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State Weighs in For Caps on Bay Area Refinery Toxic and Climate Pollution

By Andrés Soto and Greg Karras, Communities for a Better Environment; Ratha Lai, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, and Luis Amuezca, Sierra Club Bay Chapter - April 16, 2017 [Press Release]

Reversing regional of ficials who sided with refiners to claim pollution trading policies force them to allow increasing refinery pollution, the State Air Resources Board supports pollution limits to “cap” increasing particulate and greenhouse gas air pollution from five Bay Ar ea refineries in a letter to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District sent late yesterday.

Oil companies seek to process lower quality grades of oil that could increase refinery emission intensity and refinery mass emissions.  Caps on emission intensi ty and mass work together to protect against those health and climate threats.  The State’s letter supports both protections, finding they work together with its state climate program. That finding contradicts the refiners’ argument that Air District Rule 12 - 16, which sets mass caps, conflicts with the State’s cap - and - trade pollution trading scheme.  Air District staff joined the refiners to make this claim against its own proposal in workshops last week.

The action marks a dramatic turn in the long, hard fought struggle by community, environmental justice, climate, and environmental groups to prevent already - harmful refinery emissions from increasing.  The Air District has said it now plans to consider action on proposed Rule 12 - 16 at a May 17, 2017 public  hearing.  The measure would:

  • Set transparent, enforceable limits on refinery emissions of greenhouse gases and four pollutants that cause particulate matter air pollution; PM 2.5 , PM 10 , NOx, and SO 2.
  • Prevent health and climate impacts from a planned sw itch to higher - emitting grades of oil that threatens to increase region - wide refinery emissions by as much as 40 – 100%.
  • Allow other air pollution control measures to reduce emissions by preventing a potentially irreversible increase in emissions before the other measures take effect.
  • Allow full use of current refinery production capacity, avoiding any potential effect on gasoline prices and workers’ jobs.

Particulate matter air pollution kills an estimated 1,700 – 2,500 people in the Bay Area annually, an d greenhouse gas air pollution threatens severe climate disruption.  Oil refining is the biggest industrial emitter of both pollutants in the Bay Area.  The oil industry’s push to build projects for refining higher - emitting grades of oil such as “tar sands ” oil here threatens to lock into place a region - wide refinery emissions increase of as much as 40 – 100 percent, based on independent expert analysis and peer reviewed scientific work.  The Air District has the primary responsibility for controlling industr ial air pollutant emissions in the region.  

The Air District has done many things to control emissions from various parts of refineries, however, it has not yet set any limit on facility - wide emissions from any Bay Area refinery.  This loophole could all ow the industry’s plans for higher - emitting oil to get locked into place.  Recognizing the need to close this loophole, the Air District Board of Directors directed its staff to develop Rule 12 - 16 as a backstop against increasing refinery emissions by the Spring of 2015.  Long delayed by its staff under industry pressure, the District Board has committed to consider adopting proposed Rule 12 - 16 at a public hearing on May 17, 2017.

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