Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors Chair John Gioia has sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), asking that at least 40 percent of the $27.5 million in fines levied against Tesoro Refining in 2023 be used for local health initiatives.

The letter was sent June 2 in partnership with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

The DOJ and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) assessed the $27.5 million penalty in April 2023, after Tesoro violated a previous court order requiring it to reduce air pollution at its Pacheco refinery.

The settlement said Tesoro failed to limit air emissions of nitrogen oxides, a pollutant that contributes to smog and particulate matter.

“Our proposed plan will … help build resilience to the disproportionately greater impacts that climate change is having on these vulnerable populations.”

Supervisor John Gioia

“Front line communities near the refinery are disproportionately impacted by many sources of air pollution and deserve to receive greater benefits from the assessed penalty,” Gioia said in a statement Monday. “Our proposed plan will not only help reduce the health inequities caused by this pollution but will also help build resilience to the disproportionately greater impacts that climate change is having on these vulnerable populations.”

Phillip Fine, the executive officer of the air district, said the district has worked closely with Contra Costa Health to reduce health inequities for residents especially vulnerable to air pollution.

“Our joint proposal to the U.S. EPA and Department of Justice would make a significant difference in improving the health outcomes for residents impacted by this pollution — these residents should benefit from providing at least 40 percent of the penalty funds for much-needed health and air quality improvement initiatives,” Fine said.

What the money would be used for

The joint funding proposals supported by Contra Costa County and the Air District include:

• Expanding the In-home Asthma Mitigation and Energy Efficiency Program, which would support conducting asthma trigger and energy efficiency assessments and improvements for Contra Costa Health Plan Medi-Cal clients.

• Distributing portable air purifiers to homes to support the distribution of portable home air purifiers and replaceable filters through two asthma mitigation programs and the Public Health Nursing program.

• Installing HVAC systems and extending county library hours to serve as cooling centers. This would include upgrading HVAC systems to provide cleaner air and extending library hours in target communities where residents could go during poor air quality incidents, such as wildfire smoke events.

• Installing HVAC systems and portable air purifiers in schools and support expanding the number of school districts surrounding and downwind of the refinery that receive air purifiers.

• Sheltering unhoused people during extreme weather events, industrial fires, or releases. This would include offering hotel vouchers to the unhoused population during a short-term incident that impacts air quality. It could include providing necessities such as transportation and staffing costs, as well as relocate an unhoused encampment downwind of a known hazardous material facility that could impact the health of residents if a release occurs.

• Strengthening community outreach for air quality and hazardous materials awareness and response to releases. This would support community outreach efforts to educate the community regarding hazardous materials incidents, including signing up for alerts.

• Supporting the air district and Contra Costa Health with equipment or training, including funding related to regulatory topics, responding to hazardous materials incidents, communications training, technical trainings, and environmental enforcement trainings.