Follow the Money: Big Oil + Big Labor Big Bucks Both Back LB Councilwoman Gonzalez For State Senate. Does That Explain Silence Of LB's Mayor/Council In AQMD Proceeding On Potential Mass Casualty Issue?
|(Mar. 3, 2019, 8:10 a.m.) -- LBREPORT.com routinely "follows the money" in political matters, and in the Long Beach-S.E. L.A. County state Senate district special election, it's complicated. It's not just about "big oil." It's also about "big labor." Corporate oil and big labor are now de facto political allies in seeking to elect LB Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez to the state Senate.
Does that corporate-organized labor synergy explain why a potential mass casualty matter related to a chemical used by only two refineries in all of CA -- one of them the Valero Wilmington refinery on LB's western border, the other the site of a 2015 "near miss" in an explosion at the ToRC refinery in Torrance -- has led thousands of southbay area residents (petition signatures), the L.A. County Board of Supervisors and the office of state Attorney General Beccera (among others) to urge AQMD to order a phase-out of that chemical,
The two refineries and politically active unions oppose a phase-out/ban of the chemical, preferring a "Memorandum of Understanding" (agreement) to be negotiated between the refineries and AQMD, promising additional "mitigation"/safety measures while allowing the refineries continued use of the chemical.
To date, the issue hasn't received a moment of public discussion or voted action in L.A. County's second largest city from LB's Mayor and City Council...with Council incumbent Gonzalez now seeking Sacramento office.
|Campaign finance documents show that Valero (which owns the LB-adjacent Wilmington refinery) and the politically active unions have both previously contributed sums to campaign and/or "officeholder" accounts of Councilwoman Gonzalez as well as other Council incumbents and LB's incumbent Mayor. These sums are (under LB's campaign finance laws) considerably smaller than the million-dollar plus expenditure recently made by a statewide political commitee (funded by a number of oil companies and related firms) supporting the election of Councilwoman Gonzalez to the state Senate..
A political campaign committee self-titled the "Coalition to Restore California's Middle Class, Including Energy Companies Who Produce Gas, Oil, Jobs and Pay Taxes," has for more than a year amassed a multi-million dollar warchest from big oil companies and related firms. To see the extent of the money and from where it came, click here. To see to whom the committee gave sums from its warchest in 2017-2018, click here
To see how much the committee has spent (for an independent campaign it runs separate from Gonzalez's campaign) to support her election to Sacramento, click here.
Among multiple issues on which the next LB-S.E. L.A. County state Senator may vote is SB 246 that would create a CA oil severance tax, a proposal likely an anathema to big oil. On Feb. 27, LBREPORT.com submitted a question about SB 246 at the Beer and Politics candidate forum (their audio responses in LBREPORT.com (begins at 12:25) coverage here) and, when we later learned candidate Gonzalez had been on City-related business, we offered her an opportunity to respond after the event (response pending.)
LBREPORT.com has previously reported on an approaching decision by the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) regarding a locally impacting oil company/big union matter.
The Valero Wilmington refinery (Ultramar at 2402 E. Anaheim St./Wilmington) and the ToRC (former Exxon-Mobil) refinery (PBF Holding Co., 3700 W. 190th St.) are the only two refineries in CA that use Modified Hydrofluoric Acid (MHF), a highly corrosive chemical that if accidentally released (in an industrial accident, equipment malfunction, earthquake or other event) might create mass casualties. Hydrofluoric Acid (HF) is the primary component of Modified Hydrofluoric Acid (MHF). MHF as used at the two refineries consists of roughly 93%-94% HF with a modifier added.
In February 2015, an explosion at the then-Exxon Mobil (now ToRC) Torrance plant launched an 80,000 pound piece of metal that landed within a few feet of a container holding thousands of gallons of MHF. If that "near miss" had punctured that container, it might have caused a mass casualty event.
AQMD staff has indicated that Valero's Wilmington refinery can store up to 55,000 gallons of MHF; the Torrance (ToRC) refinery can store 25,000 gallons [Source: Feb. 1, 2019 AQMD agenda item #25, PPT slide 1] MHF is delivered to both refineries via tanker trucks traveling area freeways.
A 1986 Dept. of Energy experiment (at the Nevada test site) released 1,000 gallons of HF (MHF hadn't been invented yet) through a golf-ball sized hole. It nearly instantly formed a rapidly expanding HF cloud roughly eight feet high that hugged the ground. It didn't dissipate upward and traveled at breathing height with the prevailing wind, producing measured HF concentrations capable within 10 minutes of acute exposure of causing human deaths within roughly three miles with health damages (some permanent) for some distances beyond.
