The Well-Oiled Deal 

Taking away local control of refineries is a family matter

Thursday, Apr 1 2004

A sickening odor of gasoline hung along Wilmington’s waterfront as people filed out of last week’s meeting with California Energy Commission officials on a state proposal to minimize local say over construction of oil-industry facilities. Vapors from a nearby refinery or tanker ship were a pungent reminder of why residents of Wilmington, Carson and other refinery communities had come to oppose the state’s power grab. They argued that because their neighborhoods are home to the state’s major oil port and refining center, they and their local governments should have a say when petroleum facilities are expanded.

Little did they know that the proposal is backed by a powerful husband-wife team: commission member James D. Boyd and his wife, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, chief of staff for the Western States Petroleum Association and the industry’s registered lobbyist in Sacramento.

“I’ve built a firewall between myself and that proposal,” said Commissioner Boyd. “I am basically not participating in that proceeding.” The commissioner said he was proud of his 25 years with the state in working to clean California’s air and move toward alternative fuels, but that demand for gasoline is quickly outstripping supply, so the commission had an obligation to examine ways to increase supply. “The economy is going to be hurt by not making enough fuel available as soon as possible.”

Related Stories

  • California Brewmasters: The Coffee Table Book About The Golden State's Beer Makers

    A weighty coffee table book might seem like an oddly elevated medium for a project about beer, but that's exactly what Nicholas Gingold's California Brewmasters is: a combination of professional-grade photography and text that serves as a hardcover conversation piece about the Golden State's historic and still-growing beer culture. The...
  • More Sickened by Foster Farms Chicken

    Foster Farms chicken is still making people sick.  Government officials prematurely declared the outbreak of antibiotic-resistant salmonella poisoning that began in March 2013 over in January. But since then, new infections have continued to develop  - most of them in California, where Foster Farms is headquartered. So far the outbreak has sickened more than...
  • Marry, People 2

    After the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for same-sex marriage to resume in California last summer, people started getting their vows on pretty much right away. See also: Gay Marriage in California: What Happens Next? But California law still contained antiquated language that defined marriage as "a personal relation arising out of...
  • Glove Law Repealed

    Remember six months ago or so when it looked like everyone from your friendly neighborhood barman to your favorite sushi chef was going to remind you more of a surgeon than someone providing hospitality? That's because on Jan. 1, a law went into effect requiring plastic gloves for all hospitality...
  • Californians Like Teachers But Hate Teachers' Lifelong Tenure and Seniority: Poll 2

    If California teachers felt a shadow pass over today, it was the fairly stunning PACE/USC Rossier Poll showing California residents are sick of "last hired, first fired" teacher union rules and oppose the nearly automatic tenure system that makes it all but impossible to fire crappy teachers. Polls show that...

Reheis-Boyd would not grant an interview. Western States spokesman Dave Fogarty said association attorneys have helped her to avoid any conflicts. For instance, he said, she has stopped testifying at commission meetings.

The plan being pushed in Wilmington by commission staff members last week would grant power to the Energy Commission to issue permits for new or expanded oil refineries, pipelines, storage facilities and port terminals. The commission contends that “inefficient and overlapping” layers of government permits for land use, air and water pollution, and construction issued by cities and regional agencies — such as the South Coast Air Quality Management District and the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board — have prevented oil-facility expansions and have left the state facing a gasoline shortage and rising prices.

The plan also would eliminate the right of cities and community groups to sue over state approvals of petroleum facilities, except in the state Supreme Court. Unlike lower courts, which generally must hear any valid case, the Supreme Court can simply deny a hearing.

AB 1991, a bill introduced by Assemblyman Alan Lowenthal (D–Long Beach), would make the commission’s plan state law. “They came to us and asked him to carry the bill,” said the legislator’s chief of staff, John Casey. However, the negative community reaction to the commission’s plan has Lowenthal reconsidering whether to push for passage of the bill, Casey said.

The so-called one-stop permitting plan for California’s oil industry grew out of the state’s integrated-energy-policy report, explained commission spokesperson Susanne Garfield. She said Commissioner Boyd helped write that report, which calls for increased use of alternative fuels and a 15 percent reduction in use of petroleum, but also includes the oil industry–supported one-stop permit plan.

The one-stop process would cover expansions of 13 major refineries that process 1.9 million barrels of oil a day — and the associated shipping terminals, pipelines and storage tanks that serve them — making California the third biggest petroleum-refining state in the nation.


Former Governor Gray Davis appointed the 64-year-old Boyd to the $114,000 post early in 2002. He formerly served as chief of staff of the California Resources Agency and as executive officer of the California Air Resources Board. Boyd is credited with having a hand in several innovative environmental programs, including alternative fuels and development of electric vehicles.

At the Energy Commission, Boyd presided over development of the energy plan, moved approval of the plan, and voted for it.

