East Bay emissions: the hits, the runs, the errors

kinder-morgan-protest.jpgLast week saw both gains and setbacks in the struggle against fossil fuel pollution in the East Bay.  On Wednesday, some 30 residents of East Bay communities attended the meeting of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. Addressing BAAQMD directors and staff, they scored many hits: "The agency’s very name includes the word 'Management', not 'Monitoring', not 'Measuring'. Do your job!"

Another refrain: “We’ve had enough studies and measurements. We want stronger regulation and aggressive enforcement. Now, not in 10 years.”

Responding to these comments, Directors Zane and Gioia urged agency staff to take all reasonable steps to reduce harmful emissions as quickly as possible. Staff seemed to agree. Will they? Stay tuned.

The next day, 8 environmental activists locked themselves to the fence of the Kinder-Morgan rail yard, preventing trucks from entering or leaving. Thanks to solid coverage by KPIX (video here), the Contra Costa Times, and East Bay Express (among others), tens of thousands of residents learned that trains have been carrying highly explosive Bakken crude into Richmond since July 2013, when BAAQMD secretly permitted the risky business. Spotlighting that fact was a home run for the environmental activists—indeed, for us all.

The error—and a potentially deadly one—came the next day in San Francisco Superior Court at the hands of Judge Peter Busch. EarthJustice, a law firm representing several environmental organizations, filed suit against BAAQMD for approving shipment of Baaken crude without public notice or environmental review. Stating that the statute of limitations, a 180-day period that began when the permit was issued, had expired by the time the suit was brought, Judge Busch dismissed the case. He gave no consideration to the secrecy cloaking the BAAQMD permit, thus delaying discovery until many months later. And so the Bomb Trains will roll on.

If Governor Brown signs AB 380, in the future railroad companies will be required to disclose to emergency officials the timing and quantity of Bakken crude transported through their jurisdictions, something they have so far been unwilling to do.

Considering the hits, runs, and errors, it would be fair to say that for East Bay residents, the losses probably outweighed the gains. But the game is far from over.