|Planning Commission Approves Conditional
Use Permit for Chevron Energy and Hydrogen Renewal Project
June 20, 2008
With no further public comment because the public hearing had been closed, the Richmond Planning Commission last night approved the second of two required actions to permit the Chevron Energy and Hydrogen Renewal Project. The first action, certifying the EIR, has already been appealed to the City Council by both Chevron and a group of community organizations.
Communities for a Better Environment, one of the organizations that appealed the EIR certifications, cried foul, accusing City staff of basing conditions on secret information unavailable to the public (Click Here for a copy of the letter) and filing a public records request for the secret documents. The letter was also signed by the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, the Atchison Village Environmental Committee, the Richmond Progressive Alliance, the Richmond Greens, Physicians for Social Responsibility and the West County Toxics Coalition.
The prevailing wisdom is that the Planning Commission decision will also be appealed to the City Council, where the final decision will most certainly be made by the five-member majority known as the “Viramontes Five.” From there, it will likely go into litigation.
Richmond approves Chevron upgrade proposal with restrictions
Article Launched: 06/19/2008 10:01:38 PM PDT
The Planning Commission on Thursday approved a permit that specifically limits the amount of crude oil allowed to run through one critical piece of refining equipment.
But project opponents denounced the decision, saying the restriction does not go far enough to ensure that Chevron won't refine more contaminated crude that can lead to increased pollution and health risks. They vowed to appeal to the City Council.
"We are going to hold them accountable," said Henry Clark, executive director of the West County Toxics Coalition. "Hopefully, the City Council will do the right thing and promote environmental justice for the people on the front lines."
Chevron representatives said they will take some time to weigh their next steps. An appeal is "an option," refinery spokesman Dean O'Hair said.
"We are pleased they made a decision to issue a conditional use permit," O'Hair said. "We are one step closer to building a project that reduces emissions, creates jobs and will result in a more reliable refinery."
Both Chevron and opponents are appealing the Planning Commission's June 5 decision to certify the project's environmental impact report, though for different reasons. The EIR is key because officials could not have granted a permit without first approving the document.
Chevron wants to replace its hydrogen plant, power plant and reformer to refine a wider range of crude and produce 6 percent more California grade gasoline. Public debate has centered mostly on whether the upgrades would allow the company to refine heavier crude. Other issues have included greenhouse gas emissions and flaring at the refinery.
Refinery representatives have defended their project, saying replacing 40- to 70-year-old equipment will mean a safer, more efficient facility. They said they will continue to process light to intermediate crude.
But opponents have sought guarantees and lobbied for tougher restrictions, including a more comprehensive limit on the amount and type of crude.
Opponents had considered it a victory when planning commissioners on June 5 agreed to a "comprehensive" crude cap that went beyond limiting crude through one machine. They told city staff to return with the legal language but did not specify what that would be.
The commission regrouped Thursday night and considered additional restrictions on two crude components, selenium and mercury. They eventually decided not to adopt those.
Commissioners voted 4-1 to grant a permit with limits on the crude running through one machine. Commissioner Jeff Lee, who initiated the motion, said he supports the city consultant's statements that such a provision provides sufficient safeguards for the environment and accomplishes the same thing as the more comprehensive crude cap that environmentalists wanted.
Commissioner Charles Duncan, who cast the dissenting vote, tried to impose additional restrictions on selenium and mercury as well as limit sulfur content to 1.7 percent. His motion died when no one seconded it.
Capping the sulfur content at 1.7 percent would have a significant impact on Chevron's proposal, which calls for a maximum of 3 percent. The crude refined now has been estimated at 1.5 percent or 1.7 percent, depending on how it is calculated.