Wednesday, January 14, 2009
RICHMOND, California, September 8, 2008 (ENS) - Environmental justice groups have filed a lawsuit challenging the Richmond City Council's approval of Chevron's refinery expansion project. At issue is an environmental review that the groups claim concealed the fact that the expanded refinery would process heavier, dirtier oil, resulting in higher levels of air pollution and increased risks of accidents and oil spills.
"The City Council failed its legal and moral obligation to protect our health," said Richmond resident Torm Nompraseurt of the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, one of the plaintiff groups. "Those dangerous chemicals are going to endanger me, my family, and my neighbors but the city didn't even look at what Chevron is really going to be doing."
Communities in Richmond, particularly low-income and communities of color, are overburdened with health problems related to exposure to industrial pollution, including high rates of asthma and cancer. The Chevron refinery, located on San Francisco Bay, is the largest industrial polluter in the area.
The lawsuit was filed Thursday in Contra Costa County Superior Court on behalf of the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Communities for a Better Environment, and the West County Toxics Coalition.
The Richmond Refinery is one of the largest and oldest refineries on the West Coast. It covers 2,900 acres, has 5,000 miles of pipelines, and hundreds of large tanks that can hold up to 15 million barrels of crude oil, gasoline, jet fuel, diesel, lube oil, wax, and other chemicals produced by the refinery.
The expansion would allow heavier and dirtier crude oil to be processed at the refinery, which would increase releases of mercury, selenium, toxic sulfur compounds, and greenhouse gases, the groups point out.
"Chevron's project would lock in a fundamental switch to dirtier oil refining that increases toxic and climate-poisoning pollution drastically when avoiding these impacts is feasible," said Greg Karras, a senior scientist with Communities for a Better Environment. "The city violated the community's right to know about and act on this information."
Hundreds of residents jammed the City Council hearings in July demanding the City Council limit the refinery from processing dirtier crude oils and re-do the environmental impact report to consider what Chevron actually plans to build.
Instead, the groups complain, Chevron made a multi-million dollar offer of funding for local projects in exchange for the city's approval of the refinery expansion with weakened environmental protections and less public review of future refinery projects. Chevron valued its offer at about $61 million.
City and Chevron officials negotiated a proposed contract to execute the deal without public input, and presented it at the City Council's hearing on the project without the public notice required by state open government laws, the groups claim in their lawsuit.
"Chevron must stop its toxic assault on poor people of color in Richmond," said Henry Clark, executive director of the West County Toxics Coalition. "The City Council is selling out our community, but our health is not for sale. We will fight this until we achieve environmental justice."
"The California Environmental Quality Act requires government agencies to look before they leap by analyzing and mitigating all significant environmental impacts" said Will Rostov, an attorney for Earthjustice, who represents the environmental justice groups in court. "The city's environmental review fails in its most basic purpose."
A poll conducted by David Binder Research indicated that 73 percent of Richmond voters opposed the approval of the Chevron expansion until the environmental and health impacts of refining heavier crude oil were fully reviewed in a revised Environmental Impact Statement.
In addition, 75 percent of voters polled said it was very important or extremely important that any projects or funding between Chevron and the City Council be determined in an open public process.
A 56 percent majority of respondents have heard "nothing at all" about the negotiation between the City Council and Chevron to provide funding for local projects, while the City Council was voting on the refinery expansion project.
David Binder Research surveyed 400 likely voters in the city of Richmond between July 8 and 10, 2008, with a margin of error of ±4.9 percent.
A sharply divided Richmond City Council approved on Thursday Chevron's controversial plan for a major upgrade of its century-old refinery and accepted $61 million from the oil company for community programs.
The council voted 5-4 to approve a conditional use permit for Chevron to replace a hydrogen plant, install new hydrogen-purifying equipment, build a new cogeneration power plant and replace other antiquated machinery.
"We're pleased with the vote and look forward to moving ahead with construction," said Dean O'Hair, a Chevron spokesman. "This project will make us more efficient and reliable than we already are."
The council also agreed to Chevron's offer of $61 million to help the community in the next decade, including funds to extend the Bay Trail and build solar and wind energy plants on Chevron property, and to support violence prevention, community health, job training and other programs.
After hearing often-heated public comment and staff testimony Tuesday and Wednesday nights before deliberating early Thursday, council members Nathaniel Bates, Ludmyrna Lopez, Harpreet Sandhu, John Marquez and Maria Viramontes voted to grant Chevron the permit.
Tom Butt, Jim Rogers, Tony Thurmond and Mayor Gayle McLaughlin voted against it.
Chevron's Richmond refinery is the largest in Northern California and provides about 25 percent of all the gasoline in Northern California. The new equipment will allow it to process about 1,000 extra barrels of gasoline a day.
Environmental and community groups fought the plan, saying it would lead to more emissions and allow Chevron to process heavier grades of crude oil.
"We still believe there's going to be a huge increase in pollution. We still have to stop this project and we're now looking at all our legal options," said Greg Karras, senior scientist for Communities for a Better Environment, one of the groups opposing the plan. "This fight is only getting started."
Much of the controversy centered on sulfur emissions, which Karras said cause respiratory and nervous system disorders when inhaled. Chevron's new equipment would allow the refinery to process crude oil that has 3 percent more sulfur than the oil it currently handles, refinery officials said.
But because the new facility would be more efficient and cleaner than the current plant, the refinery's overall emissions would actually decrease, O'Hair said.
Chevron hopes to begin construction on the refinery in August and finish in about four years. Labor unions have been ardent supporters of Chevron's plans because of the 1,200 construction jobs the project will create.
Critics blasted the package of benefits Chevron promised the city, saying the details are vague and that Chevron had agreed to several of them already. O'Hair said the refinery will hammer out details with city staff in the coming months.
