Details and Analysis

On the Bay Area Air Quality Management District’s (BAAQMD) Rules Regarding Refinery Emissions 


What is the BAAQMD?
At the regional level, many air pollution decisions are made by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. BAAQMD, the first regional air pollution control agency in the country, was established by the California Legislature in 1955. The Air District regulates stationary sources of air pollution in the nine counties that surround San Francisco Bay: Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, south- western Solano, and southern Sonoma counties. It consists of a 24-member Board of Directors, elected from communities throughout the region, and a staff of around 340 engineers, inspectors, planners, scientists, and other professionals.

What are tar sands?
Canada’s oil sands, also known as tar sands, are the world’s fourth-largest reserve of crude oil. Mining them unleashes massive volumes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, easing the way for global warming to blow past 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) — levels considered “dangerous” under the Paris climate agreement.

What is Rule 12-16? The BAAQMD is currently considering several plans for addressing air pollution emissions from Bay Area petroleum refineries. Draft Rule 12-16, proposed by Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) and other community organizations, would place an enforceable numeric cap on greenhouse gases (GHGs) and various toxic emissions from the 5 Bay Area refineries. This cap is based on historical emissions by the refineries and will not force refineries to reduce production or eliminate jobs. But it will stop them from refining dirtier crude, effectively preventing the cascade of negative health and climate effects from the more energy-intensive refining of heavy metal-laden, high-sulfur, high-density crude stock such as tar sands or Bakken crude.

What are alternatives? The BAAQMD staff argues that California’s cap-and-trade program already regulates greenhouse gas emissions, eliminating the need for local regulation.  We disagree.  Cap-and-trade covers a fraction of statewide GHG emissions, and it allows frontline communities to be poisoned by particulate matter and other deadly GHG co-pollutants while refineries trade pollution credits.

Draft Rule 11-18, another rule under consideration by the BAAQMD, would conduct health risk assessments and impact over 1,100 commercial, industrial and municipal facilities including hospitals, colleges, wastewater treatment facilities, gas stations, dry cleaners, and others—and would, significantly, take from five to ten years to implement.

If recent history is a guide, however, such an extended period without refinery emission limits will actually enable the BAAQMD to continue permitting tar sands infrastructure projects. Once these projects are in place, refineries will argue that they must continue operation to achieve returns on investments—forcing us to live with increased emissions for the next several decades.

Rule 13-1, the second alternative, would implement a carbon intensity cap that limits the CO 2 emissions allowed per barrel of oil processed. This is only at the level of a “concept paper” at this date, and thus hard to evaluate. Furthermore, a transparent Rule 13-1 depends upon refineries making publicly available their total refinery throughput and crude slate data, but they continue to refuse to release it.

Rule 13-1 offers both advantages and disadvantages. A total emissions cap could allow some tar sands to be processed, if refineries lowered overall production throughput. An emissions intensity cap would prevent this. However, an intensity cap would allow total pollution to increase with permitted expansion of total refinery throughput, as long as emissions-per- barrel did not rise. (BAAQMD staff has been requested to evaluate whether combining Rule 12-16 and 13-1 is an environmentally superior alternative and that could be discussed at the next BAAQMD Board meeting)

Why does the State of California Air Resources Board (CARB) Support 12-16?  A letter issued on April 5th by the CARB strongly affirms the legality—and desirability—of the Community- Worker proposal for caps on refinery emissions, or Rule 12-16.   The Air Resources Board endorsed Rule 12-16, as well as another proposal under development (13-1 above), because Rule 12-16  “could help to ensure that these sources (e.g., tar sands) do not add to the state’s overall emission of greenhouse gases and criteria or toxic pollutants.”

  • No Bay Area refineries currently have overall emission limits.

  • Local health impacts are proven: Peer-reviewed scientific papers chemically trace higher levels of indoor and outdoor particulate matter exposure for Richmond residents to refinery emissions.

  • Predicted increases in combustion emissions from tar sands track trends of increasing emissions with heavier crude qualities

  • Rule 12-16 emission caps are based on years where overall refinery operating volumes reached 98% of maximum capacity. Rule 12-16 will not limit production, result in shortages, gasoline price spikes, or job losses 

Municipal Support for 12-16 Belmont, Berkeley, El Cerrito, Emeryville, Fairfax, Hayward, Oakland, Richmond, San Francisco and San Pablo have passed resolutions endorsing Rule 12-16. Additionally, San Rafael has sent a letter in support to the Air District.

Key Endorsements for 12-16 350 Bay Area, 350 Silicon Valley, Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN), California Nurses Association, Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), Richmond Progressive Alliance, Sierra Club SF Bay, Sunflower Alliance