San Francisco

December 5, 2013

Cosco Busan oil spill captain grounded, will not get license back

Source: San Jose Mercury News (CA), December 3, 2013
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Capt. John Cota, who crashed the Cosco Busan cargo ship into the Bay Bridge in 2007, causing the worst oil spill in San Francisco Bay in two decades, has lost his battle to restart his sailing career.

On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White dismissed Cota’s lawsuit against the Coast Guard, rejecting his attempt to force the Coast Guard to give him back a mariner’s license so he can sail again.

Cota, 66, of Petaluma, pleaded guilty to water-pollution violations and served 10 months in prison after investigators concluded he was traveling too fast in heavy fog, was impaired by prescription drugs and ignored safety precautions while working as the ship’s pilot during the crash.

The 53,569 gallons of bunker fuel that poured from the hull of the 902-foot container ship oiled 69 miles of shore, closed fisheries and killed more than 6,800 birds.

In a lawsuit filed in February in federal district court in Oakland, Cota alleged that his “due process rights” were denied because the Coast Guard has refused to renew his license.

“He wants to get his license back and go back to work. He’s healthy as can be,” Cota’s attorney, John Meadows, of Berkeley, told this newspaper at the time.

Neither Cota nor Meadows could be reached Monday. Michael Pyle, who defended the Coast Guard for the U.S. Attorney’s office in San Jose, said both agencies are pleased with the outcome. Environmentalists echoed those sentiments.…

June 26, 2013

Liberty International Underwriters Expands Environmental Presence In Southwest

Source: Fort Mill Times (SC), June 24, 2013

Liberty International Underwriters® (LIU), part of the Global Specialty division of Liberty Mutual Insurance, has expanded its environmental impairment liability (EIL) operation with a regional presence, headed by underwriting manager Mike Padula, located in LIU’s Houston office.

Leveraging his local presence to focus on regional trends, develop new opportunities and expand LIU’s producer base, Mr. Padula delivers an enhanced level of support to the Southwest market.

“Our product is the people and the experience behind the policy,” said William McElroy, senior vice president of Environmental Liability for Liberty International Underwriters. “LIU always strives to provide the best service, coupled with the broadest expertise. Our brokers value this and many choose LIU because of our responsive methods.”

Mr. Padula, along with the rest of LIU’s Environmental group, has a deep understanding of local and national environmental regulations and can work with agents and brokers to evaluate a company’s potential liabilities, helping them proactively protect their assets.

June 18, 2013

Great American Insurance Group’s Environmental Division Launches Enhanced Premises Environmental Liability Product

Great American Insurance Group`s Environmental Division is pleased to announce the launch of its enhanced Premises Environmental Liability Insurance Policy. The policy speaks to many newer exposures now faced by site owners, operators, property managers and tenants, including:

– Contingent Business Interruption
– Emergency Response Costs
– Green Building Materials
– Methamphetamine Labs
– Biological Hazards

Limits of liability of up to $35 million per occurrence, $70 million in aggregate, are available with policy terms of up to 10 years.

John Reynolds, President of Great American’s Environmental Division, stated, “This innovative coverage further solidifies Great American Insurance Company as one of the leading insurers in the environmental liability arena.” Great American’s robust suite of environmental liability products and capacity are available to retail and wholesale brokers throughout the US and Canada. Environmental Division offices are located in Plymouth Meeting, PA, San Francisco, CA, and its newest location in New York, NY.

Please contact your Great American Environmental Underwriter to see how the new enhancements may help your clients manage their pollution exposures.


May 16, 2013

How will Brown Balance Oil, Environmental Interests?

Source:, May 14, 2013
By: Daniel Weintraub

California’s economy has been powered for decades by technology, trade and tourism — businesses and jobs mostly near the coast from San Diego to Los Angeles and around the San Francisco Bay Area. The state’s great inland valleys, while serving as a breadbasket for the world, have not been a land of high-paying employment or tax-producing industry.

A glance at the most recent unemployment numbers reflects this reality. While the state’s overall jobless rate is still high by historic standards, it has fallen to 6.3 percent in Orange County, 6.0 percent in San Francisco and 5.7 percent in San Mateo County. In the Central Valley, by contrast, unemployment remains in double digits from Kern County (13.6) all the way to San Joaquin (14.1).

Could Big Oil change all that?

A revolution in the oil industry that’s been taking place in Pennsylvania, Ohio and North Dakota is poised to sweep through California’s oil patch, with the potential to produce hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions in tax revenue for the state.

