Thursday, July 29, 2004

Still Above The Law

Refineries, power plants and other large industrial facilities in California that violate clean air laws typically pay penalties lower than what an SUV driver may legally be fined for a smog violation, according to an investigation of enforcement records by Environmental Working Group (EWG).

Since 1999, when EWG last investigated clean air enforcement efforts in California, half of all air quality violations by large industrial facilities in the Bay Area, South Coast, San Joaquin Valley and Sacramento air quality districts were settled for $2,000 or less. Even allowing for a few high-profile large fines, this median penalty is a minute fraction of polluters' profits and an abysmal failure as an incentive for companies to obey the law.

Just as we found five years ago, many companies still violate their permits repeatedly. The pace of justice has slowed: The air districts used to close many cases within 90 days, but now routinely take more than six months. A striking disparity remains between enforcement in the rest of the state and in the Bay Area, where the median fine since 1999 was $1,450.

Since 1999, half of all air quality violations in California have been settled for $2,000 or less.

Air district Number of major sources regulated Total number of civil violations settled Median penalty assessed Total penalties collected
Bay Area 114 703 $1,450 $2,880,386
Sacramento 14 24 $2,045 $84,500
San Joaquin 175 901 $2,100 $4,333,932
South Coast ~800 742 $2,000 $3,625,343*
All Districts   2,370 $2,000 $10,924,161

*Does not include two civil penalties in excess of $1 million.

The state's lax enforcement of clean air laws has been well documented since a 1997 audit by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which sharply criticized California's efforts as inadequate to deter repeat offenders. The EPA admonished regional air districts to increase the size and severity of penalties and said the state must provide better oversight of the districts' enforcement efforts.

But EWG's new analysis found that penalties have increased only slightly in the Bay Area and South Coast districts, and not at all in the San Joaquin and Sacramento districts. Five years ago, you couldn't rent the average one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco for what the Bay Area air district typically fines major air polluters. You still can't.

Major polluters have clearly accepted low fines as the cost of doing business — permission to pollute without the threat of major consequences. Since 1999, eight major facilities have each paid more than 50 penalties, meaning they have broken a law or a district rule an average of more than once a month. During this period, the Shell refinery in Martinez and Chevron refinery in Richmond were each issued more than 120 notices of violations (NOVs) — an average of almost two a month.

Lax enforcement produces both a disincentive to compliance and a stark inequity. The fine for a motorist who illegally operates a vehicle of more than 6,000 pounds — i.e., most larger SUVs — with an exhaust system that fails to meet state standards is $500 to $2,500. †1 As a percentage of income, the motorist's minimum fine is more than 250 times higher than the maximum single fine paid by an oil refinery in California for air pollution violations in the last five years. †2

This double standard is neither fair nor just - not to the millions of Californians who make sure their cars comply with smog standards, not to the many companies that abide by the environmental rules their competitors violate with impunity, and not to the communities whose health and safety are affected by toxic industrial chemicals in the air they breathe.

In California, where there are fewer high-profile "smokestack" industries than in some other parts of the country, air pollution is often discussed solely as a problem of auto emissions. While vehicle exhaust from what regulators call "mobile sources" clearly is the leading cause of dirty air in California, industrial emissions from "stationary sources" also are a major contributor.

According to the California Air Resources Board (ARB), in 2003 statewide emissions of nitrogen and sulfur from mobile sources were 2,826 tons per day, compared to 645 tons from stationary sources. But emissions of particulate matter (microscopic particles of soot and dust) were 210 tons per day from stationary sources and 127 tons from mobile sources. (ARB 2004)

California's air quality districts have made marginal statistical progress in enforcement since 1999, but still have no place to go but up. We repeat the recommendations we made five years ago: Penalties should continue to rise until they are large enough to curtail future violations. The EPA should exercise its authority and intervene when local regulators don't practice effective enforcement against high-priority violators, and bring persistent offenders into compliance.

Footnotes

†1 California Vehicle Code 42001.2

†2 Based on $63,000 median income for a California family of four, Exxon Mobil's 2002 net earnings of $56.2 billion, and $1.75 million Exxon Mobil paid that year for violations at its Torrance refinery.