The package of about 15 projects and programs includes $11 million for violence prevention and public safety programs; $10 million for the Richmond Community Fund; $6.7 million for job training, high school tutoring and other classes; and $5 million for the Bay Trail link.
Some council members complained about the lengthy permit process and environmental review, which lasted four years.
"It seems like everyone involved did everything they can to thwart what this community wants," said Butt at Wednesday's meeting. "I'm extremely disappointed with the way this process went. I don't know how it's going to end up, but I have a bad feeling about it."
A divided Richmond City Council early Thursday morning approved Chevron's contentious plan to replace decades-old equipment at the local refinery, as well as a separate agreement for the oil company to provide $61.6 million for public safety, low-income healthcare and other services.
Environmental activists, who say Chevron's plans pose a public health risk that has not been fully studied, immediately shouted 'Shame on you!' from the audience and vowed to vote councilmembers out of office.
Councilwoman Ludmyrna Lopez defended the decision, saying a series of measures will require Chevron to cut emissions and other impacts.
"We are reducing the pollution that would otherwise be created by this project," Lopez said. "This is a responsible project."
The council voted 5-4 to approve Chevron's plan, with Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and councilmen Tom Butt, Jim Rogers and Tony Thurmond dissenting.
"This process has been an extreme disappointment," Butt said. "The EIR (environmental impact report) is an extreme disappointment. I found it to be shoddy, incomplete and characterized by incompetence."
The decision came at the end of a seven-hour meeting that adjourned at 2:10 a.m. Thursday. About 80 people both for and against the project remained in the audience when the vote was taken.
The City Council is the final authority on projects at City Hall, meaning anyone who disagrees with the decision would appeal through a court of law. City officials already are bracing for a potential lawsuit.
Proposed about four years ago, Chevron's bid to replace its power plant, hydrogen plant and reformer with newer equipment quickly became one of the most heated and emotional issues in Richmond. After multiple packed meetings, the Planning Commission on June 19 approved the project with about 70 provisions, including a restriction on the crude running through one piece of equipment regarded as critical in the refining process.
Neither Chevron nor its opponents were satisfied with the ruling and appealed it to the City Council, though for different reasons. The appeal began on Tuesday night with five hours of presentations and public testimony. It adjourned early Wednesday morning and resumed Wednesday night.
Refinery representatives say upgrading antiquated equipment would mean a safer, more efficient facility. It would allow the processing of a wider range of crude with higher sulfur content, while still processing the same light to intermediate crudes that is handled now.
"This project does not make a change with the crude we process at the refinery," said Tery Lizarraga, the refinery's health, environment and safety manager. "We will not process heavy crude. We are not configured to process heavy crude."
But opponents don't believe Chevron. A coalition of environmental activists argue that the project would allow the refining of heavier crude that would increase pollutants by 5 to 50 times. The state Attorney General's Office has raised similar concerns. The environmental impact report fails to address that and must be redone, critics said.
"There are so many unanswered questions," said Greg Karras, scientist with Communities for a Better Environment. "There's a lot more information we need. There's a lot more analysis we need."
While the crude oil was a major focus of the discussion, the 'community benefits agreement' also generated much debate. Under a proposed agreement submitted to the city Tuesday, Chevron offered to give $6.8 million for job training and placement; $11.3 million for public safety; $6 million to Brookside Health Clinic; $10 million in financial aid to local nonprofit groups; $5 million for the Bay Trail; $14.6 million for alternative energy projects; and $5 million for other environmental mitigations. The agreement would be contingent on approval of Chevron's upgrade project.
Butt and McLaughlin blasted the document. Some of the dollar amounts would not sustain services long term, they said, and others are crafted in a way that the community benefit is questionable. In addition, they said the agreement was negotiated between Chevron and some city leaders without full council or public input.
'It first came to public light 20 hours ago,' Butt said. McLaughlin described it as 'totally unacceptable.'
The council voted 6-1 to approve the community benefits agreement. McLaughlin voted no and Thurmond abstained. Butt, who grabbed his papers and walked out of the meeting just before the vote, was absent.
Environmentalists have vowed to fight the Richmond city council’s decision to allow Chevron to upgrade equipment at its refinery.
After an emotional city council meeting that lasted until 2 a.m., the council on Thursday voted 5 – 4 in favor of an upgrade that Chevron officials said would allow them to generate less pollution and refine a wider range of oil.
Jessica Tovar of Communities for a Better Environment asserted that the environmental impact report submitted to the city was incomplete.
“The whole point of having an environmental impact report is to understand the whole scope and impact of the project,” she said. “Because that EIR was flawed and missing all kinds of data, we still don’t know what this project is all about.”
Chevron spokesman Dean O'Hare said the company’s goal is to modernize a power plant built in the 1930s, a reformer built in the 60s and a hydrogen plant that dates to the 70s.
The city council debated the upgrade project for two nights before the vote.
Tovar said her group would file its lawsuit within the next 30 days.
Richmond officials continued holding hearings Wednesday night into a request by Chevron to upgrade a refinery it operates in the city.
Hundreds of people on both sides of the issue jammed into Richmond City Council meetings on both Tuesday and Wednesday nights.
Chevron wants to upgrade its facility by building a new power plant, hydrogen plant and reformer.
Representatives of the oil giant said the improvements would allow the refining of a wider range of oil.
But environmental groups argued the project would allow the company to refine heavier crude oil that would increase pollutants in the area.
The Planning Commission approved a permit for the project last month, but included in its approval about 70 provisions.
Both Chevron and environmental activists appealed that ruling to the city council, though for different reasons.
Richmond Residents and Bay Area Community say, “Our Health is Not for Sale.” In a last minute effort to lock-in City Council approval for Chevron’s refinery expansion, yesterday Chevron presented the City of Richmond with a $61 million dollar ‘Community Benefit Agreement’ (CBA). The Agreement, submitted to the city council in closed session immediately before the public council hearing, would reportedly include $6.75 million for jobs and education programs, $6 million for community health programs, and requires the City Council’s approval of the expansion project. Other elements of Chevron’s proposal include requiring the City to propose the implementation of standards that would exempt Chevron projects from design review and would result in changes to the City’s land-use process for Chevron projects.
