Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Environmental and Climate Justice Victory in Richmond!

On Monday, April 26, the California State Court of Appeals rejected Chevron's appeal on the refinery expansion in Richmond. The court ruled that the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the project violated state environmental law. The court ruled that the EIR was "far from informative," that the project description was inconsistent and vague, and that it was entirely unclear whether Chevron was going to use this project to process dirtier crude oil. The Court also held that the "EIR completely fails to properly establish, analyze, and consider an environmental baseline." The court also cites CBE's recent, March 2010, groundbreaking Supreme Court victory against ConocoPhillips involving CEQA, as direction as to how this baseline must be established.

This is a major victory for our communities and it would not have been possible without the coalition support of our co-plaintiffs Asian Pacific Environmental Network, West County Toxics Coalition and our legal co-counsel Earthjustice and CBE's very own Senior Attorney. Together, we showed that we can hold Chevron-the largest greenhouse gas emitter in the state of California-accountable to environmental health and justice standards. The court made it loud and clear that oil giants and major corporations are not above the law.

Donate and support CBE!

For the past year, Chevron has blamed community groups for lost jobs; the accusation is unjustified since it is clear from the court decision that this project was in violation of the law. Chevron could have resolved these issues during the EIR process, or after the trial court decision, but it chose not to. Throughout this legal process, Chevron has used jobs to hold our communities hostage and the threat of leaving Richmond to force us to choose between our family's health and having jobs when the reality is, we need both.

CBE and allies have consistently throughout this lawsuit called on Chevron to negotiate an agreement that protects community health and gets people back to work. We all know times are tough but we need good jobs and clean air to sustain our families, communities, our youth and the next generation. We continue to support Chevron to expand and/or upgrade its refinery in a way that's legal and won't harm the health of residents living near the refinery.

For decades, Chevron has pumped toxics into backyards of Richmond's residents and our children's air every day. Black, Latino, and Asian communities already have more than their fair share of cancer, asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Richmond's poor air quality is financially affecting our community. Children in Richmond are already hospitalized for asthma at almost twice the rate of children in the rest of Contra Costa County.

Donate and support CBE!

If this current project were to go forward and Chevron processed lower quality crude, the refinery would likely emit significantly more toxic pollution. This pollution would include chemicals linked to cancer and respiratory ailments, according to the groups' expert. The EPA reported nearly 100,000 pounds of toxic waste from the site in 2007, including more than 4,000 pounds of benzene (a known human carcinogen) and 455,000 pounds of ammonia, repeated exposure to which can cause an asthma-like illness and lead to lung damage. This project also would create an additional 900,000 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions, not taking into account a switch to dirtier crude.

The implications of this community victory reach far beyond the City of Richmond. Chevron is using its expansion project to also attack the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The law requires companies to disclose greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts of proposed projects. The state goes even further, requiring companies to reduce significant environmental impacts. We have a right to know what pollution is going to impact us. Communities across California will continue to suffer from weakened health and environmental standards.

Thank you to our community members, Richmond residents, Bay Area and international allies who have been supportive throughout the campaign and this lawsuit. Among many others, we thank City of Richmond workers' SEIU union local 1021 for its unwavering support. We thank Mayor Gayle McLaughlin for her leadership on this issue, and Richmond City Councilmembers and staff who have supported finding a resolution to the case. We thank State Attorney General Jerry Brown and his staff for their attempt to craft an alternative proposal for resolution of the lawsuit. We thank Nancy Skinner, Loni Hancock, George Miller and Mark Desaulnier of the state and federal legislatures for their letters, time and commitment in working with us to seek such a resolution. We thank Speaker of the Assembly Karen Bass, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, and Assemblymember John Perez for meeting with us toward that end.

For more information and/or become a volunteer, contact Ana Orozco at aorozco@cbecal.org, 510-302-0430x12.

In the news:

Appeals Court Upholds Environmental Justice in Richmond

For Immediate Release Monday, April 26, 2010

Environmental Impact Report for refinery expansion ruled inadequate

Richmond, April 26, 2010 — In an unprecedented victory for the community, the California State Court of Appeals has upheld the majority of findings in a lower court decision that the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the expansion of the Chevron Corporation's refinery in Richmond California violated state environmental law. The Community members have been campaigning to fight the proposed switch to refining dirtier, heavier oil for several years.

"This decision is a significant victory for environmental justice in the city of Richmond and beyond," said Dr. Henry Clark, executive director of West County Toxics Coalition. “African American, Latino and Asian communities near the refinery have borne a disproportionate burden of exposure to pollution from the refinery for decades. And the community has been fighting back for decades – this victory is huge.”

