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Whew, 2014 went by quickly and we were busy!

GCM’s 2014 PROJECT HIGHLIGHTS

GCM produced a landmark year, bringing long-term projects (2+ years) to a close in 2014.  Working in partnership with Coming Clean Collaborative and community partners to simultaneously release Warning Signs, a national report, and journal article on gas operations/fracking in late October. The report and article featured GCM’s monitoring work around gas operations in six states and provided a snapshot of the impacts of the industry throughout the country.

Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP) issued a statewide Air Quality Report, Breathe In New Mexico, featuring
Bucket Brigades in Albuquerque, Mesquite and the Navajo Reservation in November.

CommunityRecycleIn partnership with Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment and the Committee for A Better Arvin, we gathered a trail of evidence exposing the local compost facility’s poisoning of the local community. The publication, Rotten Neighbor: The Story of Community Recycling and Resource Recovery and the South Kern Communities Held Hostage by Neglect was released on the 3rd anniversary of two young workers’ deaths in October.

GCM also closed out the East Bay Body Burden Study in August.

GCM worked with partners to analyze monitoring data and release reports on the movement of goods including:

  • Argentine/Turner, Kansas: Focusing on a nearby rail yard, GCM and partners released a report that showed unhealthy levels of diesel exhaust, levels high enough on some days to send the elderly to the hospital or to raise the death rate among residents. The project was featured in a front-page story in the Kansas City Star.
  • Seward, Alaska: In July, the Resurrection Bay Conservation Alliance, Community Action Against Toxins and Global Community Monitor released the results of our collaborative air quality testing study. The report samples revealed that air around the Seward Coal Loading Facility expose neighbors to crystalline silica.
  • Houston, Texas: After closing out a year of sampling, we issued a report suggesting that every day the 10,000 residents of Galena Park are being exposed to unhealthy levels of particulate matter pollution from 5,000 diesel trucks entering and exiting Houston’s port.
  • Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana: Working with local residents, the Gulf Restoration Network and the Clean Gulf Commerce Coalition, GCM launched a coal export monitoring project in 2014.

GCM’s Long Term/In Depth Partnerships

Central Valley:

  • GCM has begun developing a model for improving the acceptance of community-based air monitoring and data into air district policy and decision making and enforcement of existing rules.
  • GCM’s Central Valley Organizer responded to complaints about gas odors in residents’ homes in Arvin, CA. Sample results revealed over twenty toxic chemicals, including cancer-causing benzene. The County evacuated eight homes. It was determined that fracking waste gas was beneath the homes. After months of advocating, Governor Jerry Brown intervened on behalf of the State. Flare in Shafter
  • We are completing a pilot one-year ozone monitoring program in Central Valley.  GCM obtained funding to purchase various new air sensors and field test an ultrafine particulate monitor

Bay Area:

  • Chevron’s real time Air Monitoring system in Richmond, CA went online with GCM serving as the City of Richmond’s expert advising the staff and ensuring accountability. This system is the best state-of-the-art refinery air-monitoring project in the nation and establishes a national model.
  • GCM has been participating in SF Bay Area Air Board meetings to advocate for the strongest Refinery Crude Slate and Tracking Rule in the nation. aimeecbrcrop
  • GCM provided guidance, planning and fundraising assistance to a newly formed Bay Area Refinery Corridor Coalition in the San Francisco Bay Area to help address crude by rail projects and refinery expansions.

2014 New Projects:

GCM launched two new air-monitoring collaborations with Jamaica Environment Trust in Clarendon & St. Anne
Parish, Jamaica and the Neighbors for Clean Air in Portland, OR.

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GCM organized a national gathering, the Community-Based Science for Action Conference, in November in New Orleans. This three-day event was co-hosted by local partners, Louisiana Bucket Brigade and Public Lab.

The event included a toxic tour of coal trains and a coal terminal in Gretna and Ironton, LA. Over 50 people, primarily industrial occupation doctors and nurses associated with the American Public Health Association Conference, attended the tour.  The following two days brought together approximately 150 attendees participating in 20 sessions featuring presenters from leading organizations and academic institutions.  Feedback from presenters and attendees has been extremely positive and supportive.  GCM was able to offer 35 scholarships to community members and presenters.
In addition, we participated in the Rally Against Fracking in Sacramento and all four of the Healing Walks in the Bay Area, organized by Idle No More.

Students at Don't Frack CA Rally

We also participated in numerous conferences and finally got a GCM Advisory Board organized to work on:

  • Expanding GCM’s monitoring tool kit
  • Build a place to provide resources for communities (online forums, website)
  • Leverage & legitimize current methods
  • Data presentation
  • Alternatives to fossil fuels

So Happy New Year!  And let’s see what we can accomplish in 2015.

