Christopher Heredia - SFGate, June 20, 2008.
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.