"The court agrees that the people of Richmond have a right to know just how dirty the crude oil processed in this refinery will be," said Earthjustice attorney Will Rostov. "The court pointed out the legal deficiencies in Chevron's refinery expansion plan and tells Chevron the simple steps it needs to expand their refinery in a legal way that won't harm the neighbors."

Environmental justice groups Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN), and West County Toxics Coalition (WCTC), represented by Earthjustice, had sued the City of Richmond over its approval of the refinery expansion in 2008, on the basis that the inadequacies in the EIR rendered approval illegal under the California Environmental Quality Act. Last year, a California Superior Court in Contra Costa County agreed, tossing out that EIR and issuing an injunction preventing further work on the refinery expansion.

“In this difficult economic climate, Chevron has used jobs to hold our communities hostage,” said James Walker, member of Service Employees International Union Local 1021 and local city equipment services worker. “As a Richmond resident and union worker, I shouldn’t have to choose between jobs and my family’s health. Times are tough. We’re all struggling to pay bills and put food on the table. It’s time for Chevron to come to the table and negotiate an agreement that protects community health and gets people back to work.”

The appellate court found today that the EIR should have addressed changes in the grade of crude oil the refinery would process after the expansion. The expansion project would increase the refinery's ability to process dirtier grades of crude oil according to experts hired by the community, the State Attorney General’s office and the trade unions, all of whom independently reviewed Chevron’s proposed plans.
The groups charge that the refinery would likely emit significantly more toxic pollution if it begins refining dirtier crude. This pollution would include chemicals linked to cancer and respiratory ailments, according to the groups’ expert. The EPA reported nearly 100,000 pounds of toxic waste from the site in 2007, including more than 4,000 pounds of benzene (a known human carcinogen) and 455,000 pounds of ammonia, repeated exposure to which can cause an asthma-like illness and lead to lung damage.
"This is a good decision," said Socorro Garcia, a ten-year Richmond resident and neighbor of the refinery. "There are people like me living very close to the refinery. The refinery has damaged our health and our community. Our health is our future."

In a precedent-setting decision on one issue, the Court also found fault with the EIR for failing to include specific and proven plans to mitigate a projected increase in greenhouse gas emissions from the expansion and for allowing Chevron itself (not the City) to come up with a mitigation plan later, outside the publicly involved CEQA process. The Chevron Richmond refinery is the single largest source of greenhouse gas pollution in the state, according to data released by the California Air Resources Board in 2009. The EIR indicated that the expansion could generate almost 900,000 tons of additional greenhouse gases.

“It’s a double whammy," said Sandy Saeteurn, Lead Organizer with APEN and a Richmond resident. "Chevron is hurting Richmond residents like my family with its toxic pollution and hurting the planet with its greenhouse gases. I grew up in Richmond doing Chevron refinery accident drills instead of fire drills. I don’t want my 9-yr old son Nicky to keep doing the same. Accurate public information about the proposed refinery expansion will allow better decisions for protecting our environmental and economic health.”
Chevron’s plan to expand the Richmond refinery — allowing the facility to refine heavier crude oil than it can now process — could significantly increase the facility's greenhouse gas emissions, according to CBE scientist Greg Karras. "Refineries that have begun the switch to heavier, dirtier crude oil emit up to 58 percent more greenhouse gases per barrel refined as compared with the average U.S. refinery," said Karras.

"Asthma rates in Richmond are already twice the national average," said Richmond resident Kay Wallis, a health educator with the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at UCSF. "For decades, Richmond families have paid a steep price for living near Chevron's refinery. Now there's evidence that the impact of Chevron's pollution extends well beyond our beleaguered local neighborhoods – the damage is worldwide."

"Richmond doesn't need dirtier crude," said Greg Karras. "Now we can move onto the task of creating healthy, green jobs that put people to work weatherizing buildings, expanding public transit, and moving Richmond toward economic and climate sustainability. Chevron could be a leader in this change. It can't continue with business as usual — not for long."

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Richmond Refinery Expansion Update, July 2009

Richmond Refinery Expansion Update, July 2009

Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN), Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) and West County Toxics Coalition (WCTC)

What does the community want?
Richmond residents say NO to more pollution from Chevron. Chevron has proposed a project that would expand the refinery to process dirtier oil which would cause more pollution. The judge agreed with us that the environmental review was flawed. No expansion of Chevron facilities should be allowed without a thorough analysis of what the effects of processing lower quality oil will be on a community where children are already hospitalized for asthma at almost twice the rate of children in the rest of the county—and what can and will be done to prevent those health impacts.