Leak 452On March 27, 2014, Global Community Monitor, The Center for Race Poverty and the Environment, the Central California Environmental Justice Network, and The Committee for a Better Arvin submitted the following letter to the Kern County Environmental Health Department and the Department of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources in response to a pipeline leak that was discovered on March 18, 2014.

This leaking pipeline was under a residential block of Arvin.  It’s unclear how long the pipeline had been leaking, but some residents have claimed to have been smelling gas, in their homes, for at least four years.  Residents have questions and we have yet to hear back from either agency. 

March 27, 2014

 Dear Mr. Constantine and Mr. Nechdom,

 Eight families on Nelson Court in Arvin, California (Kern County) were evacuated on Tuesday, March 18, 2014. Residents were unclear and uninformed of the level of danger that the Petro Capital Resource’s leaking gas pipeline was causing.

 The Arvin Bucket Brigade, a joint project with Global Community Monitor, Committee for A Better Arvin and Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, were contacted by Nelson Court residents. The air monitoring team took an air sample at 6:50 pm on Tuesday, March 18, 2014.

 The air sample contained over twenty chemicals including elevated levels of cancer causing benzene and a mix of total volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The level of total VOCs in the sample collected at 6:50 p.m. on Tuesday, March 18th at 1312 Nelson Court in Arvin is 13 times higher than the levels the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) scientists have associated with adverse health impacts.

 Residents have noticed chemicals odors for several months and have had varying health effects including nose bleeds, coughs and headaches. A pregnant mother passed out. These health effects show a strong correlation with VOC exposure.

 Nelson Court and Arvin residents have many questions about this gas leak and the emergency evacuation:

 1)      How do you determine it is safe to return to my home? Will there be chemicals in my home?

2)      How will Petro Capital Resource’s be held accountable for this leak?

3)      How did the County determine that an emergency evacuation was needed at 7 pm March 18, 2014?

 4)      How many more pipelines like this exist in the area?

5)      How will you keep these pipelines from leaking?

Our team will be following up with your office to discuss the air monitoring results, attached to this letter.

For clean air and healthy communities,

 

Jessica Hendricks, Global Community Monitor

Juan Flores, The Center for Race, Poverty & the Environment

Sal Partida, The Committee for a Better Arvin

Cesar Campos, Central California Environmental Justice Network

gcm-logoWhew, 2013 is just about over and looking back, Global Community Monitor has been busy!!

Check out our victories and accomplishments as well as some of the groundwork we’ve laid to move forward.

Victories

Buffalo, NY: Company Tried and Convicted for Environmental Crimes, Reduction of Cancer Causing Benzene

Tonawanda Coke and their Environmental Manager were found guilty of 14 acts violating the Clean Air Act in March.  This decision came almost ten years after a GCM Bucket Brigade training and air samples exposing benzene in the Tonawanda air. Through relentless activism by residents of Tonawanda, and the the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York, Tonawanda Coke will be $200 million in fines and cleaning up their act.

Chicago, IL: Community Wins Demands for Rail Yard Expansion

Environmental Law Policy Center (ELPC), Sustainable Englewood Initiatives (SEI), Northwestern University Environmental Law Clinic and other community partners have successfully negotiated a fair deal to reduce air pollution and increase parkland with the rail yard expansion in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood.

The majority of the groups think that the monitoring played a huge role in pushing the City and Norfolk Southern to come to an agreement.  By the time we were installing the monitors, the City was reaching out to ELPC to set up a time to meet.

Scrap Metal Rule: Building On Metal Recycler Air Pollution Policy Victory

Due to GCM’s persistent efforts, and the release of our report – Green Industry? Under the Radar: Air Pollution from Metal Recyclers, the BAAQMD became the first agency in the nation to issue a rule to regulate toxic emissions from these facilities. The Air District estimates that these rules will reduce particulate matter emissions in the Bay Area by about 12 tons per year.

Train the Trainer: GCM has just begun a pilot “Train the Trainer” project with the Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT) based in Anchorage, AK. GCM staff joined ACAT for a one day training in Anchorage and then ventured together to Nuiqsut, a small native village on the North Slope which is deeply entrenched in oil & gas development with no emergency response options for accidents.

Issues

With the expansion of the Panama Canal, a lot more traffic can be expected in our port communities, as well as communities living near freeways and transit hubs.  Many residents are concerned about the potential increase in diesel emissions, especially when so many are already overburdened by toxic air pollution.

Houston, TX: Partner organization Air Alliance Houston (AAH) has been a pivotal networking ally.  Our results demonstrate that the “official” State monitor for PM 2.5 do not represent the accurately PM impacts in the the Ship Channel and fall just below the Federal standard.  This monitor’s readings will determine if the Houston area is out of compliance and trigger a multi-million-billion dollar clean up.

