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  Richmond Finally Declared Safe
December 21, 2003

Communities downwind from the refinery, such as the Iron Triangle, North Richmond, Parchester and San Pablo can finally breathe freely. It must have been great relief for those folks to read an interview published in the December 21, 2003, San Francisco Chronicle, in which ChevronTexaco CEO and Board Chairman Dave O’Reilly declared, “The state has done a number of studies and has concluded that there is no direct connection between the refinery and the surrounding community's health.”


While I was gratified to learn that the ChevronTexaco refinery is no more hazardous to our health than a fresh garden salad, I kept flashing back to the infamous appearance of tobacco industry CEO’s collectively raising their right hands in a congressional hearing and swearing that tobacco was not addictive. I’m not sure what “state” O’Reilly was referring to in his pronouncement (and he was careful not to say), but according to the United States EPA, the Chevron Richmond Refinery is the 9th largest source of toxic releases (The EPA’s term – not mine), totaling 1.5 million pounds annually, in the State of California. According to Webster’s, “toxic” is defined as, “of, relating to, or caused by a poison or toxin, or poisonous.”


It is particularly good to know this, because ChevronTexaco is not considering closure of the refinery as recently reported. That was only a ruse to create sympathy for ChevronTexaco when they announce plans next year to actually expand the refinery. I suppose that if what we have now is healthy, more of it will be even healthier.


The portions of the O’Reilly interview relating to Richmond are reproduced below. For the entire interview, see On the Record: Dave O'Reilly.

Q: What are your plans for your Richmond refinery? There's talk about ChevronTexaco trying to make it a top producer.

A: To make it a top producer means making it an efficient refinery. Unfortunately, our analysis of Richmond is that it is a poor performer relative to its peer group. So when they say "Make it a top performer," there is a limit. It's improving the performance of the refinery within the limits of what the refinery can accomplish with its equipment and its people. They are making very good progress over there.

Q: Will you close the Richmond refinery if it doesn't come up to snuff?

A: Well, it's going to come up to snuff. So it's kind of a theoretical question. It is a very important refinery for the Bay Area's gasoline and jet fuel supplies. It provides 250,000 barrels a day of product -- one-eighth of the whole state's requirements.

Q: Some residents of Richmond blame the refinery for their health problems. Could you address those concerns?

A: Health is a concern not only around the Richmond facility, but near any industrial facility. The state has done a number of studies and has concluded that there is no direct connection between the refinery and the surrounding community's health. Now that doesn't mean we don't care. We do care about it. We analyze our emissions very carefully. California already has the most stringent set of emissions standards anywhere in the country.

I hope that the Navy reads the Chronicle. Regarding Point Molate, Chronicle reporter Rick DelVecchio recently wrote, “But the Navy cited accidents at Chevron and at General Chemical in recent years that have spread clouds of toxic smoke and chemicals across nearby neighborhoods. Navy officials in Washington, D.C., have raised the specter of toxic spills in their environmental review of the city's plans to include housing as the key component of the transformation of the 419-acre Point Molate depot, a former military base on steep slopes a mile north of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.”  As a result of fears about Chevron, the Navy ultimately pronounced Point Molate off limits for housing, probably costing the City of Richmond $50 - $100 million in lost opportunity.