Richmond, CA—Over 500 Bay Area residents attended a Richmond City Council public hearing last night on Chevron’s bid to expand the Richmond refinery to process dirtier crude oil. The plant expansion is seen as a dramatic step in the wrong direction in the effort to decrease pollution-related health risks and climate change in Richmond and the Bay Area. The City Council is expected to issue a final vote today in what has been a 4-year permitting process.
In a last minute effort to lock-in City Council approval for Chevron’s refinery expansion, yesterday Chevron presented the City of Richmond with a $61 million dollar ‘Community Benefit Agreement’ (CBA). The Agreement, submitted to the city council in closed session immediately before the public council hearing, would reportedly include $6.75 million for jobs and education programs, $6 million for community health programs, and requires the City Council’s approval of the expansion project. Other elements of Chevron’s proposal include requiring the City to propose the implementation of standards that would exempt Chevron projects from design review and would result in changes to the City’s land-use process for Chevron projects.
“$61 million over a decade in comparison to the $50 million a day Chevron spends on oil expansion is insulting – these are Chevron’s crumbs,” said Jessica Tovar of the Community for a Better Environment. “Our health is more important than Chevron’s wealth.”
As indicated by a poll released earlier this week, conducted by David Binder Research and commissioned by the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, an overwhelming majority (73 %) of voters support the City Council delaying a decision on the Chevron expansion until the environmental and health impacts of refining heavier, dirtier crude oil is fully reviewed by the City. In anticipation of Chevron’s effort to pressure the City Council with the CBA, the poll also showed that 75% of Richmond voters think that it is important that potential projects be determined in an open public process, which the CBA undermines.
“Of course Richmond needs resources for schools, safety, and public health. But if the City Council approves Chevron’s dirty oil refining project in exchange for $61 million, it is condemning another generation of kids in Richmond to a future of asthma, cancer, and other pollution-related health problems,” said Roger Kim, Associate Director of the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, in response to Chevron’s CBA. “This looks like a last-ditch effort to induce the City Council to approve Chevron’s dirty oil refining project and we hope the council knows better than to take it.”
The Richmond Alliance for Environmental Justice— a coalition of community groups that represent thousands of Richmond families—is demanding the city council establish a ‘comprehensive crude cap’ to ensure the Chevron refinery is limited from processing dirtier crude oils. In addition, the Alliance is demanding Chevron pay into the “Fund for Richmond’s Future” – a community-controlled fund to support the development of a cleaner and greener economy in Richmond.
“Chevron’s pay-off is an insult to the residents of Richmond,” said Dr. Henry Clark of the West County Toxics Coalition. “Chevron should pay more than $61 million for decades of poisoning our communities.”
Richmond Alliance for Environmental Justice includes: Atchison Village Environment Committee, Communities for a Better Environment, West County Toxics Coalition, Laotian Organizing Project/Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Richmond Progressive Alliance, Richmond Greens, Richmond Vision 2000, ACORN Contra Costa County, Richmond Equitable Development Initiative, Urban Habitat, Faithworks!, East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, Rainforest Action Network, Amazon Watch, Direct Action to Stop the War, Greenaction, and Genesis (partial list).
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More than 1,000 people jammed a Richmond City Council meeting Tuesday night to make impassioned pleas for and against Chevron's plan to expand its waterfront refinery.
The City Council is expected to meet again tonight to vote on the issue, which has galvanized environmentalists, community groups and labor unions.
"We're driving to the hospital while Chevron goes to the bank," said Rev. Kenneth Davis, a Richmond resident. "My health is not for sale."
Chevron wants to build a new power plant and crude-oil refining facility at its 3,000-acre plant. Material processed at the new facility would contain higher levels of sulfur and other contaminants, city officials have said.
The Richmond Planning Commission initially approved the plan, with a limit on the amount of heavy crude oil the refinery can process. But on June 19, the commission reversed its decision, lifting the cap after a city-hired consultant said the refinery's emissions are already limited so a cap isn't necessary.
Chevron and environmental groups both appealed the Planning Commission's decision to the City Council.
"I'm swayed by those who've asked for a more comprehensive crude-oil cap," City Councilman Tony Thurmond said. "My concerns are what the environmental, health and safety impacts will be, especially in a community with such a high rate of asthma and other illness."
Chevron has said that the new facility would produce an insignificant increase in air pollution, and that the project would actually decrease overall emissions.
"This project has no significant environmental impacts. That's a remarkable achievement for a project of this magnitude," said Bob Chamberlin, an environmental specialist for Chevron. "In fact, this project makes things even better."
Labor groups have been pushing for the expansion because of the new jobs that would be created during construction.
But environmental groups have decried Chevron's plan, saying it would unleash dangerous amounts of mercury, selenium and sulfur into the air and water.
"The potential for more emissions is enormous. Because this facility will allow them to process lower-quality crude," said Adrienne Bloch, a senior attorney with Communities for a Better Environment.
Before the meeting, Chevron told the city it would give $61 million in health, education, environmental and alternative energy programs to mitigate for the project.
Environmental groups said that it wasn't enough, and that Chevron was required to do many of those programs anyway.
City Councilman Tom Butt said he would like to see Chevron do more for Richmond residents, such as offering health, education and employment programs, and reduce its emissions overall.
"My No. 1 priority is, I want to be sure this project is not going to cause any increase in air or water pollutants. It's pretty simple," he said. "A lot of us believe this project is going to have an adverse impact on the community, and that's something Chevron should mitigate."
Richmond's planning commissioners on Thursday reversed a decision to limit the kind of crude oil that Chevron can process at its refinery in the city, a move decried by environmental groups concerned that a planned expansion of the plant would increase air pollution.
