Bill targets business on air quality issues

April 4, 2013

By Katy Grimes

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Lawmakers are notorious for responding to tragedies and accidents with often unnecessary legislation. It’s a Kodak moment none seem to be able to resist, especially over environmental issues.

It happened again Wednesday in the Senate Environmental Quality Committee. Several bills were passed by the committee, including SB 691 by state Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, a bill targeting large businesses for air quality accidents.

Despite facing legitimate legal and technical challenges, the committee ignored protocol, and allowed the bills to move on with the proviso that work would continue to be done on the bills.

Penalizing business over accidents

Taking aim at Chevron over the August 2012 refinery fire, SB 691 is put forth as the solution to a big problem. It would dramatically increase fines and penalties for businesses which have pollution accidents and air quality violations. Hancock said the bill would “incentivize” air quality compliance. And she added, “incentives are better than mandates.”

Hancock’s bill would quadruple the civil penalties large polluters must pay for air quality regulation violations. But what Hancock did not explain is that local air quality districts will be able to fine businesses for violations to air quality regulations, then pocket the money. The “incentives” appear to be on the side of the government.

“I am introducing this bill because current penalties are far too low for polluters who cause thousands of people to suffer,” Hancock said in a news release.

Under current law, penalties are assessed per day. Hancock said her concern was that, for a one-day violation like the Richmond fire, Chevron may only face a minimal fine.

“Single-day violations of air quality regulations that affect entire communities lack adequate financial consequences,” she explained. “Current penalties are simply inadequate to ensure compliance with the law from large polluters.”

Sponsored by the Bay Area Quality Management District and Breathe California, SB 691 would only “increase the penalty ceiling, and not necessarily the penalty,” Hancock said.

“One-day violations disrupt entire communities,” Tom Addison with the BAQMD said. He concurred that only the penalty ceiling would be increased, not the penalties.

Nuisance or dangerous?

Ed Manning, representing the Western States Petroleum Association, challenged Hancock’s charge of malicious negligence by large companies when an industrial accident occurs.

Specifically, Manning took issue with this wording of Hancock’s bill:

“Prohibits a person, except as specified, from discharging air contaminants or other material that cause injury, detriment, nuisance, or annoyance or endanger the comfort, repose, health or safety to any considerable number of persons, or to the public.”

“Nuisance is not non-compliance,” Manning said. He explained what constitutes a “nuisance” is different in every air quality management district in the state. A “triggered event” can be as small as one household complaining, he said. And air quality districts do not have to prove there was a violation for an official “nuisance” to have occurred.

“The reason nuisance penalties are so low is because the burden of proof is so low,” Manning said. Nuisance claims triggered by a complaint also are a problem for small businesses. “Penalties up to $10,000 are difficult for very small businesses.”

Sen. Ted Gaines, R-Rocklin, asked Hancock, “What about a real accident?” He explained that financially penalizing a business for an actual accident, which is not deliberate or intentional, is not right.

Hancock largely ignored Gaines’ question and Manning’s concerns, and instead just repeated, “It’s a huge public safety problem.” She claimed there appeared to be consensus on the bill. “I look forward to working with the opposition as the bill moves forward,” she said. “I think the bill is really needed, very, very much.”

14 comments

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  1. Wayne Lusvardi
    Wayne Lusvardi 4 April, 2013, 11:06

    Question: are government facilities that pollute exempt from these huge fines?

    I remember maybe 20 years ago a water district with a treatment plant in Orange County discharged some toxic treatment water and it flowed into an area where recreational hikers and bikers got sprayed with it. The CEO of the water district was sued and could have been jailed but then the courts ruled that government was exempt if the water ratepayers didn’t want to fund a safer discharge system. What a double standard government has.

    Reply this comment
  2. fish
    fish 4 April, 2013, 11:20

    Question: are government facilities that pollute exempt from these huge fines?

    It’s been my experience that monetary penalties aren’t often imposed on agency screw ups. Honor among thieves if you will. The biggest stick that regulatory agencies impose on the governmental organizations they oversee is the additional paperwork burden the regulated organization frequently incurs in an attermpt to demonstrate that this kind of mistake won’t happen again in the future.

