|Richmond Could Face Lawsuit in Approval of
Chevron Retrofit Plan
July 18, 2008
Richmond could face lawsuit in approval of Chevron retrofit plan
Article Launched: 07/17/2008 05:39:26 PM PDT
Opponents contend the project poses a health hazard that has not been fully analyzed, and they blasted the approval as an injustice.
"This is really a do-or-die situation," said Shana Lazerow, attorney for Oakland-based Communities for a Better Environment. "We feel the community is going to be so much at risk."
A divided City Council early Thursday morning approved Chevron's bid to replace its power plant, hydrogen plant and reformer to refine a wider range of crude with higher sulfur content, and produce 6 percent more California-grade gasoline. In addition, the council approved a separate agreement in which the oil company will give the city $61.6 million for more police officers, job training and other programs.
Opponents in the audience shouted "Shame on you!" and "Sell-out!" Some vowed to vote council members out of office.
Councilwoman Ludmyrna Lopez defended the decision, saying measures will require Chevron to lessen impacts.
"We are reducing the pollution that would otherwise be created by this project," Lopez said.
The council voted 5-4, with Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and Councilmen Tom Butt, Jim Rogers and Tony Thurmond dissenting.
"This process has been an extreme disappointment," Butt said. "I found (the environmental impact report) to be shoddy, incomplete and characterized by incompetence."
Thursday's vote culminated a seven-hour meeting. The council is the final authority on projects at City Hall, meaning opponents must go to court if they want to try to reverse the decision.
Chevron could begin construction work as early as mid-August, spokesman Dean O'Hair said.
"We're very pleased a decision has been made," he said.
Proposed about four years ago, Chevron's project quickly became one of the most heated and emotional issues in the city. It has pitted supporters who want refinery jobs against opponents seeking environmental safeguards, a divide many resent.
After multiple packed meetings, the city Planning Commission last month certified the project's environmental impact report and approved the project with about 70 provisions. Neither Chevron nor its opponents were satisfied with the ruling, though for different reasons, and both appealed to the City Council. The appeal began Tuesday night and resumed Wednesday.
Debate about whether the project is good for Richmond focuses on what the refinery would process. Chevron will continue to refine light to intermediate crudes, said Tery Lizarraga, the refinery's health, environment and safety manager.
A coalition of environmental groups contend the project would allow processing of heavier crude, which would increase pollutants by five to 50 times. The state Attorney General's Office has raised similar concerns. They sought safeguards in the form of a crude cap that limits the amount and kind of oil before it is refined, which the council rejected.
While the crude oil was a major focus of the hearing, Chevron's "community benefits agreement" also generated debate. The agreement resulted from discussions with city officials, who want the company to invest more locally, O'Hair said. The agreement was contingent on the retrofit project winning approval, and would be funded by efficiencies gained from the project, he said.
Opponents branded the deal as a "bribe" and "guilt money." And Butt and McLaughlin criticized the offer, saying some dollar figures outlined in the agreement are insufficient or would not sustain services long term. Butt questioned whether funding for alternative energy projects, which Chevron would sell to the city under one scenario, is in fact a community benefit. In addition, the two said the agreement was "negotiated in secret" and lacked full council or public input.
The council voted 6-1 to approve the agreement. McLaughlin voted no. Thurmond abstained. Butt, who walked out of the meeting just before the vote, was absent.
Richmond council approves Chevron upgrade project
Article Launched: 07/16/2008 09:53:21 PM PDT
A divided Richmond City Council early Thursday morning approved Chevron's contentious plan to replace decades-old equipment at the local refinery, as well as a separate agreement for the oil company to provide $61.6 million for public safety, low-income healthcare and other services.
Environmental activists, who say Chevron's plans pose a public health risk that has not been fully studied, immediately shouted "Shame on you!" from the audience and vowed to vote councilmembers out of office.
Councilwoman Ludmyrna Lopez defended the decision, saying a series of measures will require Chevron to cut emissions and other impacts.
"We are reducing the pollution that would otherwise be created by this project," Lopez said. "This is a responsible project."
The council voted 5-4 to approve Chevron's plan, with Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and councilmen Tom Butt, Jim Rogers and Tony Thurmond dissenting.
"This process has been an extreme disappointment," Butt said. "The EIR (environmental impact report) is an extreme disappointment. I found it to be shoddy, incomplete and characterized by incompetence."
The decision came at the tailend of a seven-hour meeting that adjourned at 2:10 a.m. Thursday. About 80 people both for and against the project remained in the audience when the vote was taken.
The City Council is the final authority on projects at City Hall, meaning anyone who disagrees with the decision would appeal through a court of law. City officials already are bracing for a potential lawsuit.
Proposed about four years ago, Chevron's bid to replace its power plant, hydrogen plant and reformer with newer equipment quickly became one of the most heated and emotional issues in Richmond. After multiple packed meetings, the Planning Commission on June 19 approved the project with about 70 provisions, including a restriction on the crude running through one piece of equipment regarded as critical in the refining process.
Neither Chevron nor its opponents were satisfied with the ruling and appealed it to the City Council, though for different reasons. The appeal began on Tuesday night with five hours of presentations and public testimony. It adjourned early Wednesday morning and resumed Wednesday night.
Refinery representatives say upgrading antiquated equipment would mean a safer, more efficient facility. It would allow the processing of a wider range of crude with higher sulfur content, while still processing the same light to intermediate crudes that is handled now.
"This project does not make a change with the crude we process at the refinery," said Tery Lizarraga, the refinery's health, environment and safety manager. "We will not process heavy crude. We are not configured to process heavy crude."
But opponents don't believe Chevron. A coalition of environmental activists argue that the project would allow the refining of heavier crude that would increase pollutants by 5 to 50 times. The state Attorney General's Office has raised similar concerns. The environmental impact report fails to address that and must be redone, critics said.
"There are so many unanswered questions," said Greg Karras, scientist with Communities for a Better Environment. "There's a lot more information we need. There's a lot more analysis we need."
While the crude oil was a major focus of the discussion, the "community benefits agreement" also generated much debate. Under a proposed agreement submitted to the city Tuesday, Chevron offered to give $6.8 million for job training and placement; $11.3 million for public safety; $6 million to Brookside Health Clinic; $10 million in financial aid to local nonprofit groups; $5 million for the Bay Trail; $14.6 million for alternative energy projects; and $5 million for other environmental mitigations. The agreement would be contingent on approval of Chevron's upgrade project.
Butt and McLaughlin blasted the document. Some of the dollar amounts would not sustain services long term, they said, and others are crafted in a way that the community benefit is questionable. In addition, they said the agreement was negotiated between Chevron and some city leaders without full council or public input.
"It first came to public light 20 hours ago," Butt said. McLaughlin described it as "totally unacceptable."
The council voted 6-1 to approve the community benefits agreement. McLaughlin voted no and Thurmond abstained. Butt, who grabbed his papers and walked out of the meeting just before the vote, was absent.