South Valley Holds Its Breath

Margaret Wright
3 min read
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Still Holding Their Breath— The San Jose neighborhood isn’t quite ready to exhale over Chevron’s decision to sell its fuel terminal at 3200 Broadway SE.

The petroleum giant has a history of polluting in the area and contributed to a
2-square-mile Superfund site. Chevron is still partially responsible for final cleanup measures almost 30 years after hazardous levels of contaminants were discovered in San Jose’s soil and water.

But the fuel storage area won’t be inactive: Chevron sold it to another company in September. That company, Florida-based Vecenergy, is
seeking permission to emit more air pollution.

Vecenergy has asked the city’s
Air Quality Division to modify a permit so it can handle more business as well as increase the amount of volatile organic compounds and hazardous air pollutants released into the atmosphere. Hazardous air pollutants include chemicals known to cause cancer or other serious health problems, such as reproductive or birth defects.

In a meeting with community members on Wednesday, March 21, Vecenergy representative Rich Vogel was adamant that his company does business differently than Chevron.

He said Vecenergy is a family-owned operation small enough to respond quickly if problems arise. Terminal Operator Robert Stenzel described mechanisms built into the operations that trap and recover dangerous vapors, and he talked about upgrades the company is planning for existing storage tanks and fuel lines.

They also insisted that oversight agencies—including city officials deputized by the Environmental Protection Agency—along with in-house policies prevent the sort of practices that endangered the South Valley’s environmental health in the past.

Neighbors in attendance said increases written into the proposed permit seem excessive for an area with such a high concentration of industry. They also expressed concern about the company’s projected growth, which will mean more rail cars and trucks in and out of the facility.

Air Quality Division officials said that the city no longer requires air quality studies related to heavier traffic on an existing property. They won’t analyze the air around the Vecenergy terminal, said Environmental Engineering Manager Isreal Tavarez. Instead, the federal government instructs city inspectors to make sure equipment is operating correctly and companies are using up-to-date technology. There are three city inspectors to monitor 900 sources of air pollution citywide, Tavarez said.

The San Jose Neighborhood Association plans to request a public hearing on the permit changes.

News Bite The Permit Vecenergy Requested Would Allow The Terminal To:

• handle nearly 33.3 million gallons of additional fuel each year

• release up to 25 tons of hazardous air pollutants each year

• move 91,500 more gallons of fuel between tanks and transport vessels each hour

• emit .083 pounds of VOCs for every thousand gallons of fuel, which is more than double what it can emit today

• add 12 storage tanks, five of which would be underground

• add offload stations for railcars and trucks

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