What did the court decide? The court decided that the City’s Environmental Impact Report for Chevron’s Expansion Project was inadequate. First, it was unclear whether the project would allow Chevron to process heavier crude. Second, the City illegally delayed its plan to reduce greenhouse gases. Specifically, the City improperly decided to wait a year after Chevron started construction to create a plan to mitigate significant impacts from the project, or analyze whether those impacts could be mitigated. This project would emit upwards of roughly a million tons of additional CO2 each year. Third, the expansion project failed to disclose that it included a major, additional component: a pipeline that would travel from the new hydrogen plant at Chevron to ConocoPhillips and Shell oil refineries. And it failed to analyze the impacts of that part of the project. The court decided that the City has to redo its EIR to disclose the impacts of the project to address the issues above, and only then reissue the permits.

What does the court’s order mean for workers and jobs?
Chevron makes its own hiring and firing decisions and is trying to make the community choose between jobs and our health. We know this is a false choice. We must have both. Short-term, Chevron can and should reassign work instead of laying people off. Chevron should guarantee the community that the project will not refine dirtier oil that will result in more pollution so that the project can move forward and the workers can get back to work.

Are CBE, APEN, and West County Toxics Coalition still open to settling the case, since we’ve won now? Yes. We made a detailed proposal to Chevron and the city before we filed the lawsuit and we are still open to and still awaiting Chevron’s detailed public response.

What do we want from Chevron?

- Prevent any increase in pollution from the project and implement the maximum feasible reductions in pollution through equipment replacements at the refinery.

-Reduce annual GHG emissions from the refinery by a millions tons concurrent with the startup of the proposed new hydrogen plant.

- Reinstate Chevron's Community Benefits Agreement with the City without any strings attached and drop Chevron's lawsuit against Measure T, which Richmond voters approved last year.


On June 4, Contra Costa Superior Court Judge Barbara Zuniga ruled that the Environmental Impact Report supported by Chevron and approved by the City of Richmond was illegal because it did not disclose whether the project will allow Chevron to process dirtier oil or disclose the harm that pollution on Richmond residents. On July 1, Judge Zuniga ordered that the expansion project be put on hold until a new, valid EIR is prepared and approved. Chevron, while knowing that the EIR was being challenged in court, rushed ahead with its project.

After the court decision, Chevron launched a PR campaign in conjunction with layoffs in an attempt to drive a wedge between the community interests of jobs and health.
Today, residents of Richmond who have been the victims of industrial pollution from the Chevron Refinery for decades are speaking up to say “enough is enough.” We need to retool the refinery to replace dangerous and aging equipment but we need to have guarantees that heavier, dirtier crude will not lead to worse air pollution.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Chevron Defeated in CEQA Lawsuit; Richmond Refinery Plans in Doubt - Berkeley Daily Planet June 11, 2009

By Richard Brenneman
Thursday June 11, 2009
Chevron’s environmental study of a proposed expansion of their Richmond refinery received a fatal blow Friday at the hands of a Martinez judge.

Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Barbara Zuniga struck down the environmental impact report (EIR), declaring that the document’s “project description is unclear and inconsistent as to whether (the) project will enable Chevron to process a heavier crude slate than it is currently processing.”

The court also struck down a decision by the city to allow Chevron to wait a year after the EIR was completed to prepare a plan to mitigate the refinery’s globe-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

Judge Zuniga ruled that Chevron had failed to meet a fundamental requirement of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). “An accurate, stable and finite project description is sine qua non of an informative and legally sufficient EIR,” she wrote.

Crucially, the judge ruled, the EIR “is unclear and inconsistent as to whether the project will or will not enable Chevron to process a heavier crude slate than it is currently processing.”

Heavier oils can produce larger emissions of greenhouse gases than the lighter “sweet” crudes, and the oil company did acknowledge the refinery might be processing oils with a higher sulfur content.

The city was at fault, Judge Zuniga ruled, by failing to state how the refinery would meet the city’s goal of requiring no net increase in greenhouse gas emissions and “by simply requiring Chevron to prepare a mitigation plan and submit it to city staff up to a year after approval of the conditional use permit” allowing construction to begin.

The city also erred in allowing Chevron to “piece-meal” its project, the judge declared. That term refers to a process in which developers attempt to minimize the impacts of a large project by seeking environmental approval in stages, rather than as a whole.