    Reply this comment
  3. us citizen
    us citizen 4 April, 2013, 11:41

    The biggest air pollution is coming from the gas and BS that the govt is spewing out constantly. I wonder if they will fine themselves.

    Reply this comment
  4. jimmydeeoc
    jimmydeeoc 4 April, 2013, 13:37

    Let’s face it. Hancock would like nothing more than for Richmond’s Chevron refinery to just pack up and go away. This is just one small step towards that end.

    As to where California drivers would obtain refined fuels?……that’s somebody else’s problem. And if Richmond were to disappear…what of the forgone tax revenue, and the good paying blue collar jobs? Again, somebody else’s problem.

    Environment Uber Alles

    Reply this comment
  5. larry 62
    larry 62 4 April, 2013, 16:56

    Move all refineries out of the bay area, then the leftist elites can figure out where they will get the gasoline for their Beemers. I’m sure Texas would be happy to negotiate a deal with them. California liberal fruitcakes need some harsh lessons.

    Reply this comment
  6. double l
    double l 4 April, 2013, 16:58

    Regulatory agencies shall be banned from imposing fines and penalties period; they are not accountable to the public, only to the politicians who salivate whenever this type of punishment rewards them with more money. Even though the Court system is overloaded, any fines shall be imposed through the Courts.

    Reply this comment
  7. Steve Mehlman
    Steve Mehlman 4 April, 2013, 18:05

    Government facilities that pollute should not be exempt from these regulations, period.

    Reply this comment
  8. fish
    fish 5 April, 2013, 07:56

    Government facilities that pollute should not be exempt from these regulations, period.

    They’re not. To allow them to be so would be too much cognitive dissonance for even the most shameless government fellator…..(I’m talking to you….The Africanized Swarm of Poorly Made Chinese Sex Toys Ted Steele System). The regulations apply. It’s how penalties are meted out that differs.

    Reply this comment
  9. fish
    fish 5 April, 2013, 07:58

    Move all refineries out of the bay area…….

    Utterly absurd! They will work them to complete failure and refining will eventually cease in California.

    Reply this comment
  10. Dave Boz
    Dave Boz 5 April, 2013, 11:36

    The problem with closing refineries in the Bay area, or anywhere else, is that they will never be replaced. How many decades has it been since a refinery was constructed in the US? California may succeed in shuttering all their refineries, but that doesn’t mean they won’t consume gasoline. The result will simply be reduced supply and increased prices everywhere in North America.

    Reply this comment
  11. rwf
    rwf 6 April, 2013, 15:14

    The largest form of easily preventable pollutiuon in Calif is overseen and managed by the air quality board for the profit of a very small group at the expense of us all. All the pollution left for them to deal with does not equall what they purposely allow to happen.
    WE RECYCLE OUR USED MOTOR OIL BY FILTERING IT LIGHTLY, MIXING IT WITH FUEL OIL, RENAMING IT BUNKER OIL. THIS OIL IS BURNED ONLY IN SHIPS THAT SAIL UP AND DOWN OUR COAST, NO FILTERS ON THE BURNERS AND THE HEAVY METAL POLLUTANTS THAT END UP AT THE BOTTOM OF THE FIRE BOXES ARE DUMPED DIRECTLY INTO THE OCEAN, IN POWDERED FORM WHERE THEY DISSOLVE AND GO DIRECTLY INTO THE ENVIROMENT AND THE FOOD CHAIN…..This is the true legacy of the Cal air resourses board.

    Reply this comment
  12. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 7 April, 2013, 08:47

    Fish sounds like Poodle Teddy. What happen to Poodle?

    Reply this comment
  13. fish
    fish 7 April, 2013, 09:57

    Much like you and Teddy….it’s entirely possible we might be the same guy. Or not….

    How goes the therapy “guys”. Good to have “friends” to hang out with eh Ulysses….err I mean Teddy.

    Reply this comment
  14. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 7 April, 2013, 21:21

    Yep….fish talks like Poodle……outed him!

    Reply this comment

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