Kansas: GCM conducted a training in Gardner, KS to collect baseline measurements prior to the completion of a huge new intermodal terminal which scheduled to go online in this community.

GCM also trained residents in Argentine/Turner area which is home to a huge existing intermodal terminal. Both communities are near Kansas City.

Plaquemines Parish, LA: GCM held a training in July. Plaquemines Parish Port is the gateway to the Ports of New Orleans and Baton Rouge and to all of the Mississippi River Valley export corridor. Two of the country’s biggest coal terminals are located at this Port.  We are partnered with the Gulf Restoration Network and the local Sierra Club Chapter.  One site is the Historic Freed Slave Community of Ironton.

Although the Keystone XL Pipeline is in the forefront of the tar sands debate, many US cities are already seeing heavy crude oil in their communities.

Mayflower, AR: EMERGENCY RESPONSE Tar sands Oil Spill

On March 29, Exxon’s Pegasus pipeline ruptured releasing 80,000 gallons of Wabascan (Alberta, Canada) tar sands crude, also known as bitumen, in Mayflower, a small suburban town outside of Little Rock. The pipeline carries tar sands from Alberta to Illinois to Texas via Arkansas.

GCM trained Faulkner County Citizens Advisory Group on the Bucket Brigade in 2012, after the spill, the Citizens group immediately went onsite and gained access for the first week-taking samples, documenting health symptoms and also getting sick.

Mobile 045Whiting, IN: GCM conducted a community training on fenceline real time air monitoring results in East Chicago/Whiting, IN, with long standing community partner, Calumet Project. This training is a direct result of the lawsuit with BP Whiting on their tar sands expansion in 2008.

Toledo, OH: GCM submitted comments Ohio EPA in June 2013 opposing BP/Husky’s tar sands expansion.  Following on the string of expansions of Midwestern refineries (BP Whiting, Marathon Detroit), a BP-Husky joint venture is pushing forward with a $2.5 billion expansion of its refinery in Toledo, Ohio to process tar sands crude oil.

Benicia, CA: GCM is working with local community group Good Neighbor Steering Committee and the Natural Resources Defense Council on stopping tar sands from being brought in by rail to Valero oil refinery in Benicia.

Pittsburgh, CA: GCM staff is working with the newly formed Pittsburgh Defense Council to counter  the WesPac Energy oil terminal and transfer station. WesPac Energy-Pittsburg LLC plans to turn a 125-acre area of industrial land near homes by the Pittsburg Marina into a facility to unload crude oil from ships and rail cars, store it in giant round tanks, and then send it through pipelines to local refineries. Under the revised plan, it will be possible to offload an average of 242,000 barrels a day of crude oil or partially refined crude oil from both ships and rail cars.

Well, this is just going to have to be a surprise for next year.  Get ready, it’s going to be a big one!!

And Just a Few More – By Location

Bay Area

Body Burden: GCM is continuing work on this study, despite delays. Since May 2013, we have 12 families consented to participate in the project, have taken 11 questionnaires, four wipe samples at the participants home and five blood samples.  Samples will be tested for the same heavy metals we documented in the air, to determine just how impacted nearby neighbors may be.

Richmond: GCM signed a contract with the city of Richmond to advise on the Community Air Monitoring as a direct result of the Chevron fire on August 6, 2012. Chevron is installing real time air monitoring equipment with Argos Environmental.

GCM is advising on locations of monitors, community engagement on how to use the information and overall emissions reductions. You can check it out here.

Central Valley

Arvin: In September GCM has closed an active two year project with the town of Arvin and the Committee for A Better Arvin and Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment. During the past two years, the Committee have recorded 440 pollution incidents, taken 15 bucket air samples and 20 particulate matter samples. Results show elevated levels of hydrogen sulfide and diesel. GCM has also worked to pilot a new ozone monitor in this ozone impacted community.

All groups will continue to engage with the Air District, County Supervisors and EPA on air quality issues related to the Community Recycling (composting) facility in nearby Lamont.  GCM has worked with CRPE and CBA to establish a new working relationship and to begin another year long project. Additionally, GCM expanded our team and hired Gustavo Aguirre Jr. as the Central Valley Organizer.

International

GCM continues to develop projects with international partners in China, Jamaica, Mexico, Egypt, Philippines, and Chile.

India: GCM organizational partner Shweta Narayan from Chennai, Tamil Nadu in Southern India visited the US.  Community Environmental Monitors continue to work around cement kiln incinerators throughout the country.

You can listen to an interview with Shweta and Denny on this podcast by Annie Leonard, Story of Stuff as part of a series on “Good Stuff”:

 

 

US Fencelines, ongoing technical assistance

New Mexico: GCM is partnering with the Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP) on a statewide initiative. To date New Mexico and Navajo nation leaders have taken samples including:

  • Seven bucket samples documenting the fingerprint of asphalt operations and sixteen particle and diesel samples exposing elevated exposure to the idling trains in the San Jose neighborhood of Albuquerque.

