Contra Costa Co. DA issues 'civil enforcement action' against Martinez Refining Company

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Sunday, November 19, 2023
DA issues 'civil enforcement action' against Martinez refinery
The Contra Costa County District Attorney issued a "civil enforcement action" against Martinez refinery for a series of frequent chemical releases.

MARTINEZ, Calif. (KGO) -- Local and state officials are taking serious action against the Martinez Refining Company. It comes after two toxic releases in just the past 12 months.

Bill Frohlich lives near downtown Martinez, which can be a great place to walk his dog. He also lives half a mile from the Martinez Refining Company.

"I think there is a difference between now and before. There were always releases periodically, but it has been much, much more frequent," says Frohlich, a sentiment shared by many other residents, especially given the refinery's proximity to downtown and local neighborhoods.

Those releases, such as one that happened this past July, are also raising concerns for the Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office. It announced a joint civil enforcement action against the Martinez Refining Company, which could potentially lead to a lawsuit.

"I'm glad that they are doing the enforcement because it seems like there is a lower level of investment in the refinery. The releases are more frequent. Something is wrong," says Frohlich.

RELATED: Martinez Refining Company manager apologizes for chemical releases deployed throughout year

The joint civil action involves multiple agencies including the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Contra Costa County Health.

Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton states: "The goal of this joint effort with the Air District is to achieve a resolution that ensures environmental compliance, and to rebuild and foster a safer community for the residents of Martinez."

"It is a very, very important step by the county to enforce its health requirements. These are county ordinances that these refineries in Contra Costa County must obey. In the case of this particular refinery, it did not," says U.S. Congressman John Garamendi, who represents parts of Contra Costa County.

He asserts that the refinery did not properly monitor or maintain its equipment.

MORE: Hazardous materials release from Martinez Refining Company being investigated; 2nd in 9 months

Following a 20-ton toxic powder release last year on Thanksgiving day, Garamendi co-signed a letter to PBF Energy, the parent company of the refinery.

The letter states, "We are concerned that this failure to notify local officials in a timely manner may demonstrate a lack of preparedness at the Martinez Refining Company."

And then came the coke-dust release in July.

"Which indicates to me that they have not yet done the kind of remedial work necessary to operate the refinery in a manner that is safe for the community," explains Garamendi.

In an email to ABC7 News, the Martinez Refining Company acknowledged the joint civil enforcement action. "We do not have any further details and therefore cannot comment other than to reiterate our continued cooperation with all agencies regarding these matters" the email states.

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