In a stunning victory for environmental groups, the California Court of Appeal rejected most of Chevron’s challenge to a lower court decision that stopped construction on a $1 billion refinery upgrade. Click here for a copy.
The decision is a vindication for those of us on the City Council who maintained that the EIR was deficient and voted not to certify it. In my case, that vote was not a vote against the project; it was a vote against a flawed process that eventually led to shutting down construction at a great loss of jobs.
Had we been listened to, the EIR could have been repaired, the project approved, and presumably well under construction by now. In what is counterintuitive for a lot of people, we who opposed the EIR certification are being blamed for shutting the project down. In fact, just the opposite is true. Those who wanted to proceed with a flawed EIR bear that responsibility. They include the City Council majority, the construction trades unions and Chevron, to name the most important.
The ball is in Chevron’s court. They could appeal to the Supreme Court, but legal experts generally agree that would be fruitless. They could ask the City to repair the EIR along with appropriate mitigations and move the project forward. Or they could do nothing. There is some indication that Chevron has lost interest in the project and would rather just let it die while continuing to blame others. We’ll see.
Following are two media stories. There are hundreds more if you Google “Chevron Richmond” and screen for “last 24 hours.”
Court rules Richmond refinery plan is inadequate
Decision halts further refinery work
By Katherine Tam
Contra Costa Times
Posted: 04/26/2010 05:52:16 PM PDT
Updated: 04/27/2010 08:21:53 AM PDT
The environmental analysis of Chevron's plan to retrofit its Richmond refinery, including the core question on whether pollution would increase, is inadequate under state law.
The state Court of Appeal issued a highly anticipated 35-page ruling Monday afternoon that essentially keeps the refinery project at a standstill until holes in the environmental report are fixed.
Chevron is disappointed in the ruling, said refinery representative Brent Tippen.
"We feel both the evidence and the law amply supports the adequacy of the environmental impact report," Tippen said. "We are now reviewing the court's decision and will determine what is next to be done."
The environmentalists that sued Chevron and the city of Richmond say their aim is not to stop the 108-year-old refinery from operating but to ensure it does so without public risks.
"The decision lays out a clear road map for Chevron to expand its refinery in a way that's legal and won't harm the health of people living right across the fence," said Deborah Reames, attorney for the environmentalists.
"The community has been fighting back for decades - this victory is huge," said Henry Clark, executive director of the West County Toxics Coalition.
The ruling caps a five-year battle over Chevron's plan to replace its power plant, hydrogen plant and reformer to refine a wider range of crude with more sulfur and produce more California-grade gasoline.
Opponents have argued the project would allow the processing of heavier crude oil, which could increase pollutants by five to 50 times. Chevron disputed the claim and said it will continue refining light to intermediate crudes.
The city approved the plan after multiple heated hearings, but a lawsuit filed by the West County Toxics Coalition, Communities for a Better Environment and Asian Pacific Environmental Network forced the project into limbo as workers arrived at the refinery. Construction halted under a court order last July when a Contra Costa Superior Court judge sided with the environmental coalition and declared the project's environmental report was too vague. Chevron appealed to state court.
Construction workers have watched the legal wranglings closely, hoping the project's 1,000-plus jobs would get back on track.
Greg Feere, head of the Contra Costa Building Trades, said the Chevron project would have directly or indirectly created thousands of good jobs for local people. The judicial action hits home, he said.
"It's devastating for working people, and for the local economy," Feere said. "A lot of the people who were laid off have not worked since."
Labor's best hope now would be for some reconciliation from the involved parties, Feere added.
"Nobody wins on this one," Feere said. "And if they don't sit down and resolve this, everything will stay as it is."
The environmentalists are open to settlement talks, Reames said. Tippen said Chevron is deciding its next steps.
In its ruling, the state court described the environmental report on Chevron's project as "inconsistent" and "obscure" on the crude question. The city's subsequent attempt to clarify by hiring an outside consultant who relied on confidential data was "too little, and certainly too late."
"Unless the data as to crude slate currently processed at the refinery is divulged, the EIR's conclusion that the future crude slate would be 'similar to that which is currently processed' is meaningless," the court wrote.
The court agreed with the environmentalists in concluding the city improperly deferred developing a plan to deal with greenhouse gases. It sided with Chevron on the issue of whether the environmental report should have taken into account a proposal by Praxair to build a 22-mile underground pipeline to carry hydrogen from the refinery to plants in Martinez and possibly Rodeo.
Staff writer Karl Fischer contributed to this report. Katherine Tam covers Richmond. Follow her at Twitter.com/katherinetam.
Apr 27, 2010 11:56 am US/Pacific
Court Rules Against Richmond Refinery Expansion
RICHMOND (CBS 5 / BCN) ―
A state appeals court in San Francisco upheld a lower court decision on Monday that the environmental report for Chevron's Richmond refinery expansion project is inadequate under state environmental laws.
Last June, a Contra Costa County Superior Court judge ruled that the refinery's environmental impact report on the project was invalid because it failed to disclose whether the project would enable the refinery to process heavier crude oil.
The ruling was followed by an injunction ordering the refinery to stop construction on the project, and Chevron began laying off workers.
Chevron appealed the superior court ruling to the state Court of Appeal, but the appellate court upheld the lower court's decision Monday.
"Chevron is disappointed with the Court of Appeal's ruling," Chevron spokesman Brent Tippen said Tuesday. "We feel both the evidence and the law amply supported the adequacy of the EIR prepared by the city of Richmond for the renewal project."
The Richmond City Council narrowly approved the company's Energy and Hydrogen Renewal Project in 2008 and the company broke ground in 2009.
Soon after the project was approved, however, a group of community groups represented by the nonprofit law firm Earthjustice sued the city, claiming the environmental impact report did not adhere to rules of the California Environmental Quality Act.
Refinery officials claimed the project was an upgrade that would increase the refinery's flexibility to process a wider variety of crude oil and improve the plant's energy efficiency and reliability. They also said the project would reduce overall emissions at the plant and that the environmental review was sufficient.
The environmental groups Communities for a Better Environment, the West County Toxics Coalition and Asian Pacific Environmental Network, however, claimed that the upgrade was actually an expansion that would enable the refinery to process heavier crude oil, resulting in increased pollution in nearby communities and a higher risk of an explosion at the plant.
Tippen said Tuesday that the company believes that the project was properly analyzed and permitted.
"We are now reviewing the court's decision and will determine what is next to be done," Tippen said.
Earthjustice attorney Will Rostov said, "The court agrees that the people of Richmond have a right to know just how dirty the crude oil processed in this refinery will be."
"The court pointed out the legal deficiencies in Chevron's refinery expansion plan and tells Chevron the simple steps it needs to expand their refinery in a legal way that won't harm neighbors," he said.
"Asthma rates in Richmond are already twice the national average, said Richmond resident Kay Wallis, a health educator with the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at University of California, San Francisco. "For decades, Richmond families have paid a steep price for living near Chevron's refinery."
In addition to describing the grade of crude oil the project will allow the refinery to process, the court is also requiring Chevron to revise its environmental report to include specific and proven mitigation efforts it will take for any increase in greenhouse gas emissions before it can proceed with the project.
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