San Pedro gas facility to pay $260K for risk management violations
Numerous violations related to the Clean Air Act, including potential seismic stresses and failure to properly inspect and test equipment, were uncovered by an Environmental Protection Agency investigation that began in 2010.
Rancho LPG primarily stores large amounts of butane and propane at the site. For years, residents have fought to get rid of the tanks, warning that one misstep with the millions of gallons of explosive chemicals on site could lead to the decimation of nearby residential areas.
The EPA announced Thursday that the facility at 2110 N. Gaffey St. has now resolved its noncompliance issues with risk management regulations. Rancho LPG, which has disputed the EPA’s claims, said Thursday that it believes it has always been in compliance with Clean Air Act regulations.
“Rancho LPG and the EPA have agreed to settle these disputed claims for approximately $260,000 rather than expending resources contesting the allegations,” Rancho LPG said in a statement.
The EPA, however, said the facility addressed its violations and now adheres to risk management plan requirements.
During its investigation, the EPA found the facility did not properly evaluate potential seismic stresses at the site, failed to analyze the potential loss of its water supply in the event of an earthquake and failed to properly inspect and test equipment, including tanks and drain systems.
“When a company handling high-risk materials operates in close proximity to a neighboring community, it’s critical to take steps to safeguard the residents,” said EPA spokesman Jared Blumenfeld.
According to the EPA, the company estimates it has spent $7.2 million since the investigation for new safety controls, tank inspections, seismic upgrades and improved coordination with local emergency responders.
Rancho LPG, which acquired the facility in 2008, said it has been audited more than 45 times by state and federal agencies since 2010 and continues to “perform well” in the audits since it completed safety improvements.
“We take pride in the fact that the facility has not had a significant release, incident or accident in its 40-year operating history,” the company said.
But local residents aren’t convinced.
“All of us are outraged by this,” said Janet Gunter of the San Pedro and Peninsula Homeowners United. “This really is less than a slap on the wrist to the company. It’s highly irresponsible of the EPA to respond to this high-risk situation we’re being exposed to in such a negligible way.”
Gunter said the penalty is a “meaningless gesture” that gives residents the illusion that the facility is now safe.
“This clearly illustrates that they have never been safe, and they continue to operate without being safe,” she said. “It’s frightening.”
Residents have long emphasized that the facility, which straddles both sides of the active Palos Verdes Fault, could cause widespread damage to homes and schools just blocks away and across the South Bay if an earthquake hits or terrorists strike.
“We’re sitting on a time bomb,” Gunter said. “Unfortunately, no one seems to care about this. It’s frightening. ... The bottom line is we are literally playing with fire.”
U.S. Rep. Janice Hahn, who represents San Pedro, said she repeatedly requested an investigation into the Rancho LPG facility.
“While this in no way resolves concerns about this facility in the community, this enforcement action has resulted in Rancho LPG complying with federal safety laws and a $260,000 fine,” she said Thursday. “Although these families will not be safe until the tanks are moved, EPA’s actions today minimize some of the risk for the community.”
Also on Thursday, the EPA opened a public comment period on potential revisions to its Risk Management Program regulations to improve the safety and security of chemical facilities and reduce the risk of hazardous chemicals to workers and communities. During the 90-day period, EPA is seeking comment on additional risk-management program elements, such as safer technology, emergency drills, facility location risks, etc., and is asking for information about safety management approaches that will enhance public safety and aid emergency personnel to prepare for and respond to chemical emergencies.
To view the request for information and provide public comment, visit www.epa.gov/emergencies/eo_improving_chem_fac.htm.