Yesterday’s Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors meeting followed a familiar format.
The board spent hours discussing a repeated on-shore oil polluter, heard numerous proposed solutions and in the end, decided on nothing.
More than a year after becoming infamous in Santa Barbara, Greka Oil and Gas Co. is still a constant thorn in the county’s side. The supervisors spent yesterday’s meeting rehashing the corporation’s indiscretions – namely, its responsibility for over half a million gallons of spilled oil and toxic materials in the past three years alone. Yet at the end of the day, after hearing five recommendations concerning new ordinances, the board requested a further review of policy options.
While the supervisors seemed resolved to take action, 3rd District Supervisor Doreen Farr expressed frustration at the board’s limited ability to address the issue.
“We don’t have the authority to do the kinds of things we feel should be done,” Farr said. “So I guess we’re left with doing what the board has been doing, which is doing reviews and taking testimony. I would add my voice to the others and say whatever we have I would like to see implemented in the most stringent way possible.”
At yesterday’s hearing, proposals for enforcement at the county level ranged from legal injunction enacted by the district attorney, to ‘stop work’ orders sanctioned by the fire chief or petroleum supervisor.
Although all of these proposals would have the ability to shut down the operations of any company site that presented an immediate threat to health and safety, the threshold at which these measures would be enacted is hazy at best – there is no codified limit to the amount of polluting these companies can commit before their operations are stopped by the county.
A “high-risk operator ordinance” – a law that increases fines for repeated polluters – came into effect Jan 9, but the effectiveness of the measure remains to be seen.
“Certainly we’ve modified and enhanced our tools through ordinances,” board chairman and 5th District Supervisor Joseph Centeno said, “but somehow we have not been able to shut down those egregious companies that continue to spill.”
Centeno closed the topic by moving to accept staff recommendations and reconvene on the issue at a later date.
“I’ll be very clear, let’s go on the offensive with polluters that fail to meet conditions,” Centeno said. “Let’s see what else we can do to define those thresholds and policies and protocols to see what can be done to shut down an operator.”