  • Over 40 particulate matter samples documenting the dust levels from the BHP coal mine on the Navajo nation reserve. These samples have consistently shown levels higher than the World Health Organization (WHO) 24 hour health based guidelines for PM 10. Further testing on crystalline silica from coal is being conducted.

  • Taken seven bucket samples in Mesquite. These samples gave solid evidence that Helena Chemicals operations are not limited to their property and are over flowing into the community.

Delaware: GCM continues to work with community partners and the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

Claymont: Is on the fourth year of their air monitoring work focused on Evraz Steel. Evraz has installed a portion of the environmental controls to reduce emissions at the facility.  Recent samples and complaints demonstrated that dust problems continues to be serious and led to further enforcement actions against the facility.

Delaware City: GCM conducted a follow up training in Delaware City around the PBF Energy refinery on particulate air monitoring.

Dateline Houston, Texas:  Houston we have a problem: Six little inches of air will determine whether millions of dollars will be spent to clean up the air of millions of people in the Oil and Chemical Capital of the World.

Houston has one of the largest urban networks of air monitors and some of the worst air pollution in the nation.  This is all thanks to their Master Un-Plan.  Thanks to the complete lack of any zoning regulations; freeways, refineries and chemical plants sit right on top of neighborhoods, schools, day cares, hospitals and the like.  Ozone alert days telling everyone to stay inside are a frequent occurrence.

Despite all the monitors in this vast area, the federal determination about Houston’s air quality index for the smallest and most hazardous particle may come down to how about 6 inches of the hundreds of square miles of air is measured.

Two key State run monitors for the pesky PM 2.5 micron size particle are in the bustling Ship Channel area of Galena Park, home to hundreds of major industrial air polluters and the ginormous Port of Houston, filled with trucks, tugs, tankers and diesel powered engines.  All of these are large contributors to PM 2.5 pollution.  The Federal health based standard for PM 2.5 is 12 micrograms per cubic meter over a 24 hour period.

If the two State monitors in the Ship Channel average over 12 this year, the area will be in violation of the Federal Standard to protect human health and be faced with spending hundreds of millions of dollars to clean it up.  Much of that cost would be passed on to the polluters to clean up their emissions.

The State uses standard air monitoring technology, which captures air through a 3-inch intake, so together the two monitors are breathing in 6 inches of air total in this vast region.

And those monitors are supposed to be very thoughtfully located to accurately represent that huge zone.  One has to pause here and question the wisdom and accuracy of these assumptions, but these are the cards we are all currently dealt by our State and Federal Agencies’ clearly outdated protocols and systems.

Right now the more important of the two monitors is located on the very edge of a little community known as Galena Park.  Most of the residents of Galena Park are nowhere near the monitor.  The current average level of PM 2.5 pollution at the Galena Park site is sitting at 11.6, just shy of a violation.

And that’s right where many local politicians, the Port, industry and the State of Texas want to keep it, below 12.

Maybe that’s why several million dollars was spent by these folks to pave dirt roads in the Port adjacent to the monitor site.  And why trees were planted as a buffer to filter particles before they get sucked into that precious 3 inches of Houston’s air.

However, community members in Galena Park together with the non-profit Air Alliance Houston got trained by the Global Community Monitor to do their own independent tests to get to the bottom of what most of the residents of the area are breathing.

Results from 6 months of tests show that the levels of PM 2.5 (taken at 5 sites including schools, City Hall and neighborhoods) are averaging an unhealthy 15.6, well above the Federal standard.

According to recent peer reviewed studies, the levels of fine particles in the air that is often available for breathing in Galena Park could cause hospitalization, heart attack, stroke or premature death.

Of course these areas did not get the benefits of extra paving on Port roads near them and not a single sapling either.

It’s curious that three little inches of air got so much attention and investment so a machine could breathe healthy air, while the 10,000 residents of Galena Park get unhealthy air and zero investment.

But then again you have to consult the Master Un-Plan: unlimited and unplanned growth is encouraged in Texas.

Like Governor Rick says, “We’re open for business in Texas.”  It’s becoming clearer exactly what that means to people trying to breathe in booming places like Houston.

At this rate it’s anybody’s guess how much longer Texas will be “Open for Breathing”.

If you’ve been following along, you’ll remember we officially launched the Arvin Bucket Brigade in December of 2011.  Looking back on this project in California’s Central Valley, I honestly don’t think I had a clue as to what I was signing up for.

In October 2011, two young workers lost their lives after being overcome with hydrogen sulfide at the Community Recycling facility in Lamont, CA. This was the last straw for the community, already overburdened by air pollution, and the residents took matters (and air monitoring equipment) into their own hands.  The Committee for a Better Arvin (CBA) partnered with the Rose Foundation, the Center for Race, Poverty and the Environment (CRPE) and Global Community Monitor (GCM) to get to work documenting air pollution incidents at the Community Recycling (CRRR) facility and advancing policy change in Kern County. 

