Above the Law in California

How California's Major Air Polluters Get Away With It

July 29, 1999

Above the Law in California: Press Release

How California's Major Air Polluters Get Away With It



Bill Walker, EWG: (415) 561-6698 or (510) 548-5888
Jorge Argueta or Denny Larson, CBE: (415) 243-8373 or (925) 202-5698

East Bay Refineries Lead State In Air Violations, But Puny Fines Fail to Stop Repeat Offenders

SAN FRANCISCO -- Two years after an EPA investigation blasted California's air pollution enforcement as inadequate to stop big polluters, East Bay oil refineries continue to commit hundreds of violations of state and federal clean air laws and pay fines too small to deter repeat offenses, according to an Environmental Working Group analysis of federal and state data.

The EWG analysis, released today, also found a startling disparity between enforcement efforts in Northern and Southern California: Bay Area refineries committed eight times more violations than refineries in Los Angeles County, but the South Coast air quality district assessed average fines per violation that were 28 times higher than the Bay Area air district.

The six worst California offenders in a new EPA database that looks at air pollution by industrial sectors are refineries in Contra Costa or Solano county. Since 1996, these facilities committed 481 violations and resolved 380 for an average fine of $699. The three worst offenders, Shell and Tosco in Martinez and Exxon in Benicia, committed more violations than all other California companies in the database combined. (Table, p. 2.)

"If the typical Bay Area resident were assessed a smog-violation fine comparable to what Shell or Tosco get away with, it would be a tiny fraction of one cent," said Bill Walker, California director of EWG. "This double standard for polluters and the public isn't fair and it isn't working: Major polluters repeatedly violate the law, get slapped on the wrist with fines that are a ridiculously small fraction of their multibillion-dollar profits, and keep polluting."

The EWG report, Above the Law: How California's Major Air Polluters Get Away With It, is available online at https://www.ewg.org. Among its findings:

  • Tosco's refinery near Martinez, where a series of accidents since 1997 have killed five workers, committed 115 violations, tying it with Shell in Martinez for the worst offender in California.
  • Tosco's four California refineries represent 13 percent of the facilities surveyed, but committed 27 percent of the violations.
  • Statewide, the average fine paid per violation resolved was about $3,000, compared to average annual revenue for the facilities' corporate parents of $23 billion. The total of all fines paid by the five worst East Bay refineries -- about $252,000 -- was less than one percent of Tosco's daily revenue in 1998.