Chevron wants to expand its 3,000-acre plant on Richmond's waterfront to add a new power plant and crude oil refining facility. The material processed at the new facility would have higher contents of sulfur and other impurities, city officials said.
The commission on June 6 approved a limit on the amount of heavier crude the refinery can process and also OK'd an environmental impact report for the project.
But Thursday, a consultant hired by the city to study the proposed plant expansion testified that the limit was unnecessary because there are already restrictions on the refinery's emissions. After hearing from the consultant, Ron Sahu, the commission voted 4-1 to reject the "comprehensive crude cap" advocated by environmental groups. Commissioner Charles Duncan was the lone dissenting vote.
Members of several environmental groups said a cap is necessary to restrict Chevron from processing dirtier, heavier crude oil that could pose additional harm to the health of plant neighbors and they vowed to appeal the commission's decision.
"Pollution will increase as a result of this," said Greg Karras of Communities for a Better Environment. "We are going to appeal this decision to the City Council and we will win."
About 80 people filled the council chambers at Richmond City Hall Thursday night, where the Planning Commission heard public comment.
Chevron spokesman Dean O'Hair said company officials were pleased by Thursday's decision.
The city paid for a highly detailed environmental impact report, which concluded that the expansion would increase air pollution in a "less than significant" way.
"The environmental impact report concluded this renewal project will result in an overall emissions reduction," O'Hair said. "Now we can move forward ... toward building a more reliable refinery."
Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, who attended Thursday's meeting, said she supports a limit on the kind of crude oil Chevron can process. "We need the fullest amount of protection possible," she said.
The matter will probably go before the full City Council during the summer.
Editor’s note: The City of Richmond may be the first to stand up to the Chevron Corp. this month if it turns down the company’s effort to refine dirty crude oil. If not, the city will be far more polluted than it already is, creating serious health problems, for all. NAM contributor Bill Gallegos is executive director of Communities for a Better Environment.
RICHMOND, Calif. -- On July 15 the Richmond City Council has a chance to make history. On that day it could be the first city in the United States to decide to protect the health of its residents and stand up to the Chevron oil company and impose a cap on its plans for further expansion.
To do that the council will have to turn down Chevron Richmond’s proposed “Energy & Hydrogen Renewal” project to process thicker, dirtier crude oil. On the other hand, if the council approved it, it would expand some of the Chevron refinery’s most polluting processes. It will increase Chevron’s emissions of toxins, heavy metals and greenhouse gases; there is the potential to increase releases of some chemicals by 5 to 50 times current levels.
While many Californians are trying to reduce their contributions to greenhouse gas emissions and slow down global warming, Chevron will be doing the opposite and thereby put public health at greater risk.
Hundreds of residents have turned out to oppose the expansion project, fearing that it will further damage their neighborhood and their health. They’ve expressed their opposition at public hearings. Hundreds more have signed a petition opposing the project. On June 5, when the planning commission heard the application for expansion local residents lined up for hours waiting to raise their objections.
As a result, the Richmond Planning Commission voted 3-2 to impose a “crude cap” on refining dirty crude oil. That means that the company must strictly limit the emissions of certain pollutants that result from the refining process. A week later, however, the commission changed its mind, preferring a very weak crude cap. They refused to re-circulate an environmental impact report. The reversal was based on a report from an independent consultant who advised that a strict cap on dirty crude was unnecessary. The consultant admitted that his conclusion was based on data from Chevron, data that could not be revealed to either the commission or the public.
Yet a review of Chevron’s emissions data and proposed expansion plans by MacArthur prize-winning chemist Wilma Subra determined that if the refinery processes heavier and more contaminated oil, this “will increase the number and severity of accidental releases.” The increase in air pollution will hurt not only refinery workers but also those who live near the refinery.
People in Richmond still remember the 1993 spill from Chevron’s sulfuric acid plant, which serves the refinery. That spill sent 20,000 people to the hospital. They already suffer from pollution created by some 350 other industrial polluting facilities in the city. Given these high levels of pollution it is not surprising that the city has the highest rate of hospitalization for asthma in Contra Costa County. Two of Richmond’s neighborhoods, directly upwind from the refinery, have some of the highest rates of hospitalization for asthma in the entire state.
Even more alarming, with this expansion, Chevron may be creating a model for the entire oil industry. Chevron wants to have the competitive advantage of refining dirty crude and if approved, this will lock that process into place for up to 50 years. Oil companies across the country are watching to see if this is the future of their industry.
Chevron seems driven by the sole goal of making bigger profits from high gas prices. It has large reserves of high quality oil, but growing global demand makes low quality contaminated crude oils substantially cheaper for refiners. They can achieve price discounts of more than $5 per barrel, which would generate $400 million in yearly profits for a refinery the size of the Richmond operation.
There is now a global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and to respond to the alarming data about the rate and impact of climate change. For Chevron to add to the problem is unconscionable.
When it meets July 15, the City Council is not bound by the cowardly acquiescence of the Planning Commission. It can send the report back with an order to strengthen the recommendations on the crude cap and environmental impact report.
As they discuss their choice, they will face the Richmond Alliance for Environmental Justice, a coalition that includes Communities for a Better Environment, the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, the West County Toxics Coalition, Atchison Village Environmental Committee, Richmond Greens and Richmond Progressive Alliance, which collectively represents thousands of people.
These organizations will urge the Richmond City Council to stop Chevron from further exposing residents to harmful toxics and pollution that cause premature death, cancer, and other health ailments. They will suggest that Chevron invest instead in a clean and green economy in Richmond and that Richmond residents have a transparent and meaningful public process to participate in decision-making about Chevron’s operations. They can decide to support the community’s demands for a for a clean environment and public health; or they can choose infamy by supporting obscene oil industry profits and ignoring global warming. The people of Richmond and the world will be watching.
John Geluardi - Contra Costa Times, June 9 2007.
