Tom Butt for Richmond City Council The Tom Butt E-Forum About Tom Butt Platform Endorsements of Richmond Councilmember Tom Butt Accomplishments Contribute to Tom Butt for Richmond City Council Contact Tom Butt Tom Butt Archives
E-Mail Forum
Chevron and Design Review

Let’s say you are an ordinary homeowner or small business owner in Richmond and you want to expand your home or office building. You have a design prepared and submit it to the City of Richmond for Design Review. When the application is complete and accepted by the Richmond Planning Department, it will be scheduled for a hearing by the Design Review Board maybe six weeks to two months later.

Let’s say you are a $100 billion oil company and have a $1 billion project that has to go to Design Review. The Richmond Planning Department will move everyone else aside and get you into a Design Review Board hearing within a week, even if your application is incomplete. That’s what has happened as the Chevron Energy and Hydrogen Renewal Project gets its first taste of public scrutiny next week. Click here. Money and power talks in Richmond, and it talks loud and clear to city officials at the highest level.

Let’s say you are a refinery neighbor and you got an official notice (Click here.) of the Design Review Board Hearing from the Richmond Planning Department saying “applicant proposes to replace the existing Hydrogen Plant, Power Plant, and reformer, and install new equipment in order to increase ability to produce gasoline that meets California specifications and uses a wider range of crude oil sources than are currently processed. The new equipment will improve reliability, energy efficiency, and add more environmental controls.” Sounds pretty good, huh? Rather stay home and watch TV than go down to City Hall on a cold, rainy night – especially when a project is described in such glowing and innocuous terms? Is there a downside? Surely, the Richmond Planning Department would have told the residents of Richmond if there were any.

Well, they didn’t They left that part out. The Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) has this to say about the Chevron Energy and Hydrogen Renewal Project:

Operational activities associated with the implementation of the Proposed Project would increase air pollutant emissions of volatile organic compounds by potentially significant quantities. This impact would be significant and unavoidable both for the Proposed Project and cumulatively as well. Proposed Project activities could result in an increase in greenhouse gas emissions from the Refinery.


The major concern for Richmond is that the Chevron Refinery is already a huge source of unhealthy emissions that impact Richmond residents, including:[1]


Reactive organic gases                         1,811 tons annually

Carbon monoxide (CO)                          563 tons annually

Oxides of nitrogen (NOx)                        1,1,60 tons annually

Oxides of sulfer            (SO2)                1,500 tons annually

Particulate matter (PM)                          248 tons annually


According to the DEIR, some emissions would be reduced, while others would increase:


NOx                                     reduce by 111.2 tons annually

SO2                                     reduce by 21.7 tons annually

CO                   increase by 100.4 tons annually

PM                   increase by 12.2 tons annually

VOC                 increase by 26.7 tons annually


In addition, the DEIR projects that CO2 emission will increase by 898,000 metric tons annually, and the DEIR basically throws in the mitigation towel for the increased emissions:


Through the addition of air pollution controls and other concurrent process changes, the net effect of the Proposed Project would be to make substantive reductions of NOX and SO2 emissions compared to existing conditions and the net increase of CO and PM emissions would be below the significance thresholds. However, total VOC emissions would be above the BAAQMD significance thresholds. Chevron does not have any available additional contemporaneous emission reduction offsets that could be used to mitigate this significant impact. Therefore, Proposed Project operational emissions of VOC would be significant and unavoidable and emissions of NOx, SO2, CO, and PM pollutants would be less than significant.


Mitigation Measure: None available. Because Chevron does not have any available additional contemporaneous VOC emission reduction offsets that could be used to mitigate this significant impact. Therefore, there are no feasible mitigation measures that could reduce this impact to a less than significant level.


Significance after Mitigation: Significant and Unavoidable.


The DEIR does not even treat greenhouse gases as a negative impact, drawing a strong letter from California Attorney General Jerry Brown. Regarding greenhouse gases, Brown states:


The hydrogen plant is responsible for the majority of the greenhouse gas emissions from the project, according to the body of the EIR, emitting up to 898,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. DEIR p. 4.3-40. This estimate may, however, be a substantial understatement: In an attachment to the Appendix, which was not made publicly available at the City’s website like other documents, potential greenhouse gas emissions appear to be up to 1,961,592 million (sic) metric tons. See Appendix, Chevron Renewal Project, Greenhouse gasses Emissions Estimate Inventory. This number seems more realistic given the upgrades to the hydrogen plant will result in increased functioning of at least 30% and possibly up to 55%, over current facilities. DEIR p. 3-28. Moreover, the DEIR does not take into account the Project’s production of GHGs other than carbon dioxide, such as nitrous oxides, methane and sulfur hexafluoride. It is also unclear whether the DEIR’s current estimates include increases attributable to flaring and whether the estimates account for the impact from the foreseeable Praxair Contra Costa Hydrogen Pipeline.


The impact of greenhouse gases is typically perceived as global climate change, but the impacts are local. As a low-lying waterfront city, Richmond stands to sustain major impacts from rising water levels that could flood developed areas. 


In addition to greenhouse gases produced in the refining process, the project will expand production capacity by 6 percent, which would be approximately 14,400 bbls. per day. That’s 604,800 gallons of product per day, or 218 million gallons per year. Each gallon of gasoline, which weighs about 6.3 pounds, could produce 20 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) when burned. That’s 2.2 million tons of greenhouse gas annually from the 6 percent refinery capacity increase.

An examination of the “transportation energy intensity” of buildings has revealed that getting people to and from buildings uses more energy than the buildings themselves consume…Indeed, the California Energy Commission has identified transportation as the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions – a total of 41%. The lion’s share of this is coming from those of us who drive cars and light trucks.[2]

It appears that there is an effort at the highest level to fastrack required approvals for the Chevron Energy and Hydrogen Renewal Project through City of Richmond discretionary review processes, to ignore City ordinances governing those processes, to diminish the ability of the Design Review Board to impose conditions of approval, and to deny the residents of Richmond a fair opportunity to participate in the process.

What can you do? Click here for ways that Design Review can improve the project, and write to the Planning Project Manager, Lamont Thompson (lamont_thompson@ci.richmond.ca.us) or better still, show up at the hearing and give them a piece of your mind.

[1] DEIR, Table 4.3-3

[2] September 2007 edition of Environmental News, quoted in Livable Places Update, Local Governmnet Commission, www.lgc.org.