The piece-mealing fault found in the Chevron EIR was its failure to include a hydrogen pipeline planned as part of a hydrogen generation facility planned as part of the expansion.

Will Rostov, an Oakland attorney for Earthjustice, one of the four plaintiff organizations in the lawsuit, said that as a result of Judge Zuniga’s decision—and absent a reversal by an appellate court—Chevron and the city will be forced to redraft the EIR in accordance with the ruling.

“Chevron is disappointed with the court decision regarding the adequacy of the environmental review conducted by the City of Richmond related to the Energy and Hydrogen Renewal Project,” said corporate spokesperson Brent Tippen.

“Chevron believes that the Energy and Hydrogen Renewal Project was properly permitted and that the benefits of the project are identified in the thorough environmental review conducted by the City of Richmond staff and the city’s environmental consultants,” he said. “We will be reviewing the specifics of the court’s decision and will then be determining a course of action in cooperation with the City of Richmond.”

Other plaintiffs included Citizens for a Better Environment (CBE), the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) and the West County Toxics Coalition.

“This is a great victory for environmental justice,” said Dr. Henry Clark of the West County Toxics Coalition. “It proves that not all judges are in the pockets of Chevron and other corporations.”

Jessica Tovar of CBE said her organization had filed suit because “the people were demanding the truth from Chevron and the city. We’ve been going through this process for three years now.”

One of CBE’s major concerns was the hydrogen pipeline, which would carry the highly flammable gas to the ConocoPhillips refinery in Rodeo and Shell’s Martinez refinery, where, she said, it could be used to help those installations refine their own heavy crude oils.

Tovar said the proposed expansion was “designed to retool the refinery so it could process the heavier crude, and several scientists submitted data supporting our claim,” including one hired by state Attorney General Jerry Brown.

Torm Nompraseurt of APEN said his organization was concerned “that the city had conducted a process that was not very protective of the population.” Praising the judge’s decision, he said, “I think it’s time for Chevron to find a way to help make a greener and cleaner community.”

Nompraseurt also said that despite inconsistent reports to the community, Chevron had told its shareholders that the company did plan to refine heavy crude after the improvements.

Rostov said the next step in the legal process is preparation of a final order, which should occur within the next week or so.

One major question remaining is whether work on the project already under way will have to cease while the new EIR is prepared, or even whether work already completed will have to be removed.

Another CEQA suit against the refinery is also underway, this one involving a challenge to the state’s renewal in January of a 30-year lease for the refinery’s long pier.

That action was filed in March by Oakland attorney Stephan Volker on behalf of the Trails for Richmond Action Committee and Citizens for East Shore Parks.

Chevron is Richmond’s largest employer, and Richmond voters indicated last November that they felt the city should be contributing more to the community when they passed Measure T, a new business license fee structure which mandates that the refinery pay on the basis of the value of crude oil processed.

The company financed a campaign opposing the measure, but the measure passed and two members of the three-person progressive slate who backed it were elected to the City Council, replacing two Chevron supporters.

Judge deals setback to Chevron refinery plan - SF Chronicle June 9, 2009

David R. Baker, Chronicle Staff Writer, http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/06/09/BA1F1834QF.DTL

Chevron Corp.'s long-planned, highly contentious project to revamp its Richmond oil refinery has been thrown into doubt, with company executives and local officials unsure what will happen after a recent court ruling.

Judge Barbara Zuniga of the Contra Costa County Superior Court has thrown out a key environmental report on the project, siding with activists who sued to stop the project after the Richmond City Council narrowly approved it last year.

In her brief ruling, Zuniga said the report was too vague on a key question: whether the project will allow the 107-year-old refinery to process heavier grades of crude oil than it currently does. The report, she said, also did not analyze a significant piece of the project - new hydrogen pipelines.

Finally, Zuniga criticized the city for giving Chevron a needed permit before the company submitted a plan for limiting greenhouse gases after the upgrade.

The judge's ruling did not, however, say whether work on the project must stop. After winning the City Council's approval in July, Chevron started the renovations in September.

The project has long been the subject of protests and heated debate. Environmentalists and community activists call it a major expansion of a refinery that already sickens Richmond residents.

Chevron representatives call the project an upgrade, one that will modernize the aging plant. The refinery, one of California's largest, will process the same amount of oil after the renovations are finished, said company spokesman Sean Comey. But the changes will allow Chevron to make more gasoline from that oil, increasing gasoline production by roughly 7 percent.