In less than two years, we have trained 44 residents in three different kinds of air monitoring, collected over 369 pollution logs, 16 VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) and Sulfur samples, 17 diesel samples and 13 Particulate Matter (PM 2.5) samples.

The results continue to confirm community knowledge that the pollution in the area poses a threat to public health.

  • Bucket samples detected up to 24 different chemicals, including hydrogen sulfide.

  • Four of those are above at least one health based standard.

  • The average levels of the PM samples taken at the first sampling location exceeded the WHO’s (World Health Organization) 24 hour standard.

  • Two of the PM 2.5 samples exceeded the EPA & WHO’s 24 hour standard.

  • Five of diesel samples contain levels that pose an excess risk of cardiovascular & respiratory hospitalizations on the day of exposure.

With this data, 16 community members have spoken at six public meetings and issued three press releases  which led to 10 news stories.

Needless to say, we’ve started something here! 

We have captured the attention of the polluter, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (SJVAPCD), the Kern County Board of Supervisors, the California Air Resources Board and EPA Region 9.  We have challenged the SJVAPCD to do side by side testing and have worked with County Supervisors to get CRRR’s operating permit revoked.

Yet, the SJVAPCD still has yet to step up to the plate.  They have discredited our results, dismissed community concerns and kicked us off of meeting agendas.  They refuse to come out to the community during resident identified pollution incidents and have refused to meet with concerned residents.  Is there no corporate regulation here?  Is anyone looking out for the best interests of the community and its residents?  Or are the company and the SJVAPCD just looking at the profits?

Saturday, October 12, 2013 marked the two year anniversary of the two young workers’ deaths from hydrogen sulfide exposure and we are still detecting dangerous levels of hydrogen sulfide along the fenceline of CRRR.  CRRR has continued to appeal nearly every punitive measure levied against them for their numerous violations and the community is still waiting for a judge’s decision, which could close down the CRRR facility.

So, while we’re waiting, the residents continue to document pollution incidents, collect data use the truth in the fight for clean air and a health community.

Image from Trip Advisor

Ever been to Wyoming?

Well, it’s not known for its environmentalism, with company towns popping up nearly side by side.

Wyoming’s reputation for its oil and gas reserves is growing rapidly with the natural gas boom and State regulators are known for sitting with dollar signs in their eyes and giving the energy companies the right of way.  Meanwhile Pavillion, Wyoming has become the poster child for water contamination related to the process of fracking.

Back in 2008, residents complained to state agencies about foul smelling and tasting water from the wells on their property.  Turns out the increase of these complaints coincided with the booming natural gas development in the area.  Then a couple of years later, Gasland hit theaters and we all watched residents from across the country light their water on fire.

Image from Gasland

When the Wyoming state agencies failed to conduct water monitoring in Pavillion, residents took it to the regional EPA, who finally listened to the concerns of the residents and began monitoring the well water in Pavillion, WY.

Turns out, the EPA study found that there are hazardous chemicals in the drinking water, like methane, petroleum hydrocarbons and naphthalene.  The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) actually recommends that residents “use ventilation when showering” and “avoid fire or ignition sources while water is running”.

Now, here’s where it gets tricky.  Last month, the US EPA announced that it was abandoning the study.  No more samples, no more peer review, it’s time for them to pack up their bags and go home claiming that the State of Wyoming will take it from here- with the $1.5 million grant they received from EnCana, the very same company likely responsible for the groundwater contamination in the first place.

To give you a first hand look at what the residents are feeling, below is a letter from John Fenton, the Chair of Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens to the Wyoming Governor, Matt Mead.

Governor Matt Mead

State Capitol, 200 West 24th Street

Cheyenne, WY 82002-0010

June 24, 2013

Dear Governor Mead,

It was unfortunate you were unable to attend your meeting in Riverton on June 20th; we hope your condition has improved.

After reviewing the State’s plan for addressing the contamination impacts in our community, Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens (PACC) has the following initial comments and questions.

Although it appears that some of the stakeholders who have worked in the Pavillion area, such as EPA and EnCana, have been included in your planning process, we were not.  As you know, PACC was formed by people who live in the affected area.  We work on the issues in our community because we are heavily impacted.   At this time our main concern is that we were not consulted during your planning process and your plan does not give us any process for input as the investigation moves forward.