 

Still Above The Law

In 1999, EWG analyzed enforcement records from local air districts for 32 sites in EPA's Sector Facility Indexing Program and found "a clear and persistent pattern" of violations of the federal Clean Air Act in five major California industries — oil and chemical refineries, pulp and paper mills, auto plants, iron and steelmaking and metal smelters. The average fine assessed between 1996 and 1999 was $3,101, and state law capped the penalty for most violations at $1,000 a day.

Most egregious was the response to violations by the state's worst air polluters — Northern California petroleum refineries. The five facilities in the state with the most violations were all East Bay refineries. Between 1996 and 1999 the average fine paid to settle violations by Bay Area refineries was just $699. There was a startling difference between enforcement by the Bay Area air district and the South Coast district in Los Angeles: Bay Area refineries were issued eight times as many violations as L.A. County refineries, but the average fine per violation paid by Southern California refineries was more than 28 times the Bay Area average.

EWG's 1999 findings echoed an audit by the Inspector General of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA delegates authority for enforcement of federal laws to the California Air Resources Board (ARB), which in turn delegates most enforcement to 35 local and regional air quality districts. In 1997 EPA found that that California air districts were not proposing adequate penalties in accordance with the Agency's guidelines, appropriately justifying reductions in proposed penalties, resolving cases in a timely manner or adequately publicizing enforcement activities. [1]

In 2001, the California Legislative Analyst's office took a closer look at the state's oversight role and diagnosed the same type of regulatory dysfunction as had been documented by the EPA and EWG. The Legislative Analyst concluded that the state Air Resources Board "takes little action when the local districts clearly disregard certain statutory reporting requirements, lacks data to assess the extent of enforcement, and devotes minimal time to program review ... [ARB's] review of local programs — a statutory mandate — is minimal." [2]

After each public scolding, the air districts and the ARB have argued that the enforcement record was improving and promised to do better. To see if that was true, we conducted a new analysis, different from the earlier study in two important ways: Instead of asking for EPA's data on federal violations by a limited number of highly-polluting industries in California, we went directly to the air districts for records on both federal and state violations by all major facilities. And rather than reporting average fines, which can be skewed by a handful of large penalties, we calculated the median fine — the level with an equal number of fines above and below — which gives a more accurate measure of the typical penalty. †3

Analysis of records from four air quality districts — Bay Area, South Coast, Sacramento and San Joaquin — from January 1999 through March 2004 found that half of all civil penalties were resolved for $2,000 or less. In that period the districts levied 2,370 penalties totaling about $11 million in fines. †4

  • The South Coast district, which regulates the region with the dirtiest air in the nation, levied 399 penalties to settle 742 violations, totaling $3.6 million. Half the violations involved fines of $2,000 or less (the median).
  • The San Joaquin district, which EPA recently downgraded to an "extreme" level of non-compliance with clean air laws, levied 901 penalties totaling $4.3 million with a median fine of $2,100.
  • The Bay Area district, which generally meets federal clean air standards but also regulates the East Bay refineries that are the worst repeat offenders in the state, levied 703 penalties totaling $2.8 million with a median fine of $1,450.
  • The Sacramento district, where the air quality also violates federal standards, levied 24 penalties totaling $84,500 with a median fine of $2,045.

It's true that the fines levied by air districts have generally increased over the past several years, since the state cap of $1,000 a day was raised to $10,000. The typical fine in the South Coast roughly doubled between 1999 and 2003, and from 2002 to 2003 almost tripled in the Bay Area.

However, in the first quarter of 2004, the median penalty declined in each of the districts from the previous year's level, leaving open the question of whether fines will continue to rise. What's more, the fines were so low to begin with, and so small in relation to corporate profits, that the impact is like raising bridge tolls from $2 to $3 — a minor inconvenience that doesn't change anyone's behavior.

The largest fine issued in the state in the last five years was in 2002, when the South Coast district penalized AES Pacific $17 million for "egregious" nitrogen oxide emissions at its Alamitos power plant. [3] That one fine represented more than three-fourths of all civil penalties collected by the district in that period.

A better measure of the increasing or decreasing severity of the penalties is to look at the percentage of fines above $30,000, as the EPA Inspector General did in 1997. That investigation found that, statewide, only one in 30 fines were greater than $30,000, and recommended that air districts levy more large fines. Today, the only one of the four districts that has maintained that pace is the South Coast. The other districts have lost ground. Over the last five years, in the Bay Area, Sacramento and San Joaquin districts, fewer than one in 50 fines were more than $30,000.

