After hearing five and a half hours of public commentary on Wednesday night, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District postponed a vote on whether to require Bay Area refineries to install costly emissions reduction technology. The proposal would amend Regulation 6 Rule 5, limiting the amount of particulate matter, ammonia, and sulfur dioxide emitted by key refinery components called fluidized catalytic cracking units. By all accounts, complying with the rule would cost hundreds of millions of dollars for two of California’s largest refineries: Chevron’s Richmond refinery and the PBF Energy refinery in Martinez. PBF’s Western Region President estimates the cost at $800 million, and says it would force closure of the Martinez refinery, putting many out of work. Proponents put the cost at closer to $500 million and say the proposed rule change is needed to protect the health of nearby residents. Nearly 200 members of the public spoke before the Board rescheduled the vote to June 16.
The California Department of Conservation’s Geologic Energy Management division (CalGEM) has ordered Nasco Petroleum, a south Los Angeles oil producer, to pay $1.5 million in fines for nearly 600 violations of state regulations, including continuing to operate aging, dangerous wells for nearly a year after losing approvals. The agency’s actions followed a media investigation and report on lax enforcement by CalGEM, including with respect to a drilling site next to low-income housing whose residents have expressed concerns about environmental and health impacts. Community activists applauded the enforcement action but said CalGEM has a history of ordering penalties and not collecting them.
Officials from California, New York, and other states urged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at an online hearing on Wednesday to reverse a Trump administration policy and reinstate California’s authority to set its own automobile tailpipe emissions standards. The Biden administration has moved to grant California permission to set more stringent vehicle emissions standards. At least 13 states and the District of Columbia have signed on to California’s standards. That group collectively represents 36 percent of the U.S. auto market, giving California greater leverage in discussions with automakers.
Conservationists argue the State Water Resources Control Board (Board) is not doing enough to prevent an endangered run of salmon from dying in the Sacramento River. At issue is how the federal Bureau of Reclamation (Bureau) manages water flows from Shasta Lake into the Sacramento River, which is both the spawning grounds for chinook salmon and the main water source for Central Valley farms. If the Bureau releases too much water to irrigation districts during the summer, there could be insufficient flow to maintain adequate water and temperature levels to sustain the eggs of endangered winter-run chinook salmon, which migrate from the Pacific in winter and spawn from April to August. The Board has directed the Bureau to maintain at least 1.25 million acre feet in the lake until September. Conservationists say at least 1.47 million acre feet of storage is needed to avoid catastrophic die-off of winter-run salmon eggs.