We were surprised to learn that the State will now be in charge of the Pavillion groundwater investigation.  We were extremely disappointed to learn that we were the last to know.  After reviewing your plan, we are also concerned.  We have worked with the EPA experts for five years and are concerned that the new experts you are proposing to enlist are yet to be identified.  Please clarify this situation for us.  We fully support the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Pavillion, Wyoming groundwater investigation for the following reasons.  EPA initially toured our community in 2008, after we had asked the state and industry for help for over five years with no results.  The EPA experts and consultants used the latest technology to conduct a strong science based investigation and sampling plan. Throughout the process, their experts continuously kept the people who live here in the loop.  They explained their testing procedures and protocols, and helped us understand and navigate the data they produced. They also listened to the information we provided; information that only we have, because we live and work with the gas development.  They were always kind, courteous and genuinely concerned with the conditions we live with.  They always tried to find answers to the many questions we have.  We have had a good working relationship.

As you know, the EPA produced a draft report of their investigation.  We believe the EPA draft report should be peer reviewed, as scheduled. We recommend the State also support peer review of the report. The information in the draft report is relevant and should be used to help source, identify and remediate the contamination in our community. Regardless of who conducts the investigation and how it moves forward, the EPA report should continue to be considered.  Ignoring or misinterpreting any part of the study will be extremely detrimental to our health, our right to clean water and air, as well as our property values and quality of life.

The EPA’s communications with the impacted citizens was one of the strengths of their investigation.  We hope to have the same communication with the State.  We believe it is our right as affected residents and landowners to have a seat at the table during all phases of the investigation, plan development and implementation of the plan.  The investigation was initiated and continues because of our impacts.

Pavillion residents must be included as stakeholders, with a voice in how the investigation and plan move forward, before we can support any plans that are developed.  We need assurance that our consultants can fully review and comment on the investigation and plans as they are being developed and implemented.

Please provide us with the time frame for consideration and hiring of experts. We must have the right to review the list of experts being considered and have ample time for our consultants to review the list and comment on the experts’ qualifications.  We must also have the right to recommend experts for consideration.

Please provide us with the schedule(s) for all meetings involving the investigation and planning process; both public and stakeholder meetings. Please explain how our input will be heard and accepted during the meetings.

Please identify the State Agency and personnel who will be our contacts, and provide their contact information.

It appears there will be a final report on Well Bore Integrity and Pits.  Two of our members, Jeff Locker and I, are on the working groups.  Please provide us with how the working groups will move forward and what the schedule is for the next meetings.

Your plan does not include complete information about private water well testing.  Please provide the exact sampling procedures, protocols and guidelines referenced in the plan, including (Attachment A).

Your plan does not include complete information for how the state proposes to access private water wells.  Who will contact residents, and when will they be contacted?  Who will construct the proposed agreement?  When will residents be provided with the proposed agreement?  What is the time frame residents will have to consider and sign the proposed agreement?

How will the health issues and impacts from the contamination in our community be addressed by the State?  Will you consult with the ATSDR, or will you hire experts to evaluate our health impacts?

Your plan does not outline any process for public comment.  Please provide us with how public comment will be accepted, evaluated and considered during the investigation, in the planning process and in the final documents.

We may have other comments and questions after our consultants have had time to review your plan.  We look forward to your written responses.

Respectfully, 

John Fenton, Chair

Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens

The Wild Wild West-where Big Oil & Gas make up their own rules in the Nation’s Breadbasket!

California has a strong reputation for environmental regulation and “green” cities. So you’d think when it comes to the controversial practice of fracking for oil and gas, California would again be a leader.

Consider California’s Governor, Jerry Brown (aka Governor Moonbeam) is a Democrat with long standing environmental credentials.  And the Democrats have won a “super-majority” in the California Legislature, meaning that they could pass fracking legislation without a single Republican vote.

With this backdrop, you’d also expect that California regulatory agencies would have issued stringent requirements for any fracking operations that would dare to try to do their questionable business in the State

Think again.

Image from Bloomberg.com

A recent vote in the California legislature denied a moratorium with regards to the central coast exploration of the Monterey Shale. A moratorium is not say no to business, it’s saying we need to find out a little more to make sure this is safe. A moratorium is not a ban, it’s pretty middle of road, reach across aisles politicking. And California said no.

“There is tremendous (scientific) uncertainty,” said Michael Kiparsky, associate director of UC Berkeley’s Wheeler Institute for Water Law and Policy and co-author of a recent report that found gaping holes in California’s regulation of fracking. “California has historically been a leader in the governance of environmental issues” – but not fracking, Kiparsky said. “There is the opportunity to learn a lot from other states … and try not to repeat their learning experiences.”

So what kinds of problems are real people in California encountering with the lack of regulation and oversight?  Look no further than the breadbasket of America, California’s Central Valley.

