SAN FRANCISCO – A lawyer for an environmental advocacy group said today that she expects a judge to uphold their legal challenge to a Richmond refinery pollution permit as he did a similar one against a Martinez facility.
Attorney Danielle Fugere said the suit filed Friday in the same San Francisco Superior Court that last month upheld an environmental challenge to the pollution permit held by the Tesoro Martinez refinery raises the same issues in the case of the Chevron Richmond refinery. Such differences as there are, Communities for a Better Environment senior scientist Greg Karras added, don't favor Chevron.
“If there is a difference, Chevron's the biggest refinery, and their own EPA statistics say they're the biggest source of dioxins and mercury releases to surface waters in the 10 county Bay area,” Karras said today.
But regional board officials, while agreeing that the issues in the two cases were largely the same, said the lawsuit was unlikely to help matters because the pollution in question originates elsewhere.
“We would say this is pointless ‘gotcha’ litigation that will not help us solve these problems,” said Larry Kolb, assistant executive officer for the San Francisco Bay Region Water Quality Control Board.
San Francisco Superior Court Judge James McBride granted a similar challenge against the Tesoro refinery July 19. That was just one day after state water regulators in Sacramento upheld a decision by the Oakland-based regional board to allow Chevron to operate using higher interim dioxin limits instead of requiring compliance with stricter health based limits specified by the federal Clean Water Act.
Today's suit against Chevron raises similar complaints about the Richmond refinery dioxin discharges as well as with the refinery's releases of mercury, selenium and nickel.
“This is your classic 'do you study it while the pollution continues' or ‘do you permit it to continue while you study it’ – and then clean it up,” Karras said.
But Kolb says there's “plenty of data” to show that it makes no sense to go after the regional board and the refinery in an attempt to cut back on dioxin and mercury pollution.
“Even if all the discharges we regulate were to immediately go to zero, the problem would remain,” Kolb said, adding that for mercury the biggest problem is historic old sources of the toxic metal that have already infiltrated Bay sediments.
“The worst ongoing mercury problem is drainage from the old Almaden quicksilver mine in Santa Clara County,” Kolb said.
Kolb said that because regulators are certain that dioxins are discharged into the air and then settle out on the land and show up in storm water runoff.