Bay Area Might Adopt World’s First Regional Oil-Refinery Emissions Caps 

Gov. Brown's administration poised to take official position on proposal, which could stop Canadian tar sands from coming into local refineries. But that position is uncertain.

On May 17, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District will consider a proposal that would make the San Francisco Bay Area the world's first region to place limits on oil refineries' overall greenhouse-gas and particulate-matter emissions. This new regulation, Refinery Rule 12-16, would prevent oil corporations from making the East Bay a hub of Canadian tar-sands processing, because it would enforce a cap based on historic emissions levels at the five major Contra Costa and Solano county refineries.

Not everyone agrees with this approach.

As the Express reported last June, BAAQMD executive staff members oppose the emissions cap, which they say would be illegal under state law. They also say it could lead to oil-price spikes, a stance shared by the industry.

Gov. Jerry Brown's administration is about to weigh in on the debate, though. And at the February 1 BAAQMD board of directors meeting, Contra Costa County supervisor and California Air Resources Board director John Gioia noted that ARB Executive Officer Richard Corey is preparing a new letter detailing the agency's position on Refinery Rule 12-16 and other refinery-related air-quality protections that BAAQMD is considering.

Ultimately, the two-dozen county supervisors and city council members who comprise the BAAQMD board of directors will decide the emissions caps' fate. But several BAAQMD directors have said they prefer that local rules dovetail with California's climate programs, so Corey's letter could help make-or-break the emissions-cap proposal.

Corey reportedly has stated his intention to send the letter by the end of the month. Meanwhile, its content has become a subject of heated speculation among BAAQMD directors.

During BAAQMD's February meeting in San Francisco, Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty, an emissions-caps skeptic, aggressively questioned Gioia about the letter's purpose and content. Gioia said he is mostly in the dark. "It will comment on issues regarding the rules we are considering," Gioia said. "I don't know much beyond that."

According to individuals with direct knowledge of the situation, members of the Brown administration agreed to send the letter during a December 12 meeting with representatives of climate-justice groups. Communities for a Better Environment, 350 Bay Area, the Sierra Club, and other organizations had previously requested the administration's unambiguous support for emissions caps, or at least a clarification that BAAQMD does have the legal authority to implement them.

The Brown administration representatives committed at the meeting to send a letter to BAAQMD conveying their policy advice by January 6.

CARB spokesman Dave Clegern declined to comment on the status of the since-delayed letter, nor did he explain why it has been delayed. "If such a letter is being written, it would be inappropriate for us to comment before BAAQMD received it," he said.

Deborah Hoffman, deputy press secretary for Brown, also has not commented as of press time.

Emissions-caps proponents say Refinery Rule 12-16 is urgently necessary to rein in atmospheric and local pollution alike. California refineries are attempting to replace declining Southern California and Alaska oil supplies with cheaper, but more polluting, sources such as the Canadian tar sands, a sticky mixture of sand, clay, and bitumen that involves flaying Canada's carbon-rich boreal forest.

Tar-sands bitumen also causes more climate and localized toxic pollution at all stages, from extraction to refining, than virtually any other fuel source.

Numerous studies have concluded that nearly all remaining tar sands and Arctic oil must remain in the ground under all scenarios where the global temperature increase stays under the safety threshold of 2 degrees centigrade, agreed to by the world's nations in Paris.

The Refinery Rule 12-16 emissions caps would prevent local refineries from developing infrastructure to process the tar sands, thus helping keep a significant amount of the high-carbon crude in the ground, proponents say. BAAQMD executive staff will release a draft environmental impact report for Rule 12-16 in March.

At the February 1 meeting, BAAQMD executive staff members discussed the most recent in a string of proposals they have proposed as alternatives to the emissions caps, Refinery Rule 13-1, which would restrict the "carbon intensity" of the refineries' petroleum feedstocks. BAAQMD staff member Greg Nudd said the measure would "prevent refineries from re-tooling to process tar sands crude," marking the first time BAAQMD staff members themselves have publicly adopt a goal of keeping the tar sands out of local refineries.

Nudd and BAAQMD executive officer Jack Broadbent said they would be unable to complete an environmental review for Rule 13-1 until August or September, prompting several BAAQMD directors to suggest postponing a vote on Refinery Rule 12-16 until that review is also complete. They will still discuss the Refinery Rule 12-16 EIR at their May meeting.


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