After maintaining an adversarial front toward industry and citizenry alike for decades, the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) finally acquiesced, by a narrow margin, to give up one fight. All California  residents got something from the SCAQMD vote on Saturday June 26th that they seldom get from the 1,000 or so bills that get signed into law each year – a WIN for ALL 40 million residents of the State – when the SCAQMD Air quality committee rejected a ban on an acid used in South Bay refineries.  Yes, all residents win on this one.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District’s Republican-controlled refinery committee voted 3-2 to support an industry-backed alternative plan rather than the proposed all-out ban the committee had been considering earlier this year. The newly adopted plan directs agency staff to develop agreements with refineries in Torrance and Wilmington that would allow them to keep using the industry standard modified hydrofluoric acid but with enhanced safety measures.

Torrance and Wilmington refineries operate hydrofluoric acid (HF) alkylation units that use a modified form of HF (MHF), the latest advancement in catalyst technology that enhances manufacturing cleaner-burning gasoline and provides worker and community safety measures.

That same HF or MHF technology is currently in use at fifty of the nation’s approximately 150 refineries, but banning that technology in California would likely have resulted in both major fuel manufacturers being shut down, according to the California Energy Commission (CEC). 

In addition to the fifty U.S. refineries using HF or MHF in their alkylation units:

With our fuels costs already about one dollar more than the rest of the country, a ban would have most likely resulted in closure of the two refineries most critical in helping manufacture the 65 million gallons of fuels being used DAILY by aviation, diesel, and gasoline based industries. The imminent closures would cause an increase in the amount of fuel needed to be imported to support California’s current fuel usage.

Importing manufactured fuels from foreign countries or other states would put the State at the mercy of the exporters and create permanent spikes in fuel costs and higher GHG emissions as no other state or country has the stringent environmental controls as California. 

Rejecting the ban on toxic acid (HF, MHF) used in South Bay refineries, was a rare win for all 40 million residents of California.  Of the 1,000 or so new bills that get signed into law each year, each usually targets an industry with more regulations, fees, or both, but very few bills achieve the goal of “being good for all the residents of the State”. 

Most bills are not discriminatory.  They address specific perceived ills with the intent of bettering industries like food, health, transportation, hospitality and energy.  Most fall flat, with their achievements only resulting in more red tape rather than any overall improvements. The extra costs imposed via added fees are initially absorbed by the targeted industry, but are ultimately passed on to the consumers, usually the working-class residents, who use the services or products provided by these industries in their everyday lives.  That is a sad but true inevitability of mass governing today.

The main reason this is a big win for all is that most residents may not be aware that California is an “energy island”. It is bordered between the Pacific Ocean and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Because there are no pipelines over the Sierra Mountains all fuels not produced in the state must be imported.

The state’s daily need to support its 145 airports (inclusive of 33 military, 10 major, and more than 100 general aviation) is 13 million gallons a day of aviation fuels. In addition, the 35 million registered vehicles of which 90 percent are NOT EV’s are consuming 10 million gallons a day of diesel and 42 million gallons a day of gasoline.  All that “expensive” daily fuel is a heavy cost to consumers struggling to meet basic needs.

The SCAQMD’s actions are a positive step forward for the State, as the committee members looked at the entirety of their proposal and decided to keep using modified hydrofluoric acid but with enhanced safety measures.  Keeping with the status quo and only modifying the regulations is the safest, most efficient alternative available for all 40 million residents of California as energy costs are intertwined with every aspect of the daily lives of its working families.