Re: Rogers Wants New Safety Program
Tom Butt's 1/24/07 E-Forum detailed his plan to fine Chevron
$6000/minute for each minute that the siren warning system is
I want to thank Tom for letting me convey to his E-Forum list
some ideas that I have.
First I want to clarify that I joined Tom, Gayle McLaughlin and
Tony Thurmond in opposing the motion of the Council to put off
the matter until we get the report from Chevron on the recent
I would prefer that we get safety guarantees out of Chevron.
Accordingly, I made a motion at the Council meeting on the 23rd
to drop the proposal to fine Chevron if they would agree to an
independent safety expert having full access to their
operations, including employees and including wandering around
Only Councilmember Marquez supported that motion.
Being able to insist on Chevron taking every possible measure
to increase safety would ensure that if Chevron, at some point
in the future turns into an irresponsible safety corner-cutting
operator, we could find out about it and take action sooner
rather than later.
Lest anyone think this can't/doesn't happen, recall the General
Chemical spill in 1993 that sent tens of thousands to hospitals.
afterwards we found out that there were numerous sloppy safety (
I use the term loosely) procedures in place.
In the mid 90s, I was a County Supervisor and wrote and passed
the Good Neighbor ordinance because there were irresponsible
quick buck operators playing fast and loose with safety and
people were dying as a result. After one fatal tragedy, we got
the Cal-OSHA report and it was about 8 inches thick with the
safety violations of the refinery. Ironically enough, the
refinery's PR team had been at the Board of Supervisors a month
earlier lecturing me about how the Good Neighbor ordinance to
impose safety requirements wasn't needed and was a political
giveaway to organized labor.
The various other levels of government that were supposed to be
ensuring that proper safety practices were followed failed
miserably, just as they did at preventing the General Chem toxic
As Scoop Nisker used to say "If you don't like the news, go out
and make some of your own."
Unfortunately, local governments are hamstrung by a very
complicated body of law that makes it hard to regulate
The devil is in the details.
Assessing large fines when the warning system goes off may not
be a bad idea, but we heard testimony at the City Council
meeting from refinery affiliated experts that we could expect
the refineries to react by not sounding the siren. Tom proposes
to fix that by fining them if the siren should have been
sounded. However, it's not as simple as the more sirens the
better. Too many sirens and the person out walking the dog
finishes the walk instead of sheltering in place immediately,
potentially with disastrous consequences if the release is
serious. Even if there is some chance they are caught and
fined, maybe the refineries take the chance of a fine instead
of the certainty.
But my biggest objection to using sirens to fine Chevron is
that focusing on avoiding sirens sounding is not necessarily
the same as focusing on avoiding a worst case, Bhopal like
disaster. Some operations at Chevron are relatively unlikely to
cause the siren to be sounded , but may be the type of chemical
that can create a Bhopal type tragedy. Other parts of the
operation may have relatively benign chemicals, but a high
likelihood of blowing up. Do we want Chevron to be artificially
encouraged to focus limited resources on preventing the
non-dangerous fires and ignoring the dangerous parts of their
Though there is a devil in the details, I don't believe there is
a devil in the Chevron. From what I can piece together, Chevron
management takes safety seriously, and has for a long time.(Tho
chevron thought there was a devil in me, and thanked me for my
work on the Good Neighbor ordinance by spending about $40,000
trying (unsuccessfully) to keep me off the Richmond City
The fact that Chevron has twice as many fires as another
refinery that it is 4 times larger than doesn't mean Chevron is
twice as sloppy about safety. Quite the opposite.
Tom has argued that his siren based fine proposal isn't about
safety, it is about Chevron compensating our
city for Chevron's impacts. While that is a commendable goal, we
have other ways to deal with financial issues, and we have
relatively limited ways of dealing with safety.
By the way, don't get lulled into a sense of false security
because we have an ordinance that requires safety reviews after
a release/fire. Tho this is certainly a great idea, a refinery
is a vastly complicated system of many moving parts, almost all
of which are not going to be involved in a review of one
This is a very complicated issue, and I would appreciate any
thoughts any readers have.
I will discuss those thoughts on my Misterogers' Neighborhoods
Updates (to subscribe firstname.lastname@example.org ) Please feel free to