RICHMOND (KCBS) – Two East Bay lawmakers have introduced bills in Sacramento meant to address issues that they say came up following last year’s Chevron Refinery fire.

“We need to have fines that are consistent with the human danger and misery and anxiety that is caused in these incidents, not to mention what it does to our air quality,” declared Senator Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley).

Hancock has introduced a bill that would dramatically increase the civil penalties for violations of air quality regulations. Currently, the maximum fine is $25,000. Hancock’s bill would increase the fine for the first day, arguably when most of the pollution occurs, to $100,000.

“Even that (the current maximum fine of $25,000), which is rarely levied, is less than the cost of doing business for a company that makes about one million dollars a minute,” she argued.

Hancock is confident that increasing the penalty will help to insure that violations simply don’t happen in the first place.

Assemblymember Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) has drafted legislation that would empower the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) to ensure that unsafe conditions are corrected in a timely manner – even if a company is appealing a violation.

“Right now,” she explained, “if they appeal, if they set up an appeal of that citation, we have no power to require them to correct an unsafe condition.”

“It gives us, you and me, the peace of mind to know that whether we work at a situation or whether we live near it, that if there’s an unsafe condition, OSHA can require that unsafe condition to get fixed.”

Skinner and Hancock have both pointed to the Aug. 6, 2012 fire at the Chevron Refinery in Richmond as reason enough for their legislation. That blaze ignited in the refinery’s No. 4 Crude Unit, which an inspection crew had determined was suffering from a diesel leak in a line within the unit. Thousands of residents in surrounding communities were ordered to shelter in place during the episode, which began with a series of explosions at 6:15 p.m., and included plumes of thick, black smoke. There were no fatalities as a result of the incident, but dozens of community members presented to local hospitals with complaints of burning throats, itchy eyes and difficulty breathing.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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