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Big Vote Today in Battle Over Bay Area Air Quality

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Groups pressing for pollution controls at local refineries cite UCSF data showing much higher rates of asthma in the predominantly African American and Latinx communities located nearby. (Prostock Studio/Adobe Stock)
Groups pressing for pollution controls at local refineries cite UCSF data showing much higher rates of asthma in the predominantly African American and Latinx communities located nearby. (Prostock Studio/Adobe Stock)
 By Suzanne Potter - Producer, Contact
June 2, 2021

SAN FRANCISCO - A long battle to clean up the air around oil refineries comes to a vote today before the board of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. At issue is whether to require oil refineries to install technology to scrub the air they release and remove harmful pollutants.

Richard Gray, a longtime advocate with the group 350 Bay Area, said the asthma rate in Richmond, near the refineries, is 25% - almost twice the asthma rate statewide.

"So, there's really bad asthma, heart disease; there's lung disease, low birth weight, dementia, cancer," he said. "All of these health issues are caused by inhaling particulate matter."

The board will decide whether to require the Chevron and PBF refineries to add what is known as wet gas-scrubbing technology to their fluid catalytic cracking units or "cat crackers." The technology would reduce the amount of particulate matter emitted by 70%. The federal government already required the Valero Refinery to install the equipment.

PBF has said a retrofit would be prohibitively expensive and has threatened to shut down its facility in Martinez, which employs 600 people, if the board votes to require installing the equipment. Gray pointed out that estimates on the cost vary widely.

"There's a huge difference between how much the refineries say it's going to cost to install this - $800 million - and the amount that the air district says it's that going to cost: $250-odd million," he said.

Groups that want to better control the pollution have said the cost of the retrofit could be spread over several years and built into gas prices - which, in that case, would cost drivers an extra one or two pennies per gallon at the pump. Gray estimated the retrofit process also would create thousands of jobs in the building trades.

Disclosure: 350 Bay Area contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Environment, Environmental Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
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