Statewide, fewer than 1 in 50 fines were more than $30,000 since 1999

Air district Number of fines >$30,000 Percent of penalties >$30,000
Bay Area 9 of 703 1.3%
Sacramento 0 of 24 0.0%
San Joaquin 14 of 901 1.6%
South Coast 23 of 742 3.1%
All Districts 46 of 2,370 1.9%

The state grants air districts considerable leeway in determining how best to bring polluters into compliance with their operating permits. Each district has a slightly different style of enforcement, which makes it tricky to compare them. The Bay Area and San Joaquin districts generally issue one penalty for each rule violation, while the South Coast and Sacramento often resolve multiple violations with a single penalty.

Because the South Coast often settles numerous individual violations with one fine, we had to calculate the average fine per violation, then use those figures to determine the median of all fines. The Bay Area issues more penalties to major sources, but the South Coast settles violations with higher fines. The Bay Area air district, in particular, points to these different enforcement styles to explain its low median fines — but the bottom line is that neither approach is deterring repeat offenders. The issue isn't which California air district's enforcement is "best," but that each district's effort is abysmal at its primary mission of discouraging violations.

In the past five years, fourteen major California polluters have each been penalized more than 50 times. In the Bay Area, Shell's Martinez refinery and Chevron's Richmond refinery were both cited for more than 120 violations during that period, averaging almost two violations a month. In the San Joaquin district, the Texaco refinery in Kern County has been fined for 121 penalties since 1999. As the EPA Inspector General said in 1997: "Evidence that a party violated an environmental requirement before clearly indicates that the party was not deterred by a previous governmental enforcement response."

In the air districts we looked at, refineries and power plants were clearly the worst violators. Of the 10 top polluters with fines totaling more than $400,000 in the period, nine were refineries and one was a power plant. Of the top 10 measured by the number of violations, eight were refineries and one was a power plant.

Top 10 California industrial air polluters by fines paid or violations settled

Facility City Total civil penalties paid Number of violations resolved
AES Alamitos $17,000,000 1
Mobil Oil Corporation Torrance $2,155,575 80
Chevron Products Company Richmond $662,511 123
Martinez Refining Company (Shell) Martinez $598,652 122
Equilon Enterprises Bakersfield $591,176 70
Occidental of Elk Hills Kern County $587,538 35
Chevron Products Company Bakersfield $547,467 78
Vintage Petroleum Inc. Kern County $523,680 8
Chevron Products Company El Segundo $518,450 93
Texaco California Kern County $427,308 121
Tosco Refining and Marketing Company Wilmington $382,363 74
Aera Energy Company Bakersfield $355,319 115
Hexcel Corporation Livermore $80,680 92

Since 1999, the Bay Area air district has settled 371 penalties against refineries operated by BP, Chevron Texaco, Conoco Phillips, Shell, Tesoro, Tosco, Ultramar, and Valero, for a total of $2 million. A quarter of the penalties were paid in a single fine by Shell to settle 71 violations gathered over a two-year period.

In that period the South Coast settled 336 violations in 111 civil penalties against Arco, Chevron, Equilon, Mobil, Tosco, and Unocal for a total of $3.7 million, with about half coming from the $1.75 million settlement with Exxon Mobil in 2002. The South Coast is currently seeking a record $319 million settlement against BP to resolve thousands of violations issued for false reporting, illegal flaring of gases and emissions of noxious fumes.

While these are much larger than the typical air district fines and seem like a lot of money to the average Californian, whose median family income is $63,000, in the context of oil company profits they are next to nothing. The $5.7 million collected from refineries in the South Coast and Bay Area for civil penalties over the past five years is less than half of the daily income of the average parent company. †5

Records show that during the 1990s, air districts typically settled violations in less than 90 days — a period ARB recommends as "both achievable and desirable" for effective enforcement. [10] But our analysis found that both the Bay Area and San Joaquin districts have gotten much slower in issuing penalties, while Sacramento improved marginally. (Average settlement times for the South Coast district were not available. We used 2000 as a baseline year for the other districts because data from 1999 reflected only cases opend and closed in the same year.) It may take time for air districts to settle complex violations with facilities, but longer settlement times mean less effective deterrence from penalties.

