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Chevron Plan Has Brown's Attention

Chevron plan has Brown's attention

  Attorney general questions adequacy of environmental impact report for plan to upgrade Richmond refinery

By Katherine Tam

STAFF WRITER

Article Launched: 03/29/2008 03:03:20 AM PDT

 

In his public battle against global warming, state Attorney General Jerry Brown has turned his eye toward Chevron's proposal to upgrade equipment at its Richmond refinery.

His office has hired a chemist for its analysis and submitted three comment letters so far -- compared with the one or two it usually issues on other projects -- pressing for reductions in air and greenhouse gas emissions. The last letter, dated March 19, came the day before the Richmond Planning Commission began its decisionmaking hearing.

"We are trying to make sure the state reaches its goal of reducing emissions," attorney general spokesman Gareth Lacy said. "And we can't do that without weighing in."

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

Chevron says its project will mean a safer and more efficient refinery that would supply 1,200 construction jobs and 10 permanent jobs. But opponent groups Communities for a Better Environment and the West County Toxics Coalition argue that the proposal opens the door to refining more contaminated crude that will lead to more pollution.

The Planning Commission resumes its hearing April 10, the earliest it could render a decision.

Chevron's proposal has spawned protests and marches in Richmond and stirred political winds. Among the political heavyweights chiming in is Brown, who has a reputation for writing letters, threatening lawsuits and negotiating deals in projects around the state in his battle against global warming.

Last year, Brown threatened legal action against Contra Costa County over the ConocoPhillips refinery expansion in Rodeo, forecast to emit 1.25 million metric tons of greenhouse gases annually.

In a settlement agreement, ConocoPhillips agreed to audit its energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, said Ken Alex, senior assistant attorney general in the environmental unit on global warming. The company will pay $7 million to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, restore the San Pablo Bay wetlands for $200,000 and donate $2.8 million for reforestation and conservation efforts.

With California aiming to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2020, Brown's agency is homing in on projects with the potential for long-term effects. The agency is studying about two dozen projects right now, Alex said.

In Richmond, Brown's office submitted a 12-page letter last summer on the Chevron proposal, followed by a 10-page letter March 6. The letters questioned the adequacy of the EIR, saying the report does not fully analyze emissions or call for enough mitigation.

City officials revised the EIR in response to concerns from the AG's office and opponents. Those changes included putting lids on storage tanks to reduce air emissions and prescribing seven measures to mitigate the maximum possible increase in greenhouse gas emissions of 898,000 metric tons a year to zero.

The AG's 14-page letter of March 19 applauded the "positive" changes but said some deficiencies remain. A chemist hired by Brown's office concluded the refinery would have a unit to refine heavier crude, even though Chevron insists it will not process such oil. State attorneys suggest a limit on the crude slate.

In addition, Brown's office is asking the city to declare the projected increase in greenhouse gas emissions to be "significant," and specify that some mitigations occur in Richmond, Alex said.

Adopting the AG's suggested changes arguably could require recirculating the EIR for more public comment, city consultant Ellen Garber said.

Chevron spokesman Dean O'Hair disagrees, calling the document "rigorous" and "thorough."

The refinery maintains it lacks the equipment to refine heavier crude.

"They're looking at one piece of equipment and concluding we can do it," O'Hair said. "The rest of our hardware doesn't accept heavier crude oil. It's tough to prove things we can't do."

A limit on the crude slate is unnecessary, Chevron representatives said. O'Hair said the refinery is already agreeing to mitigate emissions to levels deemed less than significant by state law. It would need to seek revised permits from the city and alter its equipment if it wants to refine heavier crude in the future, he said.

Communities for a Better Environment and West County Toxics Coalition, who say concerns the AG's office raised mirror their complaints about the project, say recirculation is in order because the EIR is based on incomplete information from Chevron.

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

OnlinE

To read the state attorney general's March 19 letter on the Chevron Energy and Hydrogen Renewal Project, go to http://www.ContraCostaTimes.com.