Welcome Contact Me Legislation Media Coverage Platform Voting Record E-Forum Biography
Media Coverage
Councilman Pushes For Richmond Safe Refinery Law
March 30, 1999

A Richmond city councilman said today he is ``optimistic'' that he has enough support on the City Council to pass a safe refinery ordinance.

Another council member, however, said it would be ``premature'' to pass an ordinance at this time.

The ordinance proposed by Tom Butt comes in the aftermath of an explosion and smoky fire at the Chevron refinery in Richmond last week. The hydrocracker fire sent a black cloud of fumes skyward and the fire burned for about two hours as residents of the area complained about not hearing any emergency warning sirens. The next day officials from the refinery at 841 Chevron Way blamed the incident on a release of partially processed jet fuel and gasoline on a pipe leak. They apologized for the incident. Three plant firefighters suffered minor injuries and hundreds of plant neighbors who inhaled the smoke went to nearby hospitals for checkups. Apparently no one suffered serious injury from the smoke. Butt, who describes himself as an environmentalist, said although he is often ``way out by myself on a lot of issues,'' he expects support from a few new others ``with streaks of independence.'' ``Labor is going to turn out big-time to support this,'' Butt said. Richmond Vice Mayor Irma Anderson said an ordinance would be premature at this time.

``I have to have an analysis from Chevron. I have to know what the problem is, then we can look at solutions.'' She said she also wants to hear from the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration about last Thursday's fire. ``I don't know if Chevron's going to be there,'' she said. An industry spokesman said much the same thing. Dennis Spaniel of the Council of Industries of West Contra Costa County said the City Council should wait until the accident investigation is complete and ``a root cause is known.'' The industries council, comprising Chevron and 33 other companies, says an Industrial Safety Ordinance would not have prevented a Tosco Avon refinery accident that killed four workers last month. Spaniel said any legislation should be crafted and ``has to be appropriate to the cause of the accident. We simply don't know yet.''

Chevron spokesman Terry Swartz said his company ``is supportive of efforts to increase or highlight safety. However we're not in favor of any knee-jerk over-reactions.'' Donna Powers, an eight-year member of the City Council, said she believes Butt was brave to propose the new legislation because he is up for re-election in November. She said Butt actually put the ordinance on the agenda the day before the fire, and not because of it.

She said more than two years ago when she tried to proposed a ``Good Neighbor Ordinance'' to regulate Richmond industry, ``Chevron was all over the council, like white on rice.'' The council ``is being lobbied as we speak'' by Chevron, she said. ``They don't want any ordinance to begin with. This one is not tough, but it is a start. First you get your toe in the door and next it's your foot.''

Butt said his record of trying to ``make Chevron a better citizen goes back many years.'' He said even if the city adopts the county's new Industrial Safety Ordinance -- passed early this year -- the county must agree to enforce the ordinance in Richmond's city limits. Butt added that a pending lawsuit against the county in state court also threatens to tie up the ordinance and has to be settled. Victor Westman, counsel for Contra Costa County, said he believes the county and Communities for a Better Environment have practically agreed to settle the suit and he is just waiting for a signed copy. Westman said under the settlement the county would take a new look at the ordinance and make sure it complies with the California Environmental Quality Act, CBE's basis for the suit. Westman said Richmond and other cities in the county have adopted other county ordinances, which helps ensure uniformity of laws, such as one for restaurant inspection or one for septic tank requirements. Butt said he expects Chevron to be part of any move to pass a refinery law even though he compares it to ``a cop asking a speeder whether he wants a ticket or not.''

He said Chevron wields a lot of power in Richmond. ``Basically they have had whatever they want since they came at the turn of the 20th century,'' he said.


Dateline: Tue Mar 30 15:39:17 PST 1999