  • In 2000, the average settlement time for violations in the Bay Area district was 205 days. In 2003, it was more than 21 months.
  • In 2000, the average settlement time for violations in the San Joaquin district was 267 days. In 2003, it was more than 13 months.
  • In 2000, the average settlement time for violations in the Sacramento district was 273 days. In 2003, it was 250 days.

Footnotes

†3 If a district issued 1,000 fines of $1,000 and 2 fines of $1 million, the average fine would be about $3,000 but the median would be $1,000.

†4 This figure doesn't include the two statistic-skewing fines by the South Coast air district in 2002 of $17 million against AES Pacific at Alamito, the state's largest gas-fired power plant, for excessive nitrogen oxide emissions, and $1.75 million against Exxon Mobil for multiple violations at its Torrance refinery. This figure includes all civil penalties by the four districts; the South Coast issues additional penalties described in Appendix 2.

†5 The average net income of Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Shell, Conoco, BP, Tesoro, Valero and Unocal in 2003 was $4.38 billion.

 

Don't Ask Don't Tell

"Access to information concerning the conduct of the people's business is a fundamental and necessary right of every person in this state."

— California State Government Code, Section 6250 [7]

Both federal and state laws require collection and reporting of air pollution violation and enforcement data, not only because the public has a right to information about contaminants in the air we breathe, but public disclosure helps hold corporations accountable to the community. Public disclosure of violation and enforcement data is not just a matter of bookkeeping. The ultimate goal is to make the air cleaner to protect the health and safety of all Californians.

But anyone who sets out to research clean air violations in California quickly learns that getting clear, reliable and current data is not easy.

Detailed, facility-level information is not available from either the U.S. EPA or the state Air Resources Board, but is kept by 35 local air quality districts. Some of the districts are large, sprawling bureaucracies employing dozens of inspectors; some have only a few employees. There are differences in the way these individual districts inspect facilities, report violations and assess fines — the South Coast's fewer violations and higher fines approach vs. the Bay Area's more violations and lower fines being only the most significant example. As a result, even officials of the districts often acknowledge that the publicly available data are less than fully reliable or hard to understand.

To begin our analysis, we first looked at EPA's databases of enforcement records by California air districts. They were useless for our purpose: Citing a disagreement over reporting methodology, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District had not provided any penalty data to the EPA since 1999. (The district recently agreed to resume reporting to EPA after a five-year delay.)

We then requested the enforcement data directly from the air districts. The Sacramento and San Joaquin districts complied without significant delay. The Bay Area district responded slowly, and would only release some of its data after its legal staff had completed a line-by-line review of penalty amounts.

The South Coast district refused to turn over detailed penalty information, citing concerns both over the quality of the data and EWG's ability to interpret them accurately. To obtain the data used in this report, we had to download from the Internet 63 monthly reports to the district's board.

The issue, of course, is not what EWG had to do to obtain and analyze the data, but the technical and financial obstacles faced by the average Californian or community group who wants to know about the sources of air pollution in their community. The Legislature and ARB must take steps to improve both the quality of data and citizens' access to it.

Defining the Data

Violation: A Notice of Violation (NOV) is a formal record by an air district that a company has violated one or more state law or district regulations. NOVs were the basis of our comparison of enforcement efforts, althoiugh some districts provided additional information on fines for individual laws or regulations broken.

Rule: A state law or air district regulation. Some districts issue a NOV for each rule broken; others may issue a single Notice of Violation to cover violations of several rules.

Penalty: The fine assessed by an air district as payment for one or more NOVs. We attempted to calculate the fine paid for each NOV, as opposed to a fine settling several NOVs.

Settlement: Payment and other terms agreed to by the air district and the violator to close the books on one or more NOVs.

Data Provided by Air Districts

Bay Area: One penalty assessed for each NOV. Generally one rule violated per NOV, occasionally two, rarely more than five.

South Coast: Usually one penalty assessed for only one NOV. About one-third of all penalties were for two or more NOVs. We estimated the average penalty for each NOV by dividing the total penalty by the number of NOVs it includes. Each NOV may include multiple broken rules.

San Joaquin: One penalty assessed for each NOV. Generally one rule violated per NOV, occasionally two.

Sacramento: One penalty assessed for each NOV. Generally one rule violated per NOV, occasionally two.