Environmentalists who have fought the project for years want work halted immediately.

"My understanding is they're supposed to stop and dismantle any construction built so far," said Jessica Tovar, a community organizer for Communities for a Better Environment. The organization was one of four groups that sued to stop the project.

A Chevron spokesman, however, said the San Ramon company is still studying the ruling and isn't certain that construction must stop. And Richmond's city attorney said the city is awaiting clarification from the judge.

"I presume there will be a further order from the court that addresses that issue," City Attorney Randy Riddle said.

Critics say the project will allow Chevron to process heavier grades of crude oil, containing higher levels of toxins such as mercury, that could increase air pollution.

Chevron insists that the refinery will still use the same types of crude oil that it does now. Once the four-year upgrade is finished, however, the refinery will be able to process larger amounts of the heavier grades of crude already used there, Comey said.

But that distinction wasn't clear in the project's environmental report, Zuniga wrote in her decision released Friday. The report "is unclear and inconsistent as to whether (the) project will or will not enable Chevron to process a heavier crude slate than it is currently processing," she wrote. As a result, the report does not adequately assess the project's effects on the environment and "fails as an informational document," she wrote.
At a glance

What happened: A Contra Costa County Superior Court judge threw out a key environmental report on Chevron's project to revamp its Richmond oil refinery.

What it means: The decision throws the project into doubt. Opponents say must Chevron stop and dismantle any construction built so far. The company says it isn't sure construction must stop.

What's next: Richmond's city attorney expects a clarification from the judge.

E-mail David R. Baker at dbaker@sfchronicle.com.

Chevron Richmond Refinery Expansion Halted - East Bay Express June 9, 2009


A Contra Costa County judge has thrown out the environmental impact report for the massive Chevron Richmond oil refinery expansion, according to the Chron. Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Barbara Zuniga sided with activists and environmentalists who sued to stop the controversial project, ruling that the EIR was too vague on whether Chevron would be allowed to start refining dirty crude oil. Such refining could cause significant environmental problems. The judge's decision puts the future of the project in doubt, because it may force the city to redo parts of the EIR and re-approve it. But that could be a big problem for Chevron, because it no longer controls a majority of the Richmond City Council. After last November's election, progressives now have a 4-3 majority on the council with the addition of Jeff Ritterman, a physician who ran specifically against the Chevron refinery expansion plan. — Robert Gammon

Calif. law linking land use, greenhouse gas emissions passes court test - NYT June 8, 2009


SAN FRANCISCO -- A California law aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions from land-use changes has survived its first court challenge.

Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Barbara Zuniga tossed out an environmental impact report Friday for a proposed Chevron Corp. refinery expansion in Richmond, Calif., saying the analysis failed to account for the project's greenhouse gas emissions as is required by the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA.

Zuniga said Chevron and the city had ignored greenhouse gas mitigation measures in approving a plan to expand the refinery, as required under CEQA. The judge also dismissed Chevron's contention that the expansion is not intended to enable the refinery to process a heavier form of crude oil.

"The [environmental analysis] project description is unclear and inconsistent as to whether [the] project will or will not enable Chevron to process a heavier crude slate than it is currently processing," Zuniga wrote.

The case represents the first time a major oil company has had to cope with CEQA's greenhouse gas requirements. Early court battles over the law's new climate provisions, which require developers to plan mitigation for carbon-dioxide emissions, have been limited primarily to municipalities looking to upgrade urban plans.

Earthjustice, the Asian Pacific Environmental Network and several community groups had filed a lawsuit against Chevron and the Richmond City Council last September seeking a rejection of the environmental impact report.

In oral arguments last month, William Rostov, a staff attorney at Earthjustice, charged Chevron with trying to defer its CEQA obligation to some unspecified future date. He urged the court to reject the project's approval and send a signal to other developers that the law has teeth needed to force a carbon analysis (ClimateWire, May 21).

Rostov said the project would let Chevron, which is based in San Ramon, Calif., switch to processing dirtier oils that would increase carbon dioxide emissions and toxics. He said Richmond officials glossed over the issue in the environmental impact report approved by the City Council.

Attorneys for Chevron and the city countered that the oil giant had completed the work required by CEQA. Ronald Van Buskirk, who had argued on Chevron's behalf before Zuniga, insisted that the environmental groups had ignored the CEQA documents approved by the Richmond City Council in the name of blocking any development.

Chevron is expected to revise its analysis and resubmit its project application to the city.

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