Air regulators face scrutiny over excessive amounts of pollutants coming from Benicia refinery

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District finds itself without its long time leader and in a remarkably embarrassing situation regarding oil refinery emissions in its jurisdiction.

For 16 years, from 2003 to 2019, a venting stack at Valero's Benicia Refinery released an average of two tons of hydrocarbons into the atmosphere. The legal daily limit is just 15 pounds. So, in 16 years, Valero belched out more than 4000 years worth of health damaging pollutants.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District not only failed to detect the violation, it waited for three years to make it public.

"As an activist in the community, I came to know that there was a very cozy relationship between the polluters and their regulators," said Andres Soto, who lives in Benicia, and has also been an environmental activist with numerous environmental groups for decades.

He scoffed at Valero's claim Air Quality District that  the refinery was surprised at the excessive emissions.

"Valero was responsible, under the law, to know that this was a source when they purchased the refinery from Exxon," said Mr. Soto.

Soto said the Air District has one Valero inspector at 169 separate emission sources but not the one in question.

"They knew that that was a source of toxic emissions. They just failed to identify it for the Air District," said Soto.

Damian Breen is the Air District's Deputy Executive Officer of Operations.

"We can find no record of them actively coming forward and to identify this particular emissions point," said Breen.

And what of damage control at the District?

"We have moved forward to change our procedures to make sure we are dealing with facilities like Valero in pubic forums," said Breen.

The District says now comes the penalty phase.

"So that we can hold folks accountable for this breach of  trust with both the Air District and the public," said Breen.

In recent months, both the executive officer and chief lawyer have retired from the District.

"Despite their stand of wearing the white hat, we've seen them frequently standing on the side and allowing the guys in the black hats to get away with the damage and their bad deeds," said Mr. Soto.

Thus far, Valero has not responded KTVU's inquiries.