The public had its first chance this week to comment on Chevron's plans to install a hydrogen plant for refining poor-quality crude oil.
The inexpensive "dirty" crude will increase refinery profit margins but also increase dangerous emissions from the Richmond refinery by about 800 tons a year, according to the project's draft environmental report. In 2004, Chevron exceeded state limits for toxic emissions by 475,000 pounds, according to a Bay Area Air Quality Management District emissions inventory.
But Chevron officials say the project will make the refinery safer and reduce overall emissions by improving efficiency.
About 30 people commented on the project's draft environmental report during a city Planning Commission meeting Thursday night. All but one of the speakers opposed the project, saying it would have negative health impacts on nearby low-income communities such as North Richmond, Achenston Village, the Iron Triangle and Parchester Village.
"If this plan goes forward, it will lock Richmond into refining dirty crude for the next 30 years," said Carla Perez, a project director with the Oakland-based Communities for a Better Environment. "It will exacerbate health impacts on already heavily impacted neighborhoods and increase the risk of a catastrophic incident."
The Richmond Planning Department will accept comments on the two-volume report until June 25. The Planning Commission is expected to approve or reject the report by August.
The larger project would consist of four component projects, which are considered in the environmental impact report. The components include the replacement of an outmoded steam boiler plant with a gas turbine "cogeneration" plant, a new gasoline reformer and hydrogen purity improvements.
Chevron has an opportunity to develop a less-polluting project by making hydrogen from water instead of fossil fuels and by generating power for the refinery by developing a green-energy structure that relies on solar and wind power sources, said Better Environment scientist Greg Karras.
"Chevron says it has to rebuild, replace and upgrade," Karras said. "And it's true they do, but they also have an opportunity to do that in a way that puts us on a course toward renewable refining."
But effective technology for producing hydrogen from water does not exist, Chevron spokesman Dean O'Hair said.
"I don't know of any technology like that that's available," O'Hair said. "This project is using the latest and most up-to-date technology available, which will make us one of the most efficient refineries in the United States."
Mayor Gayle McLaughlin remains skeptical of the refinery's arguments and wants to make sure the health of Richmond residents comes first.
"I'm very, very dedicated to the health of this community here in Richmond and making sure no further impact on an already-overburdened community is effected," McLaughlin said. "The pollution we've endured for decades has got to end."
Ruth Gilman, who lives near the refinery in Achenston Village, said she does not like the project.
"We had 30 people go to the hospital after Chevron's last accident in January, so why should we approve this expansion so they can produce hydrogen?" Gilman said. "Don't they pollute enough already?"
Comments on the draft environmental impact report for Chevron's plans to install a hydrogen plant must be received by 5 p.m. June 25. Address comments to Lamont Thompson, senior planner, city of Richmond, Planning and Building Regulations Department, 1401 Marina Way S., Richmond, CA 94804.
The Richmond Planning Commission was expected Thursday to vote on whether to allow Chevron to expand its Richmond refinery, a proposal that set off intense community protest over potential increased pollution from the plant.
- S.F.: Blinking traffic light fixed 01.14.09
Chevron officials want to expand their 3,000-acre refinery on Richmond's waterfront to add a new power plant and crude oil processing facility. The material processed at the new facility would have higher contents of sulfur and other impurities, city officials said.
Environmental groups including Communities for a Better Environment, the Richmond Alliance for Environmental Justice and the Asian Pacific Environmental Network have protested the plan saying it would worsen already fouled air in the East Bay city.
"The community has a right to clean air and a right to full disclosure of Chevron's project," Jessica Tovar of Communities for a Better Environment said in a statement before Thursday night's meeting.
Tovar and other activists demanded that the city conduct a more aggressive review of potential health and environmental impact from the project before approving it. Opponents said the studies to date have not adequately vetted whether the project would increase greenhouse gases and other volatile organic compounds - factors contributing to global warming.
Richmond commissioned a highly detailed environmental impact report, which concluded that the expansion would increase air pollution in a "less than significant" way.
Chevron officials have said the project "meets or exceeds" state and federal regulations.
But others, including Councilman Tom Butt, disagree with the conclusions of Chevron or city staff's recommendation to approve the project with conditions.
The commission's decision, if appealed, will go before the full City Council at a future date.
"My overarching concern is that this project is going to result in increased emissions from a refinery that already has substantial toxic emissions," Butt said in an interview Thursday. "Those need to be reduced. You add one more molecule and it's significant."
Butt said he believes the company could reconfigure its refining processes to reduce toxic emissions, which are associated with higher than average asthma rates and other respiratory diseases in Richmond and neighboring communities.
Environmental groups demanded that the city limit the amount of crude oil that is refined at Chevron and ensure that all future expansion plans are examined in public.
State Attorney General Jerry Brown's office has stepped into the debate. In March, his office wrote a letter to Richmond officials indicating that the city's environmental impact report is inadequate.
Lawyers from Brown's office said the document failed to assess the project's impact on greenhouse gases or rule out that added emissions from the new part of the plant would not be significant. Brown's office also said the city provided no evidence it would adequately monitor or enforce air quality standards.
Four hundred Richmond residents, many skeptical and disbelieving, listened to Chevron executives attempt to persuade the city planners in Richmond on Thursday to sign off on a controversial plan to remodel their 106-year-old refinery.
"The health risks are insignificant," Bob Chamberlin, the permit manager for the refinery, told the commission, while spectators in the audience groaned in disbelief. "We are the most tightly controlled refinery in the country, if not the world."
Chevron is asking to "upgrade" its 3,000-acre refinery with a new power plant and new production facility that will enable it to process crude oil with larger amounts of sulfur and other impurities. Opponents say the changes would rain more pollution and toxic chemicals on Richmond. They were asking for the planning commission to delay the expansion pending further study of how the changes will impact the area.
