Anna Werner, CBS 5 - June 15, 2007.
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.