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Chevron Packs Council Chamber, Leaving Detractors Out in the Cold

Chevron refinery ruling on hold until April 10

  Richmond Planning Commission delays decision, will take up issue again at next hearing

By Katherine Tam

STAFF WRITER

Article Launched: 03/22/2008 03:00:11 AM PDT

 

A decision on Chevron's contentious proposal to upgrade equipment at its Richmond refinery is at least three weeks away.

After five hours of testimony before a packed house Thursday night, the Richmond Planning Commission decided at 12:20 a.m. Friday to adjourn and continue its decision-making hearing on April 10.

Commissioners felt it was too late for thoughtful deliberation of such a complex and highly technical issue.

"I, for one, do not make good determinations at this hour," Commission Chairwoman Virginia Finlay said.

Chevron is proposing to replace its hydrogen plant, power plant and reformer. The company would process the same amount of oil, but new equipment would allow it to refine a wider range of crude oil and produce 6 percent more California grade gasoline, according to the environmental impact report.

Environmental activists and state Attorney General Jerry Brown, who have called the EIR incomplete in its analysis of the crude to be refined, emissions and mitigation measures, appeared to gain some headway.

City consultant Ellen Garber said Thursday it could be argued that significant new information was added between the draft EIR and the final EIR, particularly on greenhouse gas emissions and that the document warrants recirculation for public comment. The "conservative approach" would be to do so, she said.

Project opponents concur; Chevron disagrees.

Determining whether the EIR is complete is vital because no construction permits can be granted until the report is certified.

Chevron's proposal drew more than 300 people to Thursday's hearing, one of the larger crowds to reach the Planning Commission. The chamber began filling at least an hour before, with Chevron employees and supporters arriving in large numbers first.

Police limited the number of people inside the chamber as a fire-safety precaution.

By the time the hearing began, more than 150 people remained outside and listened to the proceedings from a tent. Some said they were not allowed to enter the building, even to use the restroom. A number of opponents outside went home after waiting hours in the cold to speak.

In their presentation, refinery representatives said their Energy and Hydrogen Renewal Project would bring a safer and more efficient facility while supplying 1,200 construction jobs and 10 permanent jobs.

But the West County Toxics Coalition and Communities for a Better Environment, which gave the opposing view, contend the project opens the door to refining more contaminated crude oil that would increase emissions and lead to health problems.

Planning commissioners inquired about crude content, greenhouse gas emissions and other details, though some commissioners seemed frustrated that they did not receive some clear answers.

Nearly 150 people signed up to speak. Chevron employees -- conspicuous in white Chevron T-shirts and navy blue Renewal Project polo shirts -- vouched for the refinery's safety record and urged commissioners to evaluate the project based on facts rather than "emotion." They and other supporters said replacing 30- to 80-year-old equipment makes sense and would supply jobs.

Richard Lompa, a longtime Richmond property owner, said, "I'm tired of Chevron-bashing."

Replacing old equipment isn't the issue, opponents argued. Rather, the city needs to demand the best upgrade possible.

"This is a momentous decision; the stakes are so high," said Greg Karras, a scientist with Communities for a Better Environment.

A chemist's analysis sent Wednesday with Attorney General Brown's letter states Chevron would increase its use of heavier crude because of a global increase in the average density of these oils.

Dean O'Hair, Chevron spokesman, said the refinery won't process heavier crude because it lacks the machinery.

According to the environmental impact report, Chevron would continue to refine light to intermediate crude oil, but the sulfur content in the crude is expected to increase from 1.7 percent to up to 3 percent.

Annual emissions in three categories of air pollutants would drop. Emissions in two categories would increase to levels deemed less than significant under state guidelines after mitigation measures are taken, the report states.

These include volatile organic compounds, which the draft environmental report estimated to be nearly twice what's allowed by law. Since then, Chevron agreed to put a lid on two tanks, which is expected to cut these emissions to a level where the effect would be less than significant, according to the final environmental report.

The project would produce as much as an additional 898,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions a year. The environmental report outlines seven measures to mitigate the increase.

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, the lead agency, issued the final environmental impact report in January. The Planning Commission must decide if the report is complete, and if the project should be built. Commissioners held a public hearing for five hours Thursday and will resume April 10 with rebuttals from Chevron and Communities for a Better Environment, which represents the opposition. Deliberations will follow. No additional public testimony will be taken. The commission's decision can be appealed to the City Council within 10 days.

  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

Chevron pleads case to revamp refinery

Friday, March 21, 2008

 (03-20) 22:17 PDT Richmond -- Four hundred Richmond residents, many skeptical and disbelieving, listened to Chevron executives attempt to persuade the city planners in Richmond on Thursday to sign off on a controversial plan to remodel their 106-year-old refinery.

Residents jammed the City Council chambers and a large tent erected in a parking lot outside as three Chevron executives pitched their case for an hour to the planning commission.

