As part of a political power play, the Legislature has recklessly voted to place the entire Bay Area at risk by passing Senate Bill 54, which devastates Contra Costa County's extremely successful and historic Industrial Safety Ordinance. The only hope left to stop the madness is Gov. Jerry Brown's veto pen.

The Industrial Safety Ordinance was crafted in the late '90s as an answer to a series of deadly accidents and safety problems at some of the area's oil refineries.

The ordinance has been working well for 15 years and is an exemplar of proper problem solving through the use of collaboration among industry, regulators and labor with a focus entirely on safety at major industrial facilities. Contra Costa County has a high concentration of such plants, but ensuring their safe operation is in the best interest of the entire Bay Area. A single disaster at any one of them can have wide-ranging repercussions.

Firefighters douse a flame at the Chevron oil refinery in in Richmond, California in this file photo taken August 6, 2012. Some are using this fire as a
Firefighters douse a flame at the Chevron oil refinery in in Richmond, California in this file photo taken August 6, 2012. Some are using this fire as a way to damage the Industrial Safety Ordinance. REUTERS/Josh Edelson/Files

But SB 54 by Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, will change all of that. The changes reignite a political battle designed to advance the interests of local trade unions, but it comes at the expense of both safety and, ironically, another union, the United Steelworkers.

The Steelworkers represent about 95 percent of oil refinery workers in the state, and they adamantly oppose SB 54 because they know it will take jobs for their members, who are experienced in oil refinery operations and have the best safety record in the industry, and give them to workers who are not as experienced in the specialty of refinery work.


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In a letter to the governor, the general managers of three major Contra Costa operations point out that SB 54 eliminates crucial safety guidelines for 60 percent of the contract workforce because it requires the hiring of a specific contractor labor pool without regard to safety and overrides the operators' ability to evaluate the safety training programs of 60 percent of their contract workforce to ensure their compliance with the safety requirements of the local ordinance.

They also correctly note that SB 54 trashes the essential "operating procedures" section of the ordinance that prescribes strict startup and shutdown guidelines along with detailed health and safety considerations for hazards presented by chemicals and exposures.

There are those who cynically use last year's fire at Richmond's Chevron refinery to damage an ordinance that for 15 years has been a model for industrial operations. While no ordinance is perfect and some safety changes to it are necessary, those should be about public safety, not political muscle. Public safety is too important for that. Gov. Brown should make that clear by vetoing SB 54.