But there’s a big catch. That same revolution also brings the chance of environmental degradation, threatening the water supply and abetting a carbon-based economy that many were hoping would soon become a thing of the past. That might not be a problem in the rust belt or the job-starved upper Midwest, but environmental protection is one of California’s passions. It is also one of its attractions.

At issue is the future of what is known as the Monterey Shale, a geologic formation that stretches beneath the Central Valley from Bakersfield to Modesto. Parts of this region have been a source of oil for generations. Despite recent declines, California still ranks fourth among the states in crude oil production, behind Texas, Alaska and a surging North Dakota, and most of that oil comes from the southern Central Valley and the surrounding hills.…

April 24, 2013

Fracking for Natural Gas Fuels Health Worries

Source:, April 22, 2013
By: Molly M. Ginty

The boom in hydraulic fracturing for natural gas raises medical worries for a number of female health activists and researchers. “We need comprehensive studies to assess long-term problems,” says public health professor Madelon Finkel.

Creeping over the darkened hills of Concord Township, Ohio, past oak and maple trees and through an open window, the intruder entered Kari Matsko’s home without a sound.

“It was only when I woke the next morning that I realized something had changed,” says Matsko. “I had unexplained muscle spasms and terrible neck pain. I saw three doctors, and spent four months recovering. Then a neighbor told me about the 3 a.m. hydrogen sulfide gas leak from a nearby fracking operation that sent her whole family to the emergency room with aches and pains the same day I got sick in 2006.”

Now heading a grassroots group called The People’s Oil and Gas Collaborative of Ohio, Matsko is among the growing number of women who are fighting health problems associated with hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” a drilling process that harvests natural gas from rock.

“When I found out why I fell ill, I thought ‘How could residents not be notified there was fracking nearby? How could this even be legal?'” says Matsko. “Because oversight is lax and studies are sparse, I’m still asking the same questions today.”…

January 29, 2013

Design Professionals Owe a Duty of Care to Third Party Purchasers of Residential Buildings

Source:, January 16, 2013
By: Marc Zimet

On December 13, 2012, the Court of Appeals for the First District filed its opinion in Beacon Residential Community Association v. Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP et al. (No. A134542.) The decision is bad news for architects and other design professionals since it holds they can be held liable in negligence to third party purchasers under both the common law and Senate Bill 800.

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM) and HKS Architects (HKS) provided architectural and engineering services for the Beacon Residential Condominiums, a 595 unit development in San Francisco. Alleged construction defects caused problems with water infiltration, inadequate fire separations, structural cracks, and other life safety hazards. SOM and HKS demurred to claims for negligence and statutory negligence. The trial court granted the demurrer, reasoning that design professionals owe no duty of care to condominium associations or residents if the owner retains final decision-making power over the design. Plaintiffs appealed.

The court of appeals reversed, finding that design professionals do, under some circumstances, owe a duty of care to third party purchasers and residents even when they do not have control. The Court viewed the issue as “not whether a design professional owes a duty of care to purchasers but the scope of that duty.” It applied the six policy factors from Biakanja to assess the scope of that duty: 1) extent to which the transaction was intended to affect the plaintiff, 2) foreseeability of harm to the plaintiff, 3) degree of certainty that the plaintiff suffered injury, 4) closeness of connection between defendant’s conduct and the injury suffered, 5) the moral blame attached to defendant’s conduct, and 6) the policy of preventing future harm.…

June 18, 2012

Naturally occurring level of chromium 6 in Hinkley may never be known

Source: San Bernardino County Sun, June 14, 2012
Posted on:

How much of the cancer-causing chemical chromium 6 is naturally occurring in the Hinkley Valley?

Board members of the water agency which is overseeing the cleanup of Hinkley’s contaminated groundwater are beginning to see that the answer to that question may never be known.

And they want Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board officials to pursue finding out if a new study can reasonably be expected to determine how much chromium 6 was in the water before San Francisco-based Pacific Gas & Electric Co. began dumping it into unlined ponds, where it seeped in the groundwater, creating a plume that is thought to be more than 5 miles long and nearly 2 miles wide.

The question is important because it sets up what level PG & E needs to reach in order to return to the Hinkley Valley to its natural state.

For a time, water board officials and others thought they had that number.