"The health risks are insignificant," Bob Chamberlin, the permit manager for the refinery, told the commission, while spectators in the audience groaned in disbelief. "We are the most tightly controlled refinery in the country, if not the world."

Chevron is asking to "upgrade" its 3,000-acre refinery with a new power plant and new production facility that will enable it to process crude oil with larger amounts of sulfur and other impurities. Opponents say the changes would rain more pollution and toxic chemicals on Richmond. They were asking for the planning commission to delay the expansion pending further study of how the changes will impact the area.

It was not immediately clear how or when the commission would decide on Chevron's request. After the Chevron presentation, two environmental groups opposing the plan got a chance to address the commission.

Greg Karras of Communities for a Better Environment called the commission's vote a "momentous decision" with a "potential for irreversible impacts."

Henry Clark of the West County Toxics Coalition criticized Chevron for not fully investigating current health problems in Richmond and said its residents were "living on the front lines of (Chevron's) chemical assault."

Members of the public, along with two environmental groups, were awaiting their turn to speak as the evening wore on. Several members of the public said they had plenty to say.

"We're already breathing a toxic load from a century of heavy industry in this town. We can't take any more," said Tarnel Abbot, 55, a longtime Richmond resident.

During the refinery executives' testimony, Abbot stood silently at the rear of the chamber and held up a sign that said, "Chevron Lies."

Resident Lillie Mae Jones, 78, said she is skeptical, too.

"If it produces jobs and cleans up the air, it will be great, but as usual, there will be a lot of lies (and) there's going to be games," she said.

At the center of the controversy is the environmental impact report for the project. The city is required to look at the project's expected emissions of volatile organic compounds as well as greenhouse gases, the latter of which contributes to global warming. But the city's report concluded that the greenhouse gas impact would be "speculative."

Chevron issued a statement Thursday saying that the project "meets or exceeds" regulatory requirements. California Attorney General Jerry Brown's office disagreed.

Brown's office sent a letter March 6 to the city of Richmond saying that the final environmental impact report was inadequate and cited a number of oversights. Among other things, the attorney general's office said the city's report "relies on a document that does not yet exist."

Brown's office said the report ignored the impact of some greenhouse gas emissions, while failing to support claims that other volatile organic compound emissions were not significant. Compounding those problems, Brown's office said the city had put out an inadequate plan for monitoring and enforcing air quality standards - possibly putting residents at much greater risk.

In addition, Brown's office said Richmond officials did not require Chevron to do any emission mitigation efforts inside the city limits, where the project's impact would be most severely felt.

"As written, the measures actually adopted could occur anywhere in the state and literally could be anything," the attorney general's office wrote about the proposed mitigation efforts.

Brown's office noted that some of the city's proposed solutions may be harmful as well, but that the city had not laid out a plan for looking at that either.

The attorney general's office pointedly noted that California law requires that such projects "not disproportionately impact low-income communities," a definition that presumably includes impoverished Richmond.

Online resources

To read the letter from California attorney general's office, visit: links.sfgate.com/ZCUI .

E-mail Matthai Kuruvila at mkuruvila@sfchronicle.com.

Panel postpones decision on Chevron upgrade

Saturday, March 22, 2008

 (03-21) 12:11 PDT RICHMOND --

The Richmond Planning Commission put off a decision early Friday on whether to approve a proposal by Chevron to modernize its refinery.

Residents jammed the City Council chambers and a large tent erected in a parking lot outside for the commission's hearing, which began at 7 p.m. and lasted past midnight.

Chevron wants to upgrade its 3,000-acre refinery with a new power plant and a new production facility that will enable it to process crude oil with larger amounts of sulfur and other impurities.

Opponents say the changes would add to air pollution and toxic contamination in Richmond. They were asking the Planning Commission to delay the expansion pending further study of how the changes will affect the area.

Early Friday, the commission decided to continue the meeting until April 10, at which time it will hear further arguments from Chevron and opponents of the expansion.

At the center of the controversy is the environmental impact report for the project, which the city's staff had urged the Planning Commission to approve. The city is required to look at the project's expected emissions of volatile organic compounds as well as greenhouse gases, which contribute to global warming. But the report concluded that it would be "speculative" to look at how the expansion would affect global warming.

Chevron issued a statement Thursday saying that the project "meets or exceeds" regulatory requirements.

State Attorney General Jerry Brown's office, however, sent a letter March 6 to Richmond saying the environmental impact report was inadequate. Besides ignoring the effect of greenhouse gas emissions, the document failed to support assertions that other emissions of volatile organic compounds from an expanded refinery would not be significant, state lawyers said.

Brown's office also said the city's plan for monitoring and enforcing air quality standards was inadequate, and that the environmental impact plan provided no mitigation for nearly 900,000 metric tons of additional greenhouse gases that would be emitted into the atmosphere as a result of the upgrade.

E-mail the writers at mkuruvila@sfchronicle.com and srubenstein@sfchronicle.com.

This article appeared on page B - 2 of the San Francisco Chronicle

 

 

 

 

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