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.
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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.