whether they might undercut current, legally-binding air district permits.

John Gioia, a BAAQMD board member and Contra Costa County supervisor, pitched the 20-percent reduction plan alongside environmental groups such as Natural Resources Defense Council and 350.org, of which one member recently stated the goal of closing four of the five refineries by 2030.

Gioia said his plans will ensure “the cleanest refineries in the nation, here in the Bay Area,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle, and added that “through best available technologies, emissions can continue to decline over time.”

Industry representatives, however, believe Gioia’s proposal ignores collaborative efforts between the air district and industry to vastly reduce emissions since the 1990s, along with California regulations that are already the stiffest in the nation.

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Both charts presented in this report are courtesy of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District report entitled “Bay Area Emissions and Air Quality: Trends and Refinery Overview.” The report was presented at the Oct. 15 BAAQMD board of directors meeting.

The air district’s own research shows that lifetime cancer risks from Bay Area air pollutants in 2012 (as evaluated through the district’s CARE program) was less than 25-percent of what it was in the 1990s, said Guy Bjerke, regional manager of the Western States Petroleum Association, in a recent letter to BAAQMD chief Jack Broadbent.

The report also showed refinery emissions have been reduced to the point that they are insignificant — about 5-percent — compared to emissions coming from mobile sources such as cars, trucks and ships.

Bjerke said WSPA supports further emissions reductions but fears Gioia and the environmental groups are committing to an “arbitrary” approach that doesn’t take into account the Bay Area economy and energy needs.

An aggressive proposal to shut down four of the region’s five refineries by 2030 would make it impossible to fuel all of the Bay Area’s planes, ships and vehicles, the group added.

Oil companies in California already face the nation’s strictest regulations aimed at mitigating climate change. The state’s groundbreaking climate-change law, AB 32, which aims to roll back greenhouse gas emissions back to 1990 levels by 2020, will expand in January to require oil companies to buy cap-and-trade credits to cover emissions from transportation fuel.

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For the chart above, ROG is reactive organic gases; NOx is nitrous oxide; PM2.5 is particulate matter that pose health risks, SO2 is sulfer dioxide.
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For the chart above, ROG is reactive organic gases; NOx is nitrous oxide; PM2.5 is particulate matter that pose health risks, SO2 is sulfer dioxide.

 

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