A study PG & E commissioned at the request of the water board in 2007 found that upper end of the naturally occurring chromium 6 was 3.1 parts per billion.…

May 11, 2012

PG&E San Bruno Explosion: Memo Shows Company Knew About Problems With Pipeline

Source: Huffington Post, San Francisco, CA, April 23, 2012
By: Aaron Sankin

An internal memo recently handed over by PG&E to state regulators shows that the company had known about weld failures on the pipeline running underneath San Bruno for over twenty years before it exploded into a destructive fireball in 2010.

In 1988, PG&E discovered a leak in the pipeline only a few miles south of San Bruno and launched an investigation into what went wrong. The following year, the firm noted that the most likely reason for the fault was a defective weld along the pipe’s seam–a similar issue to what cased the 2010 disaster.

The San Francisco-based energy giant only recently handed the memo over to regulators, claiming that it was unaware of its existence while government probes into the explosion were still open. The company discovered the memo during a search of eleven million documents related to its natural gas infrastructure.

According to federal law, the discovery of a problem with a seam weld should have triggered a test on the entire 51-mile pipeline that possibly could have discovered the flaw that left eight people dead and 38 homes in ruins. While that law was passed in 2002, it was retroactive and applies to the 1988 leak.

The pipeline, termed Line 132, wasn’t originally constructed by PG&E. Instead, the company inherited it from the the now-defunct Consolidated Western, which had created the line in the 1940s and ’50s, likely out of salvaged parts from old pipelines. The leak occurred near the Crystal Springs Reservoir, about nine miles south of the site of the San Bruno blast.

PG&E now counters that it was unlikely the 1988 leak was was due to a problem with a longitudinal seam weld. Instead, PG&E spokesperson David Eisenhauer told the San Francisco Chronicle that the culprit was actually girth weld, one that goes around the pipe instead of running along it, and would not have triggered a test of the full line because girth weld leaks are not considered as dangerous.…

January 17, 2012

$1.4 million settlement agreement in sewer spill

Source:, January 14, 2012
By: Peter Fimrite

A Menlo Park sanitary district has agreed to pay $1.4 million to settle a long-running lawsuit accusing the utility of spilling tens of thousands of gallons of sewage into creeks and sloughs that drain into San Francisco Bay.

The West Bay Sanitary District, which was found liable in May for 21 sewage spills over a five-year period, will pay the legal fees for San Francisco Baykeeper and use the rest of the money to fund projects that will benefit water quality in the bay, according to the settlement.

“We’re excited to have achieved our goal of reducing West Bay’s pollution to San Francisco Bay,” said Deb Self, the executive director for Baykeeper, which filed the lawsuit in 2009. “West Bay used to be one of the worst-polluting sewage agencies in the Bay Area, but they have reduced their sewage spills by two-thirds since we brought suit.”

U.S. District Judge Edward Chen granted summary judgment to Baykeeper in May, approving fines of up to $975,000 in federal Clean Water Act penalties. A trial was set for March to determine liability for dozens of other spills.

Representatives of the sanitary district, which approved the settlement on Wednesday, said major upgrades have already been made and overflows of effluent have been virtually eliminated.

“We have been doing a lot of work over the last several years to improve our system,” said Phil Scott, a manager for the district, which serves Menlo Park, Atherton, Portola Valley, East Palo Alto, Woodside and some unincorporated areas in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. “Now we can concentrate on cleaning and maintaining and repairing pipe for the collection system, which is our core competency.”

Baykeeper accused the district of spilling sewage beginning in 2004 into waterways including San Francisquito Creek, Los Trancos Creek, Bovet Creek, Atherton Channel, Bayfront Canal, Ravenswood Slough, Westpoint Slough and San Francisco Bay.…

June 13, 2011

Tampa’s Troubled Highway Finally Nearing Completion

Source:, June 12, 2006
By: Bill Chastain

With joy and relief, the contractor on Tampa’s Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway is set to complete the elevated portion in August, a year after the original date. Despite many setbacks, including an ongoing lawsuit, officials say the high-tech reversible lane toll road will fulfill technical expectations.

PCL Civil Constructors, a division of Edmonton-based PCL Enterprises, in April placed the 3,032nd and final segment of the 29,000-ft-long elevated portion—a big milestone for an ambitious but troubled project.

Initially, the project had a price tag of $372 million and a July 2005 completion date. Heavy commuter traffic on 9 miles between downtown Tampa and the eastern suburb of Brandon made the innovative toll road, designed by Tallahassee-based Figg Engineering Group, an attractive solution.…