It was not immediately clear how or when the commission would decide on Chevron's request. After the Chevron presentation, two environmental groups opposing the plan got a chance to address the commission.
Greg Karras of Communities for a Better Environment called the commission's vote a "momentous decision" with a "potential for irreversible impacts."
Henry Clark of the West County Toxics Coalition criticized Chevron for not fully investigating current health problems in Richmond and said its residents were "living on the front lines of (Chevron's) chemical assault."
Members of the public, along with two environmental groups, were awaiting their turn to speak as the evening wore on. Several members of the public said they had plenty to say.
"We're already breathing a toxic load from a century of heavy industry in this town. We can't take any more," said Tarnel Abbot, 55, a longtime Richmond resident.
During the refinery executives' testimony, Abbot stood silently at the rear of the chamber and held up a sign that said, "Chevron Lies."
Resident Lillie Mae Jones, 78, said she is skeptical, too.
"If it produces jobs and cleans up the air, it will be great, but as usual, there will be a lot of lies (and) there's going to be games," she said.
At the center of the controversy is the environmental impact report for the project. The city is required to look at the project's expected emissions of volatile organic compounds as well as greenhouse gases, the latter of which contributes to global warming. But the city's report concluded that the greenhouse gas impact would be "speculative."
Chevron issued a statement Thursday saying that the project "meets or exceeds" regulatory requirements. California Attorney General Jerry Brown's office disagreed.
Brown's office sent a letter March 6 to the city of Richmond saying that the final environmental impact report was inadequate and cited a number of oversights. Among other things, the attorney general's office said the city's report "relies on a document that does not yet exist."
Brown's office said the report ignored the impact of some greenhouse gas emissions, while failing to support claims that other volatile organic compound emissions were not significant. Compounding those problems, Brown's office said the city had put out an inadequate plan for monitoring and enforcing air quality standards - possibly putting residents at much greater risk.
In addition, Brown's office said Richmond officials did not require Chevron to do any emission mitigation efforts inside the city limits, where the project's impact would be most severely felt.
"As written, the measures actually adopted could occur anywhere in the state and literally could be anything," the attorney general's office wrote about the proposed mitigation efforts.
Brown's office noted that some of the city's proposed solutions may be harmful as well, but that the city had not laid out a plan for looking at that either.
The attorney general's office pointedly noted that California law requires that such projects "not disproportionately impact low-income communities," a definition that presumably includes impoverished Richmond.
Before an overflow crowd at Richmond's City Hall on Thursday night, Chevron refinery officials described their plans for a nearly $1 billion renovation project, then listened to hours of criticism from a skeptical audience.
The Richmond Planning Commission, after hearing testimony on the environmental impact report for Chevron Corp.'s contentious upgrade project for its Richmond refinery, scheduled a special meeting April 10 to continue fielding comments before it considers whether to approve the final report.
The commission heard more than five hours of testimony at the Thursday night hearing, where a standing-room-only crowd filled council chambers. About a hundred more, including dozens of Chevron employees and protesters, watched the proceedings on TV inside a large tent set up outside City Hall.
Refinery manager Mike Coyle and others described the project and tried to dispel objections and what they called misperceptions about the project, which would replace aging equipment, improve energy efficiency and give the refinery more flexibility in the "slate" of crude oil it can process.
Opponents said the dangers from pollution connected with the upgrade are far graver than Chevron contends, and that the company needs to supply more information. The project's opponents, including Communities for a Better Environment, the West County Toxics Coalition, and the Service Employees International Union, would like to see the city recirculate all or portions of the environmental impact report (EIR).
Approval of the report would pave the way for a conditional use permit for Chevron to go ahead with the upgrade, which is reported to cost $800 million to $1 billion.
The city's California Environmental Quality Act attorney, Ellen Garber of Shute Mihaly & Weinberger, explained that under CEQA the city could recirculate all or a portion of the EIR based on the issue of greenhouse gas emissions, which are considered a major cause of global warming.
In the final EIR, the city said it did not make a legal finding of the significance of greenhouse gases from the project because it did not have a baseline or an applicable threshold from which to work. Instead, the city decided to disclose that the five main project components would generate total new greenhouse gas emissions of 898,000 metric tons per year.
"The conservative approach would be to recirculate" the EIR, Garber said.
Chevron contends that the project would emit that total emission number only if one large component of the project, a new hydrogen plant that is to be built and operated by the Connecticut specialty gases company Praxair Inc., operated at full capacity 24/7, rather than producing only the amount of hydrogen necessary to run the refinery operation. Post-project, the hydrogen plant would account for 698,000 metric tons of new greenhouse gas emission per year, according to the final EIR. Praxair is planning to produce excess hydrogen and export it through an as-yet unbuilt 21-mile pipeline that would connect to other area refineries.
Some of the mitigations proposed by Chevron, including smaller furnaces and domes on storage tanks, will reduce emissions of volatile organic compounds to less than significant levels, Coyle said. The EIR states Chevron will mitigate greenhouse gas emissions to net zero. But it gives the company a year following approval of its conditional use permit to hire an expert to make an inventory of greenhouse gases at the plant and for the refinery to submit to the city a plan for achieving complete reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Some of the measures that could be approved in the plan include measures outlined for refineries by the California Air Resources Board under AB 32; identifying energy savings through energy efficiency; replacing certain diesel engines; retrofitting certain other equipment such as process heaters with higher efficiency burners; and initiating carbon capture and sequestration measures.
Another big issue of the night was the sulfur and pollutant content of the slate of crude oil the upgrades would allow Chevron to process. Chevron contends the refinery cannot process the heaviest grades of crude oil that are the most polluting, and the upgrade will not enable it to do so.
Greg Karras, staff scientist with Communities for a Better Environment, asked the planning commission to impose a condition on Chevron that would place an enforceable limit on the types of crude oil it can process. CBE would like to see Chevron supply more-specific data about the current types of crude oils it processes so the planning commission can make a better-informed decision about the ultimate and cumulative effects of the project, including more information about the exact slate of crude oils that are being processed and that will be processed, the sulfur content of those crude oils, and direct measurements of certain other pollutants.