 

Conclusions and Recommendations

Lax enforcement of clean air laws has created a double standard that is neither fair nor just — not to the millions of Californians who make sure their cars comply with smog standards, not to the many companies that abide by the environmental rules their competitors violate with impunity, and not to the communities whose health and safety are affected by toxic industrial chemicals in the air they breathe.

This level of illegal activity would not be tolerated under laws regulating other areas of society or commerce. The situation continues in part because most Californians don't know how routinely the clean air laws are violated or how poorly they are enforced.

EWG recommends:

  • Penalties assessed by the air districts should be increased across the board, not just for high-profile major violations. If a facility continues to routinely violate its permit conditions despite frequent fines, the penalty amounts should rise until the illegal activity ceases. To ensure that fines are large enough to deter repeat offenders, the Legislature should not set maximum fines but tougher minimums, just as they set minimum sentences for other lawbreakers.
  • The California regional office of the EPA should exercise its authority and intervene in cases where local regulators don't follow the Agency's guidelines for effective enforcement against high-priority violators, and bring these persistent offenders into compliance with the law. Currently, the EPA has difficulty obtaining enforcement data from air districts, a basic step to ensure that their performance is adequate.
  • Each California air district should be required to both publish and provide online user-friendly reports detailing its enforcement efforts, including which would the nature of the violation, when and where it occurred and the amount of each fine. Each district should establish a program or office to assist members of the community in obtaining and understanding emissions and enforcement data.

 

Bay Area Air District

The Bay Area air district has jurisdiction over 114 facilities with major air pollution emissions. Seventy field-based inspectors monitor compliance from stationary facilities. To allow direct comparison with other districts, Bay Area penalties are listed as the total collected for each notice of violation, which may include a number of rules that were broken. Five of the district's worst offenders are petroleum refineries located in a 25-mile span of Contra Costa and Solano counties. Two of those, Shell's Martinez refinery and Chevron's in Richmond, rank one-two in the number of violations statewide in the last five years.

Top Bay Area industrial air polluters by fines paid or violations settled

Facility Total civil penalties paid Number of violations resolved Number of rules broken* Number violations outstanding
Chevron Products Company, Richmond $662,511 123 135 33
Martinez Refining Company (Shell), Martinez $598,652 122 219 36
Tesoro Refining and Marketing Company, Martinez $420,260 68 78 92
Valero Refining, Benicia $266,000 29 37 56
Pechiney Plastic Packaging, Inc. Newark $130,200 11 14 1
Integrated Environmental Services, Oakland $106,000 27 28 0
Conoco-Phillips, Rodeo $94,520 32 45 51
Hexcel Corporation, Livermore $80,680 92 100 0
United Airlines, Maintenance Operations Center, San Francisco $66,117 46 2 8
Browning-Ferris Industries, Half Moon Bay $56,512 18 18 2
Gaylord Container Corporation, Antioch $42,376 22 13 2

* Each violation may involve one of several broken rules

Between 2000 and the end of 2003, the Bay Area's annual median fine increased from $1,443 to $3,800. However, in the first quarter of 2004, the median dropped back roughly to the level of previous years, leaving open the question of whether the district's performance is improving. The average time to resolve penalties has slowed dramatically, from 78 days in 1996, to more than 6 months in 2000 and more than 21 months last year. [4] As of June 2004, 515 violations issued by the district are unresolved, including more than 268 at the five area refineries and 86 at SKC America, a Silicon Valley high-tech company.

Annual median fines in the Bay Area air district

Year Total number of civil violations settled* Median penalty assessed Total penalties collected Average days to settle violations
2000 148 $1,443 $315,730 205
2001 64 $1,590 $296,776 494
2002 150 $1,375 $830,465 557
2003 183 $3,800 $1,044,092 665
1st quarter 2004 127 $1,240 $365,275 832
Number of cases unresolved as of June 2004       515

In November 2002, at least partly in response to widespread community complaints about lax enforcement, the Bay Area air district declined to renew the contract of Chief Operating Officer Ellen Garvey. [8] District board members said they felt the need for "better direction at the top in focusing our organization to produce cleaner air." William Norton served as interim executive officer. In October 2003, the district handed the reins to Jack Broadbent, former director of air quality for EPA's regional office.

Comparing the first eight months of Broadbent's tenure to settlements during Garvey's last year and Norton's interim term shows little overall change so far. Fewer violations are being issued under Broadbent's administration, and in the first eight months of his tenure the median fine amount dropped to $2,250, compared to $3,000 in the previous 12 months.

