Senator Bill Dodd (D-Napa) introduced a new bill to help deter harmful emissions from oil refineries. The bill would increase fines for serious violations of emissions standards that sicken people or force shelter-in-place orders.
“There are already fines on the books for illegal refinery emissions, but the most common fine hasn’t been increased since Richard Nixon was in the White House,” said Senator Dodd. “When people are sickened by refinery emissions or forced to shelter-in-place, there should be stiffer penalties. My bill reinforces that oil companies should take proactive steps to avoid violations in the first place.”
Dodd’s bill, SB 1144, would triple existing fines for violations of emissions standards if the violations cause a health problem or impact over 25 people. Existing law doesn’t allow increased penalties for violations that injure nearby residents or for refineries with multiple violations. Currently, the maximum amount for the most common level of fines is $10,000 and hasn’t been adjusted since 1974.
Dodd’s bill would set the new fine at $30,000, and if refineries are found negligent, the amount would go up to $75,000 per day. In instances where a refinery fails to correct a known violation or intentionally violates standards, the violations would be even greater. For serial offenders with multiple serious violations within 36 months, the fines could be as much as $500,000 per day.
“Representing communities that house several refineries, I want to encourage the industry to be proactive in meeting their duty to neighboring residents,” said Senator Dodd. “This measure isn’t a silver bullet for addressing safety, but it certainly provides greater incentive to act responsibly.”
Senator Dodd’s district includes the majority of the Bay Area’s refineries. In September 2016, numerous Vallejo residents were sickened by a refinery incident that triggered over 1,500 complaints. The state’s Office of Emergency Services reported that area hospitals and medical facilities treated 120 patients for headaches, nausea, dizziness, and burning of the eyes, nose and throat. The Bay Area Air Quality Management issued a notice of violation to the refinery in Rodeo for that incident. In May, a power outage at a refinery in Benicia resulted in the release of over 80,000 pounds of sulfur dioxide and caused shelter-in-place orders for area residents, businesses and schools.
The funds from the fines in Dodd’s bill would be available to support more robust monitoring and enforcement. The bill is expected to come up for a committee vote next month.
Senator Bill Dodd represents California’s 3rd Senate District, which includes all or portions of Solano, Napa, Sonoma, Yolo, Sacramento, and Contra Costa Counties. You can learn more about Senator Dodd at www.sen.ca.gov/dodd.