RICHMOND -- The state budget approved by the Legislature on Friday includes new fees on oil refineries to fund at least 15 new inspectors in the Division of Occupational Safety and Health, also known as Cal-OSHA.
The new fees were agreed to in the Budget Conference Committees of both legislative houses this week, according to Larry Levin, communications director for state Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, adding that the provision was a "direct outgrowth" of a major Chevron Richmond refinery fire last year.
"(T)he new state budget provides funding for additional help to prevent catastrophic fires and explosions at oil refineries and other hazardous facilities in areas around the state," Hancock wrote in an email statement Friday. "The budget actions do not impact the General Fund and instead reallocate existing staff and implements an already authorized safety fee."
While Hancock helped shepherd the provision through the senate, Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, rallied support in the Assembly, Levin said. The new provisions will reach Gov. Jerry Brown's desk as part of the state's overall budget. Levin said Brown's office is aware of the provisions.
"It looks like pretty smooth sailing," Levin said.
In January, Cal-OSHA slapped Chevron with nearly $1 million in fines stemming from the Aug. 6 fire, the largest penalty in the department's history. Cal-OSHA issued 25 citations against Chevron, including 11 classified as "willful."
Cal-OSHA and the U.S. Chemical Safety Board found that Chevron ignored recommendations dating to 2002 to replace the corroded gas oil pipe in its No. 4 crude unit that ultimately ruptured and ignited. More than 15,000 area residents sought medical treatment in the days after the fire.
The CSB's investigation also revealed that state regulators, including Cal-OSHA, were woefully understaffed and could not adequately regulate the state's hazardous materials facilities, including refineries.
The 15 new positions will be funded by a fee implemented on the refineries by March 31, 2014, according to legislative subcommittee minutes. How much each refinery would pay was not clear Friday.
Hancock's chief of staff, Hans Hemann, said Cal-OSHA will develop a fee structure for the state's 15 refineries to pay for the new inspectors, which he said could be on the job by summer 2014.
Chevron spokespersons did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday.
Richmond Councilman Tom Butt said he welcomed the news.
"The bottom line is that there are no inspections of these refineries at all for all practical purposes because of ridiculously low staffing levels," Butt said. "This is long overdue."
Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726. Follow him at Twitter.com/roberthrogers.