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Residents Protest Upgrade at Chevron Refinery (West County Times)

Residents protest upgrade at Chevron refinery

RICHMOND: Dozens at air quality board meeting voice concerns about the health effects of emissions

By Katherine Tam


Article Launched: 02/15/2008 03:11:48 AM PST

Tension is rising as Chevron's proposal to upgrade equipment at its Richmond refinery marches toward a key decision-making point.

Critics of the project blasted a regional agency this week for not holding Chevron to tougher standards, disrupting a crowded public meeting for 15 minutes and shouting down officials.

"Either you stand for environmental justice or you don't," said Henry Clark, executive director of the West County Toxics Coalition.

Eight groups plan to hold a rally and protest March 15.

The Chevron Energy and Hydrogen Renewal Project is the company's proposal to replace its hydrogen plant, power plant and reformer. Chevron would process the same amount of oil as it does now, but new equipment would allow it to refine a wider range of crude into gasoline, according to the final environmental impact report.

The Richmond Planning Commission will rule on the project. The date for the first public hearing before the commission has not been set.

Meanwhile, tempers continue to flare. About 85 people attended the Bay Area Air Quality Management District's community meeting Wednesday night, but the meeting was disrupted from the outset.

As district Executive Director Jack Broadbent took the microphone, 11 people marched to the front of the room holding a banner that read "Protect People's Health." Clark accused Broadbent and the air district group demanding that the air district hold a public hearing and deny the project unless it decreases emissions of all pollutants.

Broadbent, and later an El Cerrito man in the audience, asked the group to be seated so the air district could make its presentation.

After about 15 minutes, members of the group sat down or stood at the side of the room, but some continued to express their objections during the meeting by deliberately coughing or making comments when project supporters spoke.

Residents concerned about Chevron's proposed upgrades far outnumbered supporters. They told stories of respiratory problems and odors, and they called for no increase in emissions. Some residents want the city and air district to simultaneously consider a proposal by Praxair to build a 22-mile underground pipeline that would carry hydrogen from plants at the Chevron Richmond refinery to Martinez and possibly Rodeo.

Permits for Praxair's project rest in the hands of the county, because the pipeline would run through multiple jurisdictions.

North Richmond resident Michelle Chenault urged Chevron to meet with a community advisory group.

"We can't stop you from what you're doing, but we do ask that we're included," she said.

She added that Chevron should consider ConocoPhillips' practices, which include increased fenceline air monitoring at its Rodeo refinery and public access to that data via the Internet.

Supporters of the Chevron project included the Council of Industries, Richmond Chamber of Commerce and the Bay Area Rescue Mission.

"Let's upgrade, let's replace it, and let's look at the fence monitoring and other things we can do," said Tom Waller, who is chairman of the chamber board but said he was not speaking for the chamber.

The air district will weigh the public comments, Broadbent said. He added that he was "intrigued" by ConocoPhillips' practices.

After Wednesday's meeting, Dean O'Hair, spokesman for the Richmond refinery, said that Chevron is willing to consider ideas raised at the meeting, including reviving the citizens advisory group.

"We are open to considering what things might be useful to help the community progress," he said.

According to the project's environmental impact report, annual emissions in three categories of air pollutants would drop. Emissions in two categories would increase at levels deemed less than significant under state guidelines, the report says.

Critics argue that pollution thresholds under those guidelines are too high.

The guidelines were last revised in 1993 and are being reviewed, district officials said.

The project would produce as much as an additional 898,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions a year. The environmental report lists seven measures to mitigate this increase to the point where there essentially would be no new emissions.

Reach Katherine Tam at 510-262-2787 or ktam @bayareanewsgroup.com.

What's next

Chevron's Energy and Hydrogen Renewal Project must get permits from three agencies to move forward:

  The city of Richmond issued an environmental impact report in January. The Richmond Planning Commission will hold a public hearing to decide if the report is complete and if the project should be built. The commission's decision can be appealed to the City Council.

  The Bay Area Air Quality Management District will consider an air-quality permit if the city approves the project.

  The California Energy Commission will consider a permit request for the power plant replacement component of the project. The commission suspended its consideration in October at Chevron's request. The oil company plans to resume proceedings after Richmond officials determine whether to approve the project.