That plan came to fruition last year when the commission considered how to deal with the growing imbalance between gasoline demand and supply and outlined a series of options to reduce demand by increasing the use of alternative automotive fuels, such as natural gas, and encouraging more fuel-efficient cars. Action on those options is moving slowly, and gasoline demand is continuing to increase.

Meanwhile, the commission also examined expanding the facilities needed to import, store and refine more oil and gasoline in California, including a consultant’s report concluding that land-use, building and air-pollution-control permits from cities and California’s local air-pollution-control districts were the biggest obstacles to constructing new oil facilities.

“The Energy Commission should recommend to the governor and Legislature that the state develop a state-mandated licensing authority for the permitting of petroleum infrastructure,” Joe Sparano, president of the Western States Petroleum Association and Reheis-Boyd’s boss, told Commissioner Boyd last August at a meeting he presided over in developing the state energy report.

Within a couple of months, commission staff had inserted that suggestion into the report. In an October meeting in Bakersfield held at the behest of the Western States Petroleum Association, Sparano congratulated Boyd and the commission for including one-stop permitting for new petroleum facilities in its energy report, but asked that the commission go one step further by centralizing at the state level approval of any modifications to existing oil-industry facilities.

On November 12, Boyd moved approval of the report, which recommended “a one-stop licensing process for petroleum infrastructure” and joined his fellow commissioners in a unanimous yes vote on the document.

Following that approval, Chandler said, Energy Commissioner John Geesman took over the commission’s work to carry out the report’s recommendations, and Boyd took a back seat.

By February, the staff had suggested the bill introduced by Lowenthal, who since 2000 has taken some $31,000 in campaign contributions from oil companies.

City officials maintain that one-stop permitting is unneeded because the industry has been able to expand and upgrade its facilities under the existing locally based permit process. “We generally have a fairly good relationship,” said Sheri Repp, planning manager for the city of Carson, which opposes the commission plan. “We have our fair share of petroleum facilities compared to other California communities.”

For example, last month the city’s Planning Commission approved permits for Kinder Morgan Inc. to expand its oil-storage facility by installing enough tanks to store nearly another 1.5 million gallons of oil products, although in the next month the full City Council is expected to reconsider the decision due to community concern.

Fogarty said that while the Western States Petroleum Association has not endorsed the Lowenthal bill and the commission’s plan, it believes that unless steps are taken to speed construction of new petroleum refineries and facilities, gas prices may stay high. The association believes that government agencies can quickly approve such facilities without compromising environmental safeguards, he said.

The Energy Commission’s plan for licensing oil facilities is modeled after state rules for approving construction of electric-power plants. Under those rules, the commission coordinates with local and regional agencies, but has the sole authority to approve construction — unlike almost all other construction, which requires local approval.

“The nature of the oil industry does make it different than the power industry,” said Agustin Cheno Eichwald, Wilmington organizer for Communities for a Better Environment. “If you know the history of the refineries, there’s a lot more volatility. There’ve been explosions in Wilmington.” Refineries, he said, have had numerous fires and accidents where clouds of smoke and oil have blanketed neighborhoods. They often release sulfurous odors.

Even storage facilities can present a problem. Last fall, for instance, the South Coast Air Quality Management District issued three notices of violation to Kinder Morgan for causing objectionable odors in Carson.

Related Content

Now Trending

Los Angeles Concert Tickets


  • The World Cup Celebrated And Mourned By Angelenos
    The World Cup has taken Los Angeles by storm. With viewings beginning at 9 a.m., soccer fans have congregated at some of the best bars in the city including The Village Idiot, Goal, The Parlour on Melrose, Big Wang's and more. Whether they're cheering for their native country, favorite players or mourning the USA's loss, Angelenos have paid close attention to the Cup, showing that soccer is becoming more than a fad. All photos by Daniel Kohn.
  • La Brea Tar Pits "Pit 91" Re-Opening
    Starting June 28th, The Page Museum once again proudly unveils the museum's Observation Pit, which originally opened in 1952 but has spent most of the last half century closed. Now visitors can get an up-close look at Pit 91, which is currently under excavation. The La Brea Tar Pits, home of the Page Museum, is one of the world's most famous ice age fossil locations, known for range of fossils from saber-toothed cats and mammoths to microscopic plants, seeds and insects. The new "Excavator Tour" is free with museum admission if purchased online at tarpits.org . All photos by Nanette Gonzales.
  • Scenes from the O.J. Simpson Circus
    In the months after O.J. Simpson's arrest for the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman in the summer of 1994, the drama inside the courthouse riveted the masses. But almost as much mayhem was happening right outside the building, as well as near Simpson's Brentwood home. Dissenters and supporters alike showed up to showcase art inspired by the case, sell merchandise, and either rally for, or against, the accused football star. Here is a gallery of the madness, captured by a photojournalist who saw it all. All photos by Ted Soqui.