Changing leadership at the Bay Area air district

Pollution Control Officer Date Number of months Number of violations issued Number of violations settled Median fine Average time to settle violations
Broadbent November 2003 — June 2004 8 115 262 $2,250 711
Norton November 2002 — October 2003 12 253 222 $3,000 631
Garvey November 2001 — October 2002 12* 344 85 $2,000 468

* Only the final 12 months of Garvey's term.

 

South Coast Air District

The South Coast Air Quality Management District is a vast organization with jurisdiction over approximately 800 major sources of air pollution. The district employs 95 field-based inspectors to monitor compliance of stationary sources. Seven of the 11 worst offenders in the district are oil refineries, most located in south or southwest Los Angeles County.

The South Coast often settles a number of violations with one fine. In order to more accurately compare air districts we estimated the likely settlement for each violation by dividing the penalty assessed by the number of violations settled. Each violation, in turn, could involve breaking more than one rule.

Top ten indusrial air polluters in the South Coast by total penalties paid or number of violations

Facility Total civil penalties paid Number of violations resolved
AES, Alamitos $17,000,000 1
Mobil Oil Corporation, Torrance $2,155,575 80
Chevron Products Company, El Segundo $518,450 93
Tosco Refining and Marketing Company, Wilmington $382,363 74
Equilon Enterprises, Carson-Wilmington $331,300 45
Southern California Edison Company, multiple locations $252,750 10
Arco Products Company, Carson-Wilmington $218,375 31
Ultramar Inc, Wilmington $165,440 36
AES, Redondo Beach $120,000 2
AES, Huntington Beach $110,320 2
Unocal Refinery & Marketing Corporation, Los Angeles $100,000 12
Paramount Petroleum Corporation, Paramount $38,250 17
Jacuzzi Whirlpool Bath, Irvine $30,000 10
Graner Oil Company, Signal Hill $15,000 18

Annual median fines in the South Coast district

Year Total number of civil violations settled Median penalty assessed Total penalties collected
1999 214 $1,550 $697,280
2000 160 $1,675 $625,330*
2001 131 $2,050 $542,478
2002 136 $2,375 $911,590*
2003 97 $3,644 $828,515
1st quarter 2004 9 $1,950 $20,150

*Does not include two multi-million dollar settlements.
** The South Coast did not provide us with information about settlement times.

This analysis only compares civil penalties levied by air districts. In addition to civil penalties, the South Coast uses other measures to penalize permit violations. Mutual Settlement Agreements are penalties issued for "minor, non-intentional, non-recurrent types of violations which are not handled through criminal or civil actions." The number of civil violations resolved each year has declined between 1999 and 2003, while the typical penalty size has increased. This is probably due to the fact that the South Coast is settling an increasing number of minor infractions through the Mutual Settlement program.

Hearing Board penalties and fines for self-reported violations are also settled separately. The air district has forced 10 companies to improve their facilities through Supplemental Environmental Projects, including $22.7 million at 10 major facilities.

Additional enforcement actions by the South Coast air district

Penalty type Number of Penalties Average Total Penalties
Hearings 37 $5,716 $211,525
Miscellaneous 2 $652,520 $1,305,040
Mutual Settlement Agreements 170 $432 $73,426
Self-reported violations 4 $2,175 $8,700
Supplemental Environmental Projects 10 $1,774,392 $17,743,922

 

San Joaquin Air District

The territory of the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District encompasses some 24,750 square miles of agricultural, urban and suburban lands. The district employs 60 inspectors to monitor compliance of 150 stationary sources. The region has been out of attainment with the ozone, carbon monoxide and particulate matter standards since the 1980s. Recently, in order to gain more time to meet federal air quality standards, the district requested that EPA downgrade their compliance status to "extreme non-attainment."

While much of the Valley's pollution is generated from dispersed sources including agricultural operations and motor vehicles, large stationary sources are also an major contributor to regional air quality. All of the district's worst offenders are either refineries or power plants.

