|Chevron Agreement Draws Lawsuit - But
Not From Chevron
September 4, 2008
Environmental justice groups, represented by lawyers from Earthjustice and Communities for a Better Environment, filed a lawsuit today challenging the Richmond City Council's approval of Chevron's refinery expansion project. Click here for a copy of the complaint.
The press release from Earthjustice and CBE that summarizes the complaint is copied below.
It is interesting that Maria Viramontes, the self-proclaimed clairvoyant on the Richmond City Council, has lectured her detractors on more than one occasion about a scenario wherein Chevron would have sued a more aggressive City Council and forced the Chevron project into a court supervised settlement wherein the City would lost have all of the wonderful benefits she and her Chevron Five Associates wrung out of Chevron during secret negotiations.
What Viramontes’ clairvoyance failed to reveal to her is that Chevron has never prevailed in a lawsuit against the City of Richmond or CBE, but both Richmond and CBE have a recent history of prevailing against Chevron in litigation, particularly environmental, CEQA and land use litigation. See http://www.tombutt.com/forum/2004/041030c.htm and
http://www.tombutt.com/forum/2004/040920b.htm. Also see bullet points following the press release.
Why Viramontes and the Chevron Five would bet the house and the future of the City of Richmond on a loser is baffling. The lawsuit Viramontes predicted has landed, but it’s not from Chevron; it’s from organization with a far superior litigation track record than Chevron.
Where did the Chevron Five go wrong? In February of 2008, Chip Johnson of the Chronicle wrote about the upcoming Chevron project and quoted me ("Roll On, Big Oil," San Francisco Chronicle, February 8, 2008):
"The question is whether the council will hang together, hang tough," Butt said, "or just sell out individually like the council has in the past."
As it turned out, the Richmond city Council hung neither together nor tough. The five-member majority sold Richmond out once again. Had we hung together and hung tough, we would have had a Chevron project that had something for everyone: a CUP with clear limits on the quality of oil Chevron could refine and a Community Benefit Agreement worth probably twice what the current one is worth.
How did this happen? The Chevron Five succumbed to their own inflated egos, the seduction of power for power’s sake and their own naiveté and inexperience.
For immediate release: September 4, 2008
Roger Kim/APEN: 510-599-9393
Greg Karras/CBE: 415-902-2666
Henry Clark/WCTC: 510-232-3427
Will Rostov/Earthjustice: 510-550-6725
ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE GROUPS SUE CITY OF RICHMOND OVER APPROVAL OF CHEVRON REFINERY EXPANSION Expansion Endangers Public Health and Environment
(Richmond, CA) Environmental justice groups, represented by lawyers from Earthjustice and Communities for a Better Environment, filed a lawsuit today challenging the Richmond City Council's approval of Chevron's refinery expansion project.
At issue is an environmental review that concealed that the project would result in much higher levels of air pollution and increased risks of catastrophic accidents and oil spills. Communities in Richmond, particularly low-income and communities of color, are severely overburdened with industrial pollution-related health problems, including high rates of asthma and cancer. Chevron's refinery is the largest industrial polluter in the region.
The expansion would allow heavier and dirtier crude oil to be processed at the Richmond refinery, which would increase releases of mercury, selenium, toxic sulfur compounds, and greenhouse gases. The Richmond City Council approved the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and Conditional Use Permit for Chevron's expansion plans failing to acknowledge the fact that the expansion would allow Chevron to refine dirtier and more polluting oil were not disclosed, analyzed, or mitigated by the EIR.
"Chevron's project would lock in a fundamental switch to dirtier oil refining that increases toxic and climate-poisoning pollution drastically when avoiding these impacts is feasible," said Greg Karras, a senior scientist with Communities for a Better Environment (CBE). "The City violated the community's right to know about and act on this information," he said.
"The City Council failed its legal and moral obligation to protect our health," said Richmond resident Torm Nompraseurt, of the Asian Pacific Environmental Network. "Those dangerous chemicals are going to endanger me, my family, and my neighbors but the City didn't even look at what Chevron is really going to be doing."