The slides below, presented by AQMD staff at a Feb. 1, 2019 AQMD public hearing, were previously reported in detail by LBREPORT.com.
(To view AQMD's accompanying Feb. 1 PPT presentation in full, click here.)
AQMD staff acknowledges that MHF hasn't been tested under the same conditions as HF. AQMD staff has indicated that it continues to be stymied in obtaining data regarding MHF for public release because its technology developer hasn't consented to publicly release such information (citing trade secret and confidential business information grounds.) However AQMD staff has indicated it believes HF and MHF both create similar concerns, calling the "ability of MHF to prevent formation of a vapor/aerosol cloud "highly uncertain"; noting the release of MHF will result in exposure to HF with same health effects; any "rainout" from MHF will be HF in liquid droplets; an HF vapor cloud will still form; and HF and MHF have the same hazards and require similar medical treatment [and would strain the capability of area hospitals to respond.] [Source: AQMD Feb. 1, 2019 board meeting, staff PPT slide 22]
The Torrance "near miss" created an outcry among south bay residents and AQMD is now considering whether to adopt a formal rule requiring the two refineries to phase out their use of MHF. An alternative AQMD procedure would let the two refineries continue using MHF under the terms of a "Memorandum of Understanding" to be negotiated in which the refineries would agree to implement additional "mitigation" and safety measures.
A number of area elected officials have urged AQMD to phase-out/ban MHF. They include the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, Congressmembers Ted Lieu, Nanette Barragan and Maxine Waters, the office of CA Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Assemblyman Al Maratsuchi and the City Councils of Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach.
Both refineries have indicated they're amenable to an MOU with added "mitigation" and safety measures that would allow their continued use of MHF. Supporting the companies' position are their unionized workers plus supportive regional unions, along with business groups and non-profits (the latter acknowledging the refineries' financial support for their work.) At a Sept. 22 Wilmington hearing, a Valero management representative cited multiple mitigation measures he said were already in place -- including "water curtains," battery backups, and other containment and mitigation measures -- and said the company is willing to undertake further mitigation measures under an MOU.
AQMD staff has indicated it's possible to convert the two refineries to use less dangerous sulfuric acid although this would entail more truck trips. In 2017, a firm hired by the ToRC refinery estimated conversion would cost $600 million plus $300 million for post-processing equipment; AQMD staff has said it considers those cost estimates higher than necessary. The LB-adjacent Valero Wilmington refinery didn't offer an estimated conversion cost estimate but indicated it would face space constraints.
State Senate candidate Gonzalez has stated (in recent Facebook text) that "As a candidate for State Senate, I will not accept oil company contributions." That carefully worded statement is accurate because the large oil company sums didn't go to her state Senate campaign but to the "Coalition to restore California's Middle Class." That committee spent $1 million in an independent effort (separate from Gonzalez's campaign) to support her election and state law forbids the two political committees from coordinating or cooperating in their actions.
But public records also show that Councilwoman Gonzalez and some other Council incumbents and Mayor Garcia received sums from Valero. The contributions below are from "Valero, San Antonio, TX" unless otherwise indicated
Garcia for Mayor 2018
Lena Gonzalez for City Council 2018
Suzie Price for City Council 2018
Suzie Price Officeholder Account
Stacy Mungo for City Council 2018
Roberto Uranga for City Council 2018
Rex Richardson for City Council 2018
And below are contributions to LB's Mayor and Council incumbents from two politically active unions that submitted written comments to AQMD opposing a proposed rule that would phase out MHF at the Valero Wilmington and Torrance ToRC refineries.
Garcia for Mayor 2018
Garcia Officeholder Account
Lena Gonzalez for City Council 2018
Lena Gonzalez Officeholder Account
Lena Gonzalez for State Senate
Pearce Officeholder Account
Suzie Price Officeholder Account
Mungo for City Council 2018
Uranga for City Council 2018
Uranga Officeholder Account
Al Austin Officeholder Account
Rex Richardson Officeholder Account
On April 20, 2018, the politically powerful Los Angeles County Federation of Labor -- whose PAC endorsement is eagerly sought by candidates seeking re-election or higher offices -- submitted written comments opposing a ban on MHF. "There has been no finding that MHF presents a risk to communities surrounding the refineries," wrote the group's president, Rusty Hicks. His letter can be viewed in full here.
In the state Senate race, the L.A. County Federation of Labor has endorsed candidate Gonzalez.
As of March 2, 2019, no LB City Council incumbent or LB's Mayor has agendized an item to discuss and take a position on whether AQMD should phase out MHF or allow its use to continue.
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