Mayor questions money collected from air quality fines

October 29, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
The mayor in West Contra Costa County is questioning where all the money collected from Bay Area air quality fines is going. His complaint comes nearly three months after a huge fire at the Chevron refinery in Richmond blanketed much of the East Bay in thick black smoke.

"I'm alarmed. I'm a citizen in this area," said Hercules Mayor Dan Romero.

Hercules is one of the cities not far from the huge fire that engulfed a crude unit at the Chevron Refinery in August.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District has since indicated it plans to fine Chevron an amount that could reach into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"What alarmed me is that the fine system that the Air Quality District brings up goes into their general fund. The perception from the community is that those fines are going back to the community," said Romero.

"Under state law, any penalties the air district levies go into the general fund. However, recently, the board of directors of the air district has provided direction to have the money be spent in the community," said Bay Area Air Quality Management District Chairman John Gioia.

But there are no guarantees and the practice has been uneven. In 2009, the air district collected $515,000 in fines from developer Lennar for failing to monitor the dust at San Francisco's Hunters Point Naval Shipyard. All of that money went into air quality programs in the community.

But in 2008, when the air board and the county collected $2.2 million from Shell for a carbon monoxide problem at its Martinez refinery, only about 10 percent went to an air quality project at one local elementary school.

The air quality hasn't totaled the fines yet for Chevron's August fire, but Mayor Romero thinks at least half of that money should go to the local community. It may not be 50 percent, but the air board says... they're working on it.

"We have had it in writing. We did rescind it a couple of years ago due to the economic times and the shrinking revenues the district had, and I'm sure the board will reconsider putting it in as a formal policy again," said Bay Area Air Quality Management District board member Mark Ross.

The air board is also lobbying the state legislature to increase the amount they can fine a company after a major incident.


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