Update -- S.F. Pledges $250,000 to Settle Diesel Spill Lawsuit

San Francisco has agreed to pay $250,000 to settle an EPA lawsuit demanding that the city  prevent a repeat of a 2005 Muni diesel fuel spill.

SF Weekly obtained a copy of the consent decree between San Francisco and U.S. officials just after posting an item about an Oct. 27 EPA lawsuit charging San Francisco with environmental law violations in connection with the 2005 spill at a city bus yard.

In addition to the payment, the city has also agreed to train staff and install new safety equipment to avoid a recurrence of the fuel tank overflow incident that sent bus fuel into the Bay.

"There's been a laser-like focus on this issue," said Muni spokesman Judson True.

"All of the tanks ... [now] have state of the art monitoring equipment. If there's so much a printer out of paper in the system, there are automated calls at the incident command team to
more than a half dozen people," True continued. "It's a much safer system and we have better safeguards in place."

San Francisco stores tens of thousands of gallons of diesel fuel at four locations, including bus yards on Indiana Street, Beach Street, and Harrison Street. A big rainstorm in May, 2005 caused tanks to overflow at an Illinois Street bus yard, setting off alarms that went unnoticed by Muni staff. Muni estimates more than 47,000 gallons of fuel escaped the tanks, flowing onto the ground and sewers, with about 5,000 gallons spewing into the Bay. (The EPA lawsuit complaint contends as much as 54,000 gallons of fuel may have escaped the tanks.)

A 2006 EPA inspection revealed that the city was still violating federal environmental laws by failing to install safety systems on fuel tanks at bus yards.

In an agreement signed October 19, Muni CEO Nat Ford, representatives of the U.S. Justice Department, and the EPA agreed that the federal government will drop a lawsuit filed October 27 -- if San Francisco would install fuel tank safety systems designed to prevent another spill.
(Yes, you read those dates right; the consent decree was signed before the lawsuit filing. Both documents were components of a negotiated settlement, or, as True puts it, "a collaborative process.")

Muni has also agreed to create an "incident management team" made up of staff specially trained to respond to environmental disasters such as the 2005 spill.
"Since this incident, which was a wake-up call for the agency, we have taken numerous steps to prevent something like this from happening again," said True.

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