Chevron Gets the OK to Pollute Bay

Instead of keeping ChevronTexaco’s Richmond refinery from polluting San Francisco Bay with dioxin, mercury,  nickel, and selenium at excessive levels, regulators have  issued a permit for it, according to a lawsuit by Communities for a Better Environment.
In its the initial petition in the lawsuit, CBE charges that the regional water board violated the Clean Water Act by basing the permit on the refinery’s current emission levels — instead of on existing effluent limits. The state water board upheld the permit.
“State and regional water boards are selectively erasing the [water standards] that are being violated or close to being violated,” said Greg Karras of CBE, which filed the August 2002 lawsuit. “They are getting pressure from industry.”
The refinery is the largest single industrial source of dioxin and mercury in the Bay. “The state tells families who fish the Bay to limit their fish consumption or risk cancer and childhood developmental problems,” Karras said, “but does not tell Chevron to limit its pollution.”
Larry Kolb, assistant executive officer at the regional water board, defended the permit: “If [refineries] can’t meet the conventional water quality objectives, the board gave dischargers interim temporary standards that they could meet based on their current performances.” But he said the permits allow “no net loading” of dioxin, mercury, and other pollutants; increases in emissions theoretically must be offset by decreases elsewhere in the region. He argued that refineries are not a significant source of these pollutants — pointing instead to dioxin from air pollution settling into the Bay, and mercury runoff from past mining.
“No net loading doesn’t mean zero,” said Mike Lozeau of EarthJustice, a co-counsel in the suit. “It means some estimate by a discharger that they can do something at other sources that can offset whatever they’re emitting. They’re replacing rational standards with wishful thinking.”
Lozeau agrees with Kolb that the board could be doing a lot to regulate dioxin and mercury, including cracking down on dioxin in the air. “The stacks of the refineries are some of the biggest contributors of dioxin in the area,” he said. “All of these pollutants already have well-identified numeric standards that the board has been applying in the past.”
This isn’t the first time regulators have approved limits in excess of water quality standards. As Terrain reported in Fall 2000, the regional water board loosened dioxin standards 40-fold at the Tosco Refinery, now owned by Tesoro. In July 2001, San Francisco Superior Court Judge James McBride struck down those standards. “We basically won a very similar case against Tosco,” said CBE staff attorney Adrienne Bloch. “The only difference in this case is that we’re alleging more constituents — mercury and nickel [as well as dioxin and selenium].”
If the Tesoro case is upheld on appeal, it will set a precedent statewide. No court date has been set in the Chevron case.

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