"Chevron has not given us the most fundamental, basic information to determine how much pollution would increase," he said.
More than 300 people marched from downtown Point Richmond to the Chevron refinery Saturday to protest the company they say is profiting from the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
The protesters were marching against the war in Iraq - Wednesday will mark the fifth anniversary - as well as a proposal to upgrade the refinery's processing capability. They accused Chevron of profiteering from the oil obtained by the U.S. invasion, which has cost thousands of lives and billions of dollars.
Kayla Starr, 66, from Ashland, Ore., said she was participating because of her 2-year-old granddaughter, Dahlia.
"I don't want her to get asthma and cancer from breathing the polluted air, and I don't want her to live in the world where we're killing innocent people," she said.
The demonstrators arrived at the refinery around 1:30 p.m. About 50 formed human chains at the entrance while others held banners, sang and danced.
Gopal Dayaneni of Berkeley, a spokesman for the organizers, said some protesters decided about four hours later to "take it closer to Chevron" and enter company property. Gagan, the police spokesman, said no property was damaged.
Chevron spokeswoman Camille Priselac said that operations at the refinery were not disrupted by the protests and that alternative means existed for vehicles needing to enter and leave the facility.
"We have also taken steps to ensure the safety of our employees," she said, adding that because of the safety measures, those steps would not be disclosed.
Chevron has said in the past that the proposed refinery upgrade will not cause additional pollution.
About 45 Richmond police officers in helmets were at the scene.
Two young women were cited for trying to hang a banner on a pole.
The protest at the refinery was preceded by a two-hour rally at the Judge G. Carroll Park in Richmond. Speaking at the gathering, Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said, "It's time to clear the smoke of lies, the smoke of pollution and the smoke of war."
The protest was co-sponsored by Direct Action to Stop the War, Greenaction, West County Toxics Coalition, Amazon Watch, Richmond Progressive Alliance, Richmond Greens, Community Health Initiative, Communities for a Better Environment, Global Exchange and Rainforest Action Network.
The action coincided with several other anti-war protests Saturday in the Bay Area.
Officials at the Chevron refinery in Richmond lied to the city about their plans to switch to refining dirtier, cheaper crude oil that could result in five to 50 times more pollution, an Oakland-based environmental group alleged on Wednesday.
Chevron officials denied the charge that the proposed project would increase pollution. If anything, it would reduce emissions, the company maintained.
"It's not an expansion project, it's an upgrade," refinery spokeswoman Camille Priselac said. "The refinery is going to continue using the same types of crude and the same amount of crude."
In its final environmental impact report submitted to the city for its plans known as the Energy and Hydrogen Renewal Project, Chevron stated that the refinery upgrades would not result in increased pollution other than perhaps a 1 percent increase in sulfur.
Priselac said the refinery has proposed to replace its 1930s power plant with a new plant that would allow the refinery to become independent from the Pacific Gas and Electric Co. power grid. It has also proposed to replace its 1960s gasoline reformer with a new one.
The project would reduce overall emissions and make the refinery more efficient and energy independent, Priselac said.
However, Greg Karras, a senior scientist with Communities for a Better Environment said the proposed upgrades actually amount to an expansion that would give the refinery the capacity to refine dirtier crude oil, and, according to his experience with the oil industry -- refineries have always used the capacity they have built for.
"Why would they go to cheaper, dirtier oil? (Because) price discounts can exceed $5 per barrel, which, for a refinery Chevron's size, could be about $400 million per year," Karras said.
He added that those price discounts would not necessarily translate into cheaper prices at the pump.
Meanwhile, switching to dirtier crude oil could also lead to increases in mercury, sulfur and greenhouse gas emissions, Karras said.
The environmental-activist group uncovered the refinery's alleged plans to switch to dirtier oil after looking at the final environmental impact report submitted to Richmond and finding that "it didn't make sense," Karras said.
They then looked at documents submitted to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and the Regional Water Quality Control Board and found that the project was similar to one proposed in 2001 in which the refinery applied for a permit to upgrade its refining capacity to be able to refine dirtier oil. The air district did not approve the project, Karras said.
While refinery officials have allegedly denied that they plan to switch to using dirtier crude oil, they have also not agreed to any limit on the quality of crude oil they would be permitted to bring into the refinery if the upgrades are approved, Karras said.
"This project is about refining cheap and dirty crude at a cheap and dirty refinery," said Jessica Tovar, a community organizer for Communities for a Better Environment and a resident of Atchison Village, a neighborhood seated along the fence line of the refinery.
Sylvia Hopkins, another Atchison Village resident, said children in her neighborhood had an extremely high rate of asthma and other respiratory illnesses and that she personally needed to use a machine to help her breathe every night. She said she also knows two people in her neighborhood who can each count six people on their blocks who have cancer, half of whom have already died from it.
Hopkins said elevated levels of sulfur, heavy metals and particulate matter were found inside and outside her house.
If the project is approved, refining dirtier crude oil will also take higher temperatures, which will lead to more flaring, fires and explosions, Tovar said.
Henry Clark, executive director of the West County Toxics Coalition, said his organization has been "waging a struggle against Chevron for the past 20 years."
"Communities like mine, like North Richmond, have already taken more than their fair share of pollution," Clark said. "We've already suffered more than our fair share from asthma and death. For them to come back and say it's OK because it only adds a little more injustice ... this here is environmental racism."
Clark blasted the refinery for committing environmental crimes against the primarily low-income minority communities near the refinery.
"There's been a thorough review of the project" by the city of Richmond, its consultants and other government agencies, including the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, Priselac said, noting that although the permitting process was only supposed to take one year, it has dragged on for three.
