Toxic Exposure Attorney Comments on Refinery Regulation Following Richmond Fire

At The Brod Law Firm, we continue to field calls related to the August 6 fire at the Chevron refinery. Our team is ready and able to help those who have suffered ill health as a result of chemical exposure in Richmond and the surrounding areas.

Industry Oversight
As noted by The San Francisco Chronicle, there is ongoing debate about regulating the refinery industry. While petroleum business groups suggest they operate in one of the nation’s most regulated fields, others say the oversight regime is filled with gaps and relies too heavily on self-regulation. Critics note that the American Petroleum Institute is both a lobbying organization and the main source and publisher for refinery standards and guidelines. Safety groups add that the group has blocked efforts to require reporting of safety failures.

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Government oversight of refineries is divided between two federal agencies that both have heavy responsibilities in other areas, rather than a single, focused body like that overseeing nuclear plants. Further, both the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) and the Department of Labor (“DOL”) are known for taking a responsive approach rather than a preventative stance. In the wake of the Chevron fire, some safety groups are calling for the federal government to reevaluate and create a dedicated governance group that can build a true expertise in refinery safety. The results of a temporary investigation program in 2007 support this need – the effort by the DOL’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration found more than 1,000 citable violations that year. EPA officials add that refineries show more catastrophic incidents that any other industry with at least 28 fires in the nation’s 140 plants in 2012 so far. As recently as July of this year, environmental groups petitioned the government to require refineries and other chemical plants to move to modernized processes that can limit the danger of certain compounds. Although it lacks enforcement powers, The U.S. Chemical Safety Board has called for an investigation into the Chevron fire, in part due to the proximity of the plant to a large population area.

Under the current framework, the American Petroleum Institute is the main authority on refinery guidelines. Members praise the group’s expertise but critics note the group is also a political group that spent $8.6 million lobbying Congress and federal agencies in support of the industry in 2011. A spokesman told reporters that the group keeps the two roles separate, but others express suspicion that the lobbying interests weigh in favor of minimizing governmental regulation. Calls for cooperation between the Institute, unions, and environmentalists followed the 2005 BP explosion that killed fifteen workers, but the collaboration was reportedly very limited.

Helping Victims & Holding Companies Accountable
The self-regulating nature of the refinery industry makes it particularly important for people to take action in the wake of the Richmond fire. Injury lawsuits serve a dual purpose, compensating those harmed while sending a clear message that safety failures will not be tolerated. Holding companies responsible for safety failures forces them to consider the impact of their actions and encourages them to make safety a priority. Sometimes it takes a hit in the pocketbook to make companies invest in accident prevention.

If you or someone you love was impacted by the Chevron fire in Richmond, please call our San Francisco toxic chemical exposure attorney. Reports indicate the company’s own claims offices have offered inadequate amounts that fail to fully compensate victims. We can help.

See Related Blog Posts:
Chevron’s claim process from Richmond Fire does not appear to adequately compensate victims
Richmond Refinery Leak Sparks Fire and Respiratory Concerns