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Chevron, Posco sue Contra Costa over Hazardous Materials Fees

Not satisfied with stiffing Richmond over millions of dollars in utility taxes, appealing its property taxes and negotiating a Community Benefits Agreement with the Chevron Five that is largely fluff, our local $200 billion oil company now wants to stop the County Department of Health Services from inspection of its handling of 11 million pounds annually of hazardous waste produced in Richmond by cutting off funding through legal action and save $233,906.

Yes, this is the same oil company supported and protected by the Richmond Chamber of Commerce, the Council of Industries and three of the Chevron Five (Bates, Sandhu and Marquez) who want to be re-elected so they can continue to serve Chevron.

The story from the Contra Costa Times:

Chevron, Posco sue Contra Costa over hazardous materials fees

By Matthias Gafni
Contra Costa Times

Article Launched: 10/08/2008 07:56:44 PM PDT


Chevron and USS-Posco, two of Contra Costa's biggest hazardous waste producers, have sued the county, arguing it has illegally charged them more than $600,000 in inspection fees in two years.

If the two facilities win, the county may have to reimburse $1.34 million to seven facilities. It would also lose about $642,000 annually.

Such cuts could jeopardize public safety because the county most likely would not have the money to continue inspecting the facilities, one county supervisor said.

In the lawsuits, Chevron and Posco contend that because they have state hazardous waste generator permits, the county cannot also charge them fees.

"Basically, it's double taxation," said Chris Conkling, Posco's general counsel. "We're exempt from the fee under state law."

The Pittsburg steel mill sued the county in June for almost $175,000 its 2006 and 2007 payments. Chevron sued in August for $233,906 for the same two years at its Richmond refinery. Both suits ask the court to permanently bar the county from charging them.

The county has its sights set on collecting back fees dating to 2002 for Posco, totaling $345,000, said Randy Sawyer, Contra Costa's hazardous materials director.

The county argues it can charge the facilities because the state Department of Toxic Substance Control permit fees only cover portions of the facilities. The county uses its fees to pay for inspections of hazardous material operations on the other portions.

On its face, the state agency agrees with the county.

"Counties have the authority to charge generator fees for enforcement," said Carol Northrup, spokeswoman for the state agency.

However, Contra Costa's case is complicated. Chevron and Posco say the county rescinded its ordinance allowing the collection of such fees in the 1990s. The county argues it merely stopped enforcing it. The county and Chevron will argue the point in court next month.

Chevron's suit has angered, again, Supervisor John Gioia, whose district covers the company's Richmond refinery.

"This is nickel and diming the county," Gioia said. "One has to ask oneself why they're being so aggressive in fighting their taxes and fees at a time when their profits are at the highest level they've been."

Chevron turned an $18.6 billion profit in 2007.

In addition to suing the county, the San Ramon-based energy giant has appealed its property tax assessment, which could cost Contra Costa and its cities $59.7 million in refunds and almost $2 million annually. Chevron has argued that the county has incorrectly assessed its land since 2004. The assessor's office hopes to complete those hearings by Thanksgiving.

"Chevron is committed to public safety," said Brent Tippen, Chevron spokesman. "We just want the same rights as any other business or citizen in the county."

If the county can no longer charge the seven facilities a hazardous waste generator fee, it may have to stop inspecting them. The county would have trouble finding replacement funds, Gioia said.

"Clearly, the county needs to be in a position to protect the public and have an appropriate level of oversight," Gioia said.

Even if it wins the case, Chevron would still pay more than $200,000 annually to the state.

Last year, Chevron generated 5,515 tons of waste and 7,982 tons in 2006. Posco collected 639 tons last year and 1,058 tons the previous year. All Contra Costa facilities generated 142,131 tons of hazardous waste in 2007, according to the hazardous waste division.

Reach Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5053 or mgafni@bayareanewsgroup.com.

Hazardous waste generator fees
The county charges seven Contra Costa facilities a fee. Two lawsuits, by Chevron and USS-Posco, could jeopardize more than $600,000 annually to the county. Here are the facilities and their 2007 hazardous waste generator fees:
Chevron Richmond Refinery $116,953
*USS-Posco $57,613
Tesoro Golden Eagle $116,953
Dow Chemical $116,953
Shell Oil Products $116,953
ConocoPhillips $116,953
Gen Chem Bay Point Works $2,305
*Paid $116,953 in 2006
Source: Contra Costa Hazardous Materials division