According to the Sacramento Bee:

“One afternoon last fall, Tom Frantz cradled a video camera in his hand and pointed it at an oil well on the edge of this San Joaquin Valley farm town.  Workers shuffled amid trucks and drilling equipment, preparing the site for hydraulic fracturing – fracking, for short – the controversial drilling method that has the potential to spark an economic boom in California and perhaps even free the state from foreign oil.  But Frantz recorded something less promising: oily-brown waste spilled from a pipe into an unlined pit near an almond grove, followed by a stream of soapy-looking liquid.

“That was kind of shocking,” said Frantz, 63, a fourth-generation farmer. “We can’t live without fresh groundwater. It doesn’t take much to ruin that.” 

Further the Sacramento Bee reported:

“Along once-quiet rural roads, residents complain about dust and noise from trucks and drilling equipment. Large metallic flares dot the countryside, burning off methane and other gases into one of the most polluted air basins in America.  Last year, one flare roared for months close to Walt Desatoff’s home outside Shafter. “I called it my loud, expensive porch light,” he said.  A retired businessman, he moved to rural Shafter in the early 1990s for its quiet pace of life. Now, he can smell the gassy odors and hear the million-mosquito drone of heavy equipment from his front porch.

“I’m not opposed to it,” he said. “We just need more control. Let’s do it right. Let’s do it safe. Let’s do it where it’s monitored and (companies) are not just given carte blanche to do whatever they want.”

So Governor Brown, Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom – anybody in the State Legislature??? Hello?  Are you going to help or just stay in Big Oil and Gas’s back pocket?  Is allowing unbridled fracking worth risking California’s vibrant agricultural economy that puts food on our table every day so Big Oil can get their way?

How many of us have had to work with someone that just didn’t do their job?

In the professional world, we face this all of the time; and considering the lackluster economy, there’s probably someone ELSE out there that is more than willing to do the work.

Especially, when you’re paying them!

Well, when we’re talking about governmental agencies, it can be more complex because you can’t just fire a governmental agency.

I was at a community meeting a few weeks ago, where the Air District came out to discuss the local air quality amid deep community concerns over the presence of manganese in recent air samples.  

The Air District dismissed the health concerns and telling the community that they have nothing to worry about since the manganese levels were below one health based standard, although above various other health based standards.

When a community member asked the air district staff if he would raise his children in the community based on the air quality.  The answer was a resounding NO.  

Needless to say after that, the meeting didn’t go so well.

After the (rightfully so) angry parents regained composure, one woman from the community stood to ask another question.

Image from SierraClub.org

“You’re the air district, you care about clean air, right?  So do we, but why do we have to fight you for our right to breathe clean air?”

Unfortunately, this can be the harsh reality when dealing with air pollution in Environmental Justice communities.  Many residents are upset at the company because of a lack of communication, no emergency evacuation plan, lies about expansion plans, accidents, etc.  Residents then turn to the regional air district for support. It seems like a natural ally in the fight for clean air.  But the reality is that the air district is, most likely, not going to be an ounce of help.

This is extremely disempowering, especially since the Air District’s mandate is ensure our air is clean.  That’s their job and that’s why we pay them! 

Imagine if we were talking about a landscaper, a contractor or even a babysitter!  If you came home one day to find your child bleeding, and the babysitter just said, “Oh, don’t worry about it,” would you invite the babysitter back?

Too bad we can’t do that with air districts and other governmental agencies.

We’ve seen this with other air districts and environmental agencies before.  It’s not uncommon for them to discredit community based air monitoring results, while refusing to do their own air monitoring.  If you want public information from the SJVAPCD about an facility’s emissions, good luck, and if you’re extremely persistent with the follow-up, you might even get a call from someone working at the agency, just to make sure you have the odor complaint line.

The agency folks assure you that they’re investigating your complaints and looking into your sample data, then months later- they claim that you never submitted your complaint or sent along your air monitoring data.  “The investigation is closed…”

All of that will leave you sitting there, rereading the form email from the air district, knowing that the sample results you sent them are long lost somewhere at the air district along with your public info requests, most likely next to the phone in which you’ve left all of those odor complaint messages.

The problem here is that air districts and other environmental agencies often do not act as though they have the communities’ best interest in mind.  The community meetings, public info requests and ‘on-going investigations’ act more like a smokescreen to make it look like they are doing their jobs.  

The reality is, is that if they really did their jobs…………….

They’d have a lot more work to do!  If the Air District acknowledged elevated levels of toxic substances in our air, they would have to do more comprehensive air monitoring.  They’d need to work with residents to identify local hot spots and sensitive locations like schools and daycares.  They’s need stricter regulations and stronger enforcement policies for polluters.  BUT, no one wants to open that can of worms!  

On  the surface, no one wants to create more work for themselves and no one wants to illuminate a problem that requires money (that we don’t have!) to fix.  Although there are also a series of deeper issues that can contribute to the agencies not doing an adequate job of protecting our safety.  

