SAN PEDRO - “Your Government Failed You” is the title of a book by Richard Clark about the failure to prevent the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001, in spite of multiple warnings.
Our government not only often fails to prevent harm to its citizens and their property, it often fails after the fact to compensate its citizens after the damage is done. (I’m thinking of the fines and compensation from the BP explosion in the Gulf of Mexico and people are still suing for compensation due to the Exxon Valdez crude spill in )
Why is that? Partially because the purpose of laws is often garbled in the process of making them in an attempt to satisfy all interests; the lop-sided use of lobbyists to protect corporations, and lack of understanding of the issues on the part of law-makers.
The Federal laws written to protect citizens from industrial accidental or routine releases in their communities, EPCRA in 1986 and the Clean Air Act in 1990, were compromised by the lobbying and a suit by the American Petroleum Institute in regard to LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas), so that those facilities could report a much lower ‘worst case’ result than previously set forth in the regulations.
(It’s bad enough at about ¾ of a square mile around Rancho and 770 people affected, according to their own reporting in their Risk Management Plan.)
But both laws stop short of providing a way to remove a dangerous facility; the laws appear to rely on an informed public to put pressure on local governments to find a way to do this.
(EPCRA stands for Emergency Procedures and Community Right-to-Know Act) This lack of real teeth in the laws was pointed out in an editorial in the New York Times by Christi Todd Whitman, former chair of the EPA under George W Bush.
Rancho LLC (‘limited liability corporation’) is a special case, because butane and propane are dangerous in themselves (look it up!) And the regulations treat butane and propane as if they were no more dangerous than gasoline, which can be contained in a dike, and can be extinguished in a fire, neither of which is true of butane and propane (LPG.)
All of this makes it more surprising that an employee of the EPA, Mary Wesling, was able to find out that Rancho had failed to implement some of the recommended safe-guards to provide a small level of security.
The most egregious omission is the failure of Rancho to interact with the Fire Department and the Police Department in planning and executing a realistic drill which would allow the people and schools in the area to think through what they would do in the event of a release, and the resultant explosions.
These public agencies, paid for by your property tax, are the emergency responders that Rancho lists in their Risk Management Plan, but they haven’t yet been engaged by the company to let them know what they’ll be up against! How irresponsible is that?
We have been fortunate so far, but it’s just dumb to count on luck as our emergency response plan. Sooner or later, we citizens should demand that Rancho be re-located to a place far from people and public property like the Port.
In the meantime, please ask Councilman Buscaino to allow a citizen/expert committee to interact with Rancho, fire and police departments as well as the Port and schools on North Gaffey to plan the scenario and execute the drill outlined in the legislative analyst’s report, requested by his office.
(Connie Rutter is a retired oil industry environmental consultant.)
Pub: Mar 26, 2013