S.F. faces $542 million in penalties over gas nozzles 

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San Francisco faces up to $542 million in penalties for outdated, polluting gas pumps at six Fire Department stations and at a Muni yard, according to a lawsuit filed by state environmental regulators.

By law, fuel stations in California with underground storage tanks were supposed to install on pumps new nozzles, dispensers and other equipment designed to trap gasoline vapors by April 1, 2009.

These "vapor recovery systems" are intended to cut down on air pollution and California's legendary smog, according to Ralph Borrmann, a spokesman with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which oversees state air pollution controls in the Bay Area.

City-owned gas stations at six Fire Department stations and a Muni maintenance yard in the Dogpatch did not install the equipment by the April 1,2009, deadline, and continued to pump gas in violation of air pollution controls, according to a lawsuit filed by the air quality district in March 2012.

The lawsuit asks for damages of up to $75,000 per day for each of the seven stations in violation. Between the seven city gas stations the air district says are in violation, there are potentially 7,237 days of penalties, which could lead to damages of up to $542 million, according to court records.

"That's a lot of money for a couple of gas nozzles," Borrmann told The San Francisco Examiner on Tuesday.

It's not clear exactly how many other gas stations or government entities around the Bay Area were also fined or sued for violating the gas pump regulations, but only a "very small percentage" failed to comply with the vapor-recovery rules, Borrmann said.

The Fire Department and Muni received written notifications that they were violating the law throughout 2009, according to court documents.

All gas stations need an air district permit to operate. One of the seven Fire Department pumps that violated the air pollution controls was pumping gas without any permit at all, according to court records.

The air district sent The City a bill in 2011 — which The City in turn denied — before filing the lawsuit, according to court records.

Muni has since installed the proper vapor-capturing nozzles, according to San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency spokesman Paul Rose. Muni made the necessary upgrades a year and 10 months after the deadline, according to court documents.

The Fire Department installed the vapor-catching nozzles "within the last couple months," Assistant Deputy Chief Ken Lombardi said Tuesday. Lombardi added that the Fire Department "thought it was in compliance" with the air district's regulations, but could not comment further, citing the pending lawsuit.

The lawsuit is currently stalled in San Francisco Superior Court, according to records. The City denied all the allegations in a November filing; a management conference — in which the two parties could reach a settlement — has yet to be scheduled.

About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has worked as a reporter in San Francisco since 2008, with an emphasis on city governance and politics, The City’s neighborhoods, race, poverty and the drug war.
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