The city could make its decision of whether or not to approve the environmental impact report as early as March 20.
The refinery must receive permits from the city and the air quality district before it can begin construction.
The Bay Area Air Quality Management District is asking Chevron to make changes to a proposed flare management plan before the district will approve the plan.
Richmond residents have complained about flaring at the Chevron refinery for years.
Resident Delphine Smith became an activist with the group Communities for a Better Environment or CBE, because she's concerned about the pollution and has asthma.
"I smell it. It makes my breathing hard. It's a bad odor. It tickles your throat and burns your eyes," Smith said. "I feel that it's only right that whatever industries or companies do the right thing."
A recent report from CBE showed Chevron's emissions getting worse, not better. Since Bay Area regulators forced local refineries to come up with flare management plans, CBE found Chevron's flaring has actually gone up by 80 percent.
CBE's Greg Karras said, "The fact is, they're flaring about four times a month at levels that impact community health."
In a recent interview with CBS 5 Investigates, refinery manager Curtis Anderson claimed Chevron has a good record:
"We're pleased with our progress, we're pleased by what the data tells us."
He says Chevron's analysis found the total emissions of some toxic chemicals dropped between 2005 and 2006.
But Karras, who's been studying industrial pollution and its prevention for 20 years, said that's misleading, "Scientifically they're not looking at all the data. And the data they are looking at they're doing in a very biased way; they're cherry-picking."
And Karras said the most damage to community health happens on individual days with the worst flaring incidents, something Chevron -- looking only at total numbers -- doesn't address.
"When we look at our emissions, we look at the total emissions from flaring activities," Anderson said. He acknowledges they're measuring the data differently than CBE.
"We're very concerned about emissions, and the total emissions during these events, not necessarily the days they occur on," Anderson said.
Would people think the company is manipulating the data? Anderson responded, "We've presented the data in the way we think it makes the most sense looking at emissions and where they come from. I would encourage people to look at the air quality data and from monitoring. I think there's a really good story there."
But Karras disagrees.
"People's health is being affected, and that's not a good story," he said.
Staff at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District are echoing CBE's concerns, telling Chevron its required plan to manage those flaring events doesn't go far enough and that the company must put additional protections into its plan before the district will agree to approve it.
Air district staff are now working with Chevron and four other refineries to add changes into their flare management plans. The district has until July 15 to either approve or disapprove those plans.
SFGate.com, "Oil Refineries are Getting Refined" (ConocoPhillips, Chevron Hoping to Boost ProductionH
The Bay Area's aging oil refineries are in the midst of a construction boom that will modernize their equipment and expand the amount of gasoline they produce.
Four of the five local refineries have plans to upgrade. Construction has already begun at two. Coming up with the $200 million or more needed to improve the facilities isn't a problem, thanks to the oil industry's recent record profits.
The projects will be a boon -- but not a panacea -- to California drivers. They will add to the state's gasoline supplies, but not enough to match California's growing demand.
Viewed together, the Bay Area refinery projects could produce an extra 1.1 million gallons of gas per day, or about 2.5 percent of the 43.5 million gallons Californians burn every day. But state officials expect demand for gasoline to grow by about 1.4 percent per year.
California uses a unique blend of gasoline and the state will need to rely more heavily on the few out-of-state refineries that make the fuel.
"We're still going to need imports," said Rob Schlichting, spokesman for the California Energy Commission. "More and more, we're going to need to count on imports."
The refinery upgrades include the following:
-- Chevron Corp. is planning improvements to its Richmond facility that could expand the plant's gasoline production by about 7 percent, Chief Executive Officer David O'Reilly said in testimony before Congress. The company is still seeking government permits for the work and hasn't disclosed the price tag.
San Ramon's Chevron is also upgrading its refinery in El Segundo, in Los Angeles County. That project and the planned improvements in Richmond will increase the company's gasoline production in California by 840,000 gallons per day, a spokeswoman said.
-- ConocoPhillips' Rodeo refinery wants to expand production of gasoline by 791,000 gallons per day, a 35 percent increase, and its production of diesel by 290,000 gallons per day, up 21.5 percent. The company, which like Chevron isn't revealing the project's price, has applied for permits and hopes to have them by March.
-- Tesoro Corp.'s Golden Eagle refinery, near Martinez, will spend an estimated $475 million to $525 million installing equipment that will reduce air pollution and improve the plant's ability to process relatively cheap, heavy grades of crude oil. This project, which has just started construction, won't increase the amount of gasoline produced.
-- Valero Energy Corp.'s Benicia refinery also is upgrading equipment to handle heavier forms of crude. The project, under way since 2004, will cost an estimated $200 million to $400 million.
That emphasis on heavier crude oil alarms some longtime Bay Area critics of the refineries.
Heavy crude carries more impurities and can produce more pollution than lighter grades of oil, said Greg Karras, senior scientist for the environmental watchdog group Communities for a Better Environment. He also questions the wisdom of making large investments in gasoline refining when the world is trying to curb global warming, which scientists blame on the use of fossil fuels.
"Humans desperately need to be switching to making investments now in an alternative energy regime," Karras said. "The absolute wrong thing to do is invest in refining the dregs of the crude until it's gone."
The projects reflect a change in attitude among oil companies.
For years, they closed refineries across the country, both to avoid installing new anti-pollution equipment at unprofitable facilities and to increase the profit margins of the ones that remained.
Oil companies still aren't rushing to build new refineries. But they are putting more money into improving the ones they have, slowly expanding the amount of gasoline they can produce. Refinery profit margins, which have soared in the last two years, are now high enough to make the investment worthwhile, said Jeff Hazle with the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association.
"Companies have changed their viewpoint of what the future looks like," said Hazle, the trade association's technical director.
"It took them awhile to get here, but they now believe the (gasoline market's) tightness, the small difference between supply and refining capacity is going to stay here awhile," Hazle said.
E-mail David R. Baker at email@example.com.