We’ve seen a number of professionals move from governmental jobs to industry jobs and vise versa.  We can’t help but wonder where their allegiances lie.  On top of that we’ve got a lot of corporate donations and heavy lobbying on government by the very industries that are polluting our communities.    

So, almost as if on cue, we’ll hear once again “The air’s fine.  Keep calm and carry on.”

Now where do we go from here?  How can we ensure that our air is safe for us and our children to breathe?  Will it require long term reform of our governmental agencies or ongoing grassroots pressure from the communities living on the fenceline of heavy industry?  

Either way, exposing this charade is a good place to start!

Image from Garfield

I woke up, shuffled into the kitchen to get the coffee started, then continue my pre-coffee shuffling out front to get the newspaper.  AND, what is on the front page of the Oakland Tribune – “California Releases First Ever Fracking Regulations”.  Did the Holidays come early?  Should I ditch this coffee for a fresh made mimosa and call in sick? NOPE! Upon further reading, I see that the environmental groups are highly critical of these regulations and the oil industry claims this to be a good start.  Hmm, well this was not turning into being the sunny mimosa morning I had envisioned two paragraphs ago. Then, buried deep in the article it starts to make sense.  So, pour that coffee, because we’ve got a lot of work to do. Apparently, these new draft regulations come in response to the auction of mineral leases of 18,000 acres of land, known as the Monterey Shale formation.  These 18,000 acres include land in Monterey, Fresno and San Benito Counties, that was owned by the Federal Government as public land!  You better hit up those organic California wineries with your out of town relatives this year, because whatever remained of our Bay Area bubble has been broken.  Fracking is coming to the Bay Area of California.

Image from the India Times

The auction of the 18,000 acres of land occurred on Wednesday, 12/12/12.  Now, maybe I was too inundated by the articles about spikes in marriage certificates and the impending doom to catch this big new story.  But- a simple Google search shows that this got very little new coverage in the first place.  Well played oil & gas industry, well played. Media outlets- I would have expected more from you.  Now, we can tout the exciting revelation that California has drafted the first ever fracking regulations. So let’s examine those regulations, shall we? First, the regulations do nothing to regulate air pollution and we’ve seen severe cases of air pollution near facking sites. Next, the draft regulation calls for disclosure.  Yes, full public disclosure would be a ‘good first step’.  Residents, homeowners and parents have long been demanding the right to know, yet full public disclosure has been a bit of a political football in the past couple of years.  This seems great, right fellow Californians?  Let’s sing the praises of our new draft fracking regulations and rejoice in how progressive our state of California is.  NOPE, again.  Like I said, pour the coffee because we’ve got a lot of work to

Image from Sierraactivist.org

do. This call for disclosure is just another place for the oil and gas companies to plug in a loophole while creating a luminous (most likely toxic) smoke and mirror image.  The reality here is that, although companies need to disclose the chemicals that they are injecting into the ground, that database is not subject to public records laws.  AND, on top of that, companies can still claim “trade secrets” which would allow them to not have to disclose the names any of the chemicals, to this database that the public may or may not have access to anyway! Is this new draft regulation supposed to protect our health and safety or is it supposed to make us feel better

Image from Thad Roan – flickriver.com

about fracking in Monterey?

Either way, that’s one good dog and pony show.

So, make another pot of coffee.  We’re going to need it.

 

Chevron lit the northern California bubble on fire on Monday night with a blaze that lasted for hours. More than three hours later, there is no information available to area residents about why Chevron is on fire and what we are breathing.

Chevron representative Nigel Hearne does not know anything
photo from topsy.com

Diesel fuel leak? Chevron representatives (Nigel Hearne, great accent) have no idea how this fire happened. They are providing no information about the chemicals that may be present in the air.

While Chevron stammers and stumbles at the press conference, residents are filling up area hospitals with reports of breathing problems. Unfortunately, like the 1999 and 2007 fires, the information about health effects will not come out until after the fire-it could be weeks, possibly months.

Have no fear-the Bay Area Air Quality Management district, our local EPA, is on the scene (snicker). Global Community Monitor has long advocated for real time air monitoring and for regulators to own equipment for emergencies-like a fire. Yet, no information has been shared with the public.  Chevron promised the City of Richmond several years ago they would install a state of the art real time fenceline monitor system, similar to Valero and Conoco Phillips,  in return for a tax deal.  While Chevron has enjoyed several years of the tax deal, they have failed to install the system.

Some news reports cited environmentalists’ and community residents’ challenge of the Chevron modernization in 2008 as a possible reason why the fire is happening.

However, these news reports failed to take into consideration that Chevron wanted to do more than modernize-they wanted to expand so that they could process heavier crude oil-Canadian tar sands. Tar sands oil would bring more accidents and emissions.

For now, families are still reeling from a stressful night, people are recovering from trips to the hospital and we are all bracing for the increased cost at the pump.

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