SANTA MONICA, CA – The Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) has gutted its ability to inspect refineries in the wake of the Chevron refinery fire in Richmond last August, Consumer Watchdog said today. The information comes on the heels of a U.S. Chemical Safety Board statement before California lawmakers that the fire could have been prevented if agencies had more and better-skilled inspectors on staff.
Instead, the DTSC cut inspector positions as top managers held stock in Chevron, BP Amoco, and Royal Dutch Shell, the non-partisan, non-profit advocacy group has learned. Californians have sent more than 3,000 letters to Governor Jerry Brown asking them to fire two DTSC officials for financial conflicts of interest that were first reported by NBC News last month.
Click here to see the NBC News Report.
“Something smells when an agency purposefully cripples its own enforcement abilities,” said consumer advocate Liza Tucker. “Evidently, the DTSC thinks the fewer refinery inspectors the better.” Consumer Watchdog found that the agency tasked with protecting the public from toxic harm now has only two refinery inspectors—and one is still in training—to cover the whole state, which is home to 20 refineries.
A few years ago, the DTSC had nine inspectors but as they retired or left, the agency didn’t replace them, according to DTSC inspectors and investigators. “The DTSC maintains that any scientist can conduct a refinery inspection, but that just isn’t true,” said Tucker. “Refinery inspections are the most complex kind and the scientists that do them sometimes take a week to complete them.”
DTSC investigators and inspectors say that under the influence of Chief Deputy Director Odette Madriago, positions have gone unfilled or were approved and then inexplicably reassigned to other operations. They say that Ms. Madriago and DTSC Director Debbie Raphael regularly meet behind closed doors with refinery industry executives and without other regulators who oversee these refineries present and who are normally invited to such meetings. These officials also tour refineries without letting inspectors know.
“It is deeply troubling to hear this,” said Tucker, “Especially when Ms. Madriago invests up to $100,000 in refineries like Chevron and BP Amoco. No wonder plenty of Californians don’t trust government.” The Fair Political Practices Commission is investigating Ms. Madriago.
Click here to see the news report.
According to a new coalition formed under the aegis of UC Berkeley’s Labor Occupational Health Program, California’s refineries experienced 41 new accidents, leaks, chemical releases, fires, break-downs and other failures since the Richmond fire last August. That’s about two incidents a week.
“Shame on California—allegedly the most progressive state in the nation—for not already having a refinery strike force of inspectors across agencies working together on assessments of a refinery’s structural integrity, from corroded pipes to fugitive emissions,” wrote Tucker in a blog on the subject. “And shame on California for not taking some players off the existing team—players with financial conflicts of interest like Odette Madriago.”
For more info: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/focusarea/toxics-watchdog
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