Chevron, environmentalists must wait for ruling on Richmond refinery project
By Katherine Tam
Contra Costa Times
Posted: 02/23/2010 01:30:41 PM PST
Updated: 02/24/2010 06:41:25 AM PST
SAN FRANCISCO — Chevron and their environmentalist critics on Tuesday finally got their day in state appellate court, duking it out over whether the oil company's plan to replace old equipment at its Richmond refinery could increase pollution and harm public health.
The wait for a ruling could be as long as three months.
"By talking in generalities, they misled the public," Will Rostov, the attorney representing a trio of environmental groups, argued in the state Court of Appeal in San Francisco. "The question is will it be heavier (crude oil) and will that result in more pollution?"
Chevron defended its plan during the hourlong hearing and insisted the project's environmental impact report is clear on what kind of crude would be refined.
"It's not a failure-to-disclose case," said Ronald Van Buskirk, attorney for Chevron.
Dozens of people who have followed the case closely packed the gallery: local environmental activists, labor unions eager for construction jobs, refinery representatives and staff members from the state Attorney General's Office. The crowd was larger than typical in this courtroom.
The parties now await a ruling, which Judge Ignazio Ruvolo said would take up to 90 days.
Construction on Chevron's project to replace its power plant, hydrogen plant and reformer has been at a standstill since July, when a Contra Costa County Superior Court judge found the project's environmental report unclear, especially on the issue of what crudes would be processed. Chevron is appealing.
Negotiations aimed at avoiding a prolonged legal battle have hit a wall. A settlement appears elusive, despite persistent prodding from state lawmakers, the Attorney General's Office and labor unions.
Ruvolo asked Tuesday about the likelihood of a settlement within 60 days; Van Buskirk said it would be difficult, adding that the parties are still far apart.
After the hearing, locals milled about outside the courtroom speculating on how soon a ruling might come.
Greg Feere, chief executive officer of the Contra Costa Building and Construction Trades Council, hopes the parties will return to the table and reach a middle ground. About 1,250 were laid off when the project stopped under the July court order, he said.
"There is no other job to send them to. After so long, you run out of health benefits," Feere said. "There's a lot of frustration, a lot of anger, a lot scared about what kind of future lies ahead. We would love to see things settled."
The project was to employ 3,000 in construction jobs at its peak, Feere said, and fuel 7,000 secondary jobs ranging from materials vendors to payroll clerks.
There is no reason Richmond can't have both jobs and environmental guarantees, project opponents say.
"I would hope Chevron realizes that we're not interested in closing Chevron down," said Richmond resident Ken Davis, who said he has respiratory problems in the morning.
"Chevron has caused some conditions that make it difficult for us to live. Let's deal with mitigation."
Chevron argues that it meets some of the toughest environmental limits. The refinery has reduced emissions of criteria pollutants by 70 percent since the 1970s, spokesman Brent Tippen said.
During Tuesday's court hearing, the parties also addressed whether developing a plan to deal with greenhouse gases later is legal and whether the project's environmental impact report should have analyzed Praxair's proposal to construct a 22-mile underground hydrogen pipeline stretching from the Chevron refinery to plants in Martinez and possibly Rodeo.
Katherine Tam covers Richmond. Follow her at Twitter.com/katherinetam.
Richmond city leaders work on contingency plan amid talk of Chevron downsizing
By Katherine Tam
Contra Costa Times
Posted: 02/24/2010 05:41:29 AM PST
Updated: 02/24/2010 06:49:08 AM PST
What would happen if Chevron closes or downsizes operations at its Richmond refinery?
It's unclear if that would happen, but the prospect of losing the city's largest employer and taxpayer is spurring city officials to start developing a contingency plan just in case.
It would be irresponsible not to, City Councilman Tom Butt said.
"I don't think it would be the end of the world, but I do think we have to take it seriously," Butt said. "I think we would be negligent if we didn't continue to work on this and plan for some of these things."
The City Council on Tuesday night directed the city manager to study the possible ramifications of a refinery closure or reduction, and how to soften any negative impacts. Some officials want to know if the city could require Chevron to clean up any contaminated land and retrain its workers. The study also will look at what opportunities might emerge, as well as what the city can do to make a difference in whether Chevron stays.
The century-old refinery occupies about 3,000 acres on the west end of town and supplies a large chunk of the city's revenue. Its property, utility and sales taxes total $30 million to $35 million a year, City Manager Bill Lindsay said. That's about 28 percent of the city's general fund operating budget.
It employs about 1,200 people, Lindsay said.
Last month, Chevron Corp. announced plans to cut jobs in refinery, retail and marketing operations because the
recession is hurting profits in the downstream market. Talk of refinery closures is premature, representatives say. More details are expected to be released next month.
Some worry the Richmond plant could be in jeopardy, while others believe it is unlikely.
The council voted 4-1 to start work on a contingency plan, with Councilman Nat Bates dissenting.
"You're trying to run them out of town," Bates argued.
Council members Jim Rogers and Maria Viramontes abstained, though for different reasons. Rogers thought part of what the council was voting on wasn't in the public notice for the meeting; the city attorney disagreed.
Viramontes said officials should be looking at how to keep the city's largest employer, rather than just how to respond if it leaves. Her suggestion was incorporated into the council's direction to the city manager later that night.
Viramontes also objected to the issue being placed on a meeting agenda on the same day the state Court of Appeal heard arguments on the refinery's contentious proposal to replace old equipment. She said she thought it made the matter too political.
In other communities where refineries have shut down, some properties now house residential subdivisions, stores or business parks. Others remain vacant or are federally classified as highly-contaminated, according to a brief survey by city planners.
The Pacific Refinery Co. opened its plant in Hercules in 1966 and closed it in 1995. It dedicated the land to the city in 2000. The property now holds a 500-home subdivision and several parks.