July 29, 2004

Still Above The Law: Bay Area Air District

The Bay Area air district has jurisdiction over 114 facilities with major air pollution emissions. Seventy field-based inspectors monitor compliance from stationary facilities. To allow direct comparison with other districts, Bay Area penalties are listed as the total collected for each notice of violation, which may include a number of rules that were broken. Five of the district's worst offenders are petroleum refineries located in a 25-mile span of Contra Costa and Solano counties. Two of those, Shell's Martinez refinery and Chevron's in Richmond, rank one-two in the number of violations statewide in the last five years.

Top Bay Area industrial air polluters by fines paid or violations settled

Facility Total civil penalties paid Number of violations resolved Number of rules broken* Number violations outstanding
Chevron Products Company, Richmond $662,511 123 135 33
Martinez Refining Company (Shell), Martinez $598,652 122 219 36
Tesoro Refining and Marketing Company, Martinez $420,260 68 78 92
Valero Refining, Benicia $266,000 29 37 56
Pechiney Plastic Packaging, Inc. Newark $130,200 11 14 1
Integrated Environmental Services, Oakland $106,000 27 28 0
Conoco-Phillips, Rodeo $94,520 32 45 51
Hexcel Corporation, Livermore $80,680 92 100 0
United Airlines, Maintenance Operations Center, San Francisco $66,117 46 2 8
Browning-Ferris Industries, Half Moon Bay $56,512 18 18 2
Gaylord Container Corporation, Antioch $42,376 22 13 2

* Each violation may involve one of several broken rules

Between 2000 and the end of 2003, the Bay Area's annual median fine increased from $1,443 to $3,800. However, in the first quarter of 2004, the median dropped back roughly to the level of previous years, leaving open the question of whether the district's performance is improving. The average time to resolve penalties has slowed dramatically, from 78 days in 1996, to more than 6 months in 2000 and more than 21 months last year. [4] As of June 2004, 515 violations issued by the district are unresolved, including more than 268 at the five area refineries and 86 at SKC America, a Silicon Valley high-tech company.

Annual median fines in the Bay Area air district

Year Total number of civil violations settled* Median penalty assessed Total penalties collected Average days to settle violations
2000 148 $1,443 $315,730 205
2001 64 $1,590 $296,776 494
2002 150 $1,375 $830,465 557
2003 183 $3,800 $1,044,092 665
1st quarter 2004 127 $1,240 $365,275 832
Number of cases unresolved as of June 2004       515

In November 2002, at least partly in response to widespread community complaints about lax enforcement, the Bay Area air district declined to renew the contract of Chief Operating Officer Ellen Garvey. [8] District board members said they felt the need for "better direction at the top in focusing our organization to produce cleaner air." William Norton served as interim executive officer. In October 2003, the district handed the reins to Jack Broadbent, former director of air quality for EPA's regional office.

Comparing the first eight months of Broadbent's tenure to settlements during Garvey's last year and Norton's interim term shows little overall change so far. Fewer violations are being issued under Broadbent's administration, and in the first eight months of his tenure the median fine amount dropped to $2,250, compared to $3,000 in the previous 12 months.

Changing leadership at the Bay Area air district

Pollution Control Officer Date Number of months Number of violations issued Number of violations settled Median fine Average time to settle violations
Broadbent November 2003 — June 2004 8 115 262 $2,250 711
Norton November 2002 — October 2003 12 253 222 $3,000 631
Garvey November 2001 — October 2002 12* 344 85 $2,000 468

* Only the final 12 months of Garvey's term.