Hundreds of residents jammed the City Council hearings in July demanding the City Council limit the refinery from processing dirtier crude oils and re-do the Environmental Impact Report that failed to analyze the project Chevron actually plans to build.
Instead, Chevron made a multi-million dollar offer in exchange for project approval with weakened environmental protections and less public review of future refinery projects. Chevron valued its offer at about $61 million. City and Chevron officials negotiated a proposed contract to execute the deal without public input, and presented it at the City Council's hearing on the project without the public notice required by state open government laws. The Council accepted the deal and approved the project without completing the environmental review needed to identify, analyze, and lessen or avoid its significant environmental impacts.
"Chevron must stop its toxic assault on poor people of color in Richmond. The City Council is selling out our community, but our health is not for sale," said Henry Clark, executive director of the West County Toxics Coalition. "We will fight this until we achieve environmental justice."
"The California Environmental Quality Act requires government agencies to look before they leap by analyzing and mitigating all significant environmental impacts" said Will Rostov, an attorney for Earthjustice, who represents the environmental justice groups in court. "The City's environmental review fails in its most basic purpose."
A poll conducted by David Binder Research indicated that an overwhelming majority (73 percent) of Richmond voters opposed the approval of the Chevron expansion until the environmental and health impacts of refining heavier crude oil were fully reviewed in a revised Environmental Impact Statement. In addition, 75 percent of Richmond voters said it was very or extremely important that any projects or funding between Chevron and the City Council be determined in an open public process.
The lawsuit was filed today in Contra Costa County Superior Court on behalf of the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN), Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), and the West County Toxics Coalition by attorneys from Earthjustice and CBE.
Read the poll results on the Chevron refinery expansion by David Binder Research (PDF): http://www.apen4ej.org/download/BinderRichmondChevronPollAPEN.pdf
Link to Petition: http://www.earthjustice.org/library/legal_docs/richmond-complaint.pdf
· CBE stops oil companies from violating federal law by using car scrapping to avoid pollution controls: Every time oil companies load their marine tankers in Southern California ports, they emit tons of toxic vapors. In 1996, CBE received a tip that rather than controlling their pollution as required by federal law, the companies were using a loophole allowing them to earn pollution credits by scrapping old cars. CBE filed five federal Clean Air Act lawsuits against oil companies for failing to reduce toxic emissions during loading of oil tankers at their marine terminal. CBE also filed a Title VI Civil Rights complaint against the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) for the discriminatory impacts of the car scrapping program, which concentrated pollution in communities of color near the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. As a result of our lawsuits, the oil companies were stopped from using car scrapping pollution credits and currently are using vapor recovery equipment to eliminate pollution.
· In addition, Chevron agreed to donate $500,000 to fund a free community health clinic in Wilmington and to spend $500,000 to install pollution control devices at its refinery. Ultramar also agreed to donate money to Liberty Hill Foundation and American Lung Association and to pay $400,000 for installation of pollution control devices at its refinery. US EPA initiated a national review of its pollution trading policy. Finally, SCAQMD agreed to adopt an Environmental Justice Initiative which led to the amendment of Rule 1402, which reduced the allowable cancer risk from air contaminants from existing sources from 100 in a million to 25 in a million.CBE sues to stop use of MTBE in California: In August 1998 CBE sued eight oil giants (Tosco, Chevron, Shell, Exxon, Mobil, Arco, Unocal, and Texaco) that produced and distributed the gasoline additive MTBE in California. CBE charged the oil companies with violating California's Unfair Competition Act which prohibits any "unlawful, unfair or fraudulent business practice,” because they introduced and profited from the use of MTBE, which has contaminated many sources of groundwater and drinking water across California. CBE attorneys discovered that company scientists had long warned the oil giants about the environmental risks of MTBE-added gasoline before it was put on the market. After three years of litigation, CBE won settlements requiring the companies to clean-up over 700 MTBE contaminated sites. The case helped build political momentum resulting in a state-wide ban of MTBE by the end of 2003.