Carolyn Jones - SFGate, July 16, 2008.
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."