By Tom Griffith, Martinez Environmental Group
The Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) has been working on a new oil refinery emissions rule for years now. Environmental groups like Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Sierra Club, Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), and multiple refinery community groups have worked tirelessly to hold the air district accountable to its overlooked mission statement. The BAAQMD is supposed to “protect and improve public health, air quality, and the global climate” to create a “healthy breathing environment for every Bay Area resident.” But as the air district recently neared completion of the new refinery emissions rule, their staff had almost entirely taken the teeth out of it. What remained was this: more health studies and more emissions tracking – in other words, let the current levels of pollution continue with no end in sight. Click here to read the proposed elements of the rule.
Impacted refinery communities like mine, in Martinez, are not happy with merely reporting, comparing, updating, and monitoring. After 100 years of refinery pollution in the Bay Area, shouldn’t BAAQMD already have a pretty good idea of the mortality rates, childhood asthma rates, cancer rates, and pollutant emissions rates associated with the 5 Bay Area refineries? How long will BAAQMD bow to Big Oil’s tactic of studying us to death?
So, on September 3rd, community members, myself included, showed up at the BAAQMD Board of Directors meeting to give them a wake-up call. Community leaders demanded:
- meaningful controls on emissions
- mandatory replacement of old outdated equipment
- monitoring systems for multiple pollutants with website access to real-time air quality data for ALL refinery communities
And we want these safeguards in place before any of the myriad oil projects already “in the pipeline” go forward.
After multiple community groups, including the Bay Area Refinery Corridor Coalition (BARCC), the Martinez Environmental Group (MEG), Crockett Rodeo United to Defend the Environment (CRUDE), and Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community (BSHC), all registered our displeasure, the BAAQMD Board directed their staff to seek emission reductions from refineries and to come back with a plan. So now we will wait a little longer for staff to finally prepare a document that offers tangible options to lessen refinery emissions levels.
That is what we originally thought we were waiting for during the air district staff’s two year preparation. So until those meaningful ideas are presented, I remain both skeptical and hopeful.