Clean Water Report Card for California

Half of California's Major Industrial Facilities Lack Current Water Pollution Permits

March 1, 2000

Clean Water Report Card for California: Chevron Richmond Refinery

The water pollution permit for Chevron’s Richmond refinery was issued in 1992. Not long after the permit expired in 1997, the San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board unanimously resolved that "dioxin pollution is a high priority for immediate action to restore water quality and protect public health." Armed with this declaration, citizens’ groups have repeatedly petitioned the board to prohibit dioxin and PCB discharges from the refinery. But in the absence of a new permit, the board’s "high priority for immediate action" remains only a goal.

The Davis Administration, like the Wilson Administration before it, appears to place a low priority on the water board’s responsibilities. Until the end of 1999, the San Francisco water board often could not meet because Gov. Gray Davis had failed to appoint a enough board members during his first year in office. Now six of the nine positions are filled, but with one member recused from Chevron cases due to a conflict of interest, all five remaining members must be present to constitute a quorum.

Regional and state water board members are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate, making the appointment process and the board’s decisions highly politicized. Davis’s slow pace in appointments means that many important water quality decision are still being made by former Gov. Pete Wilson’s appointees, who presided over a scandal-tinged regulatory system widely viewed as more accomodating of polluters than protective of public health.

Until the end of 1999, when Davis made a flurry of appointments, six of the nine regional boards were without a quorum. As of June 2000, none of the boards has been completely filled. Davis has made 35 appointments to the state and regional boards, leaving 27 Wilson-era appointees and 22 seats vacant. (Table 3)