Top industrial air polluters in the San Joaquin air district by penalties paid or number of violations

Facility Total civil penalties paid Number of violations resolved
Equilon Enterprises LLC, Bakersfield $591,176 70
Occidental of Elk Hills, Kern County $587,538 35
Chevron Products, Bakersfield $547,467 78
Vintage Petroleum, Kern County $523,680 8
Texaco California Inc., Kern County $427,308 121
Aera Energy LLC, Bakersfield $355,319 115
Texaco Exploration & Production $287,475 45
McFarland Energy Inc., Kern County $105,666 14
Delano Energy Company $66,121 38
Kern Oil & Refining, Bakersfield $64,991 25
AES Delano $50,512 26
Madera Power LLC, Madera $22,759 14

In 1994, the Air Resources Board reviewed the district's enforcement activities and found that it settled violations in about 49 days. [5] Today the typical settlement time is more than 13 months. During the past five years, the total penalties collected by the district have increased dramatically, while the typical fine has gone up slightly onto to come back down.

Annual median fines in the San Joaquin air district

Year Total number of civil violations settled Median penalty assessed Total penalties collected Average days to settle violations
2000 171 $1,695 $482,726 267
2001 155 $3,000 $600,654 382
2002 234 $2,400 $1,166,446 327
2003 188 $2,608 $1,545,313 408
1st quarter 2004 125 $1,440 $377,474 585

 

Sacramento Metro Air District

The Sacramento Air District is by far the smallest air district we surveyed. With just 14 major sources in the district, there were far fewer enforcement actions. The air district occasionally settles multiple violations with a single penalty. Despite the district's small size, they typically take as long as larger districts to settle violations. The average, median and total penalty collected each year has held relatively constant.

Top industrial air polluters in the Sacramento air district by penalties paid or violations

Facility Total civil penalties paid Number of violations resolved
UC Davis Medical Center, Sacramento $31,500 9
Chevron, Sacramento $21,840 11
Procter & Gamble, Sacramento $7,040 5
Santa Fe Pacific Pipelines, LP, Sacramento $6,960 3
County of Sacramento, Public Works $5,220 3
Aerojet, Rancho Cordova $3,000 3
Carson Energy/Sacramento Municipal Utilities District, Sacramento $3,000 1
Campbell Soup Supply Company, Sacramento $2,400 1
Silgan Can Company, Sacramento $2,340 6
City of Sacramento, Solid Waste Public Works $1,200 1

Annual median fines in the Sacramento air district

Year Total number of civil violations settled Median penalty assessed Total penalties collected Average days to settle violations
2000 6 $2,640 $23,280 292
2001 2 $3,150 $6,300 273
2002 10 $2,700 $22,220 280
2003 7 $2,400 $32,160 250
1st quarter 2004 1 $540 $540 229

 

Acknowledgements

Author: Sonya Lunder

Editor: Bill Walker

Web design and graphics: T.C. Greenleaf

For comments, suggestions and help in releasing the report, thanks to Bradley Angel of Greenaction; Henry Clark of West County Toxics Coalition; Holly Gordon, A.J. Napolis, Maria Hall and Carla Perez of Communities for a Better Environment; Marcie Keever and Tiffany Schauer of Our Children's Earth Foundation; and Linda Weiner of the American Lung Association.

This report was made possible by the generous support of the San Francisco Foundation and the Gold Foundation. Additional support for EWG's work in California comes from the California Wellness Foundation. All opinions expressed are those of the author and editor, who are responsible for any errors.

 

References: 

[1] Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Inspector General. 1997. Audit of Region 9's Administration of the California Air Compliance and Enforcement Program. Available at: http://www.epa.gov/oig/reports/1997/air9tabl.htm

[2] California Legislative Auditor's Office, Elizabeth Hill. 2001. Improving State Oversight and Direction of Local Air Districts. Available at: http://www.lao.ca.gov/2001/air_resources/012501_air_resources_board.html

[3] South Coast Air Quality Management District. 2003. Press release: AQMD seeks $319 million fine from BP for air pollution violations, March 13, 2003. http://www.aqmd.gov

[4] California Air Resources Board. 1998. An Evaluation of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

[5] California Air Resources Board. 1996. An Evaluation of the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Quality Management District.

[6] California Air Resources Board. 2000. An Evaluation of the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

[7] California State Government Code, Section 6250: http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=gov&group=06001-07000&file=6250-6270

[8] Thompson, AC. "Stinky Business: The Bay Area Air Quality Management District is an agency in such turmoil that it can't protect the public from the very polluters it's supposed to police." December 3, 2001. San Francisco Bay Guardian.

Key Issues: