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  Chevron in the News: CEQA End Run and Refinery Tours
September 9, 2010

Today’s San Francisco Chronicle editorialzed against an apparent effort by Chevron to wipe out CEQA review for the refinery project.
Environmental law being tested
Thursday, September 9, 2010
Frustrated by environmental reviews, businesses are employing a new tactic to speed development: asking legislators for exemptions from the rules. The latest example appears to be an expansion of Chevron's Richmond refinery.
The refinery's fate is tied up in closed-door talks involving the oil company, environmentalists, local leaders and Sacramento legislators trying to resolve a years long quarrel over the project on San Francisco Bay. Jobs, air pollution and tax revenues for blue-collar Richmond are on the line.
This high-stakes impasse could draw in another feature: gutting the landmark California Environmental Quality Act. It's a major brake on development and a major opportunity for public input, requiring that significant projects document impacts and study alternatives. Yes, it can take time, but, no, it doesn't kill worthy plans.
The issue of dumping CEQA has surfaced on the edges of the Richmond refinery debate. Because all of the concerned parties are pledged to negotiate in private, no one will officially confirm that the exemption is on the table. A Chevron spokesman declined to confirm or deny that the firm would push for the review waiver.
If such an end run occurs, it won't be a surprise. Seizing on a record jobless rate and a worried Legislature, business groups see a chance to upend the CEQA process. Last year, Sacramento leaders exempted a proposed football stadium in the business-park outback of Los Angeles County. This month, a plan to allow big-box retailers moving into vacant stores to skip CEQA narrowly lost in Sacramento.
The Chevron refinery expansion could be the latest hardball test of whether the state has rules that stand - or standards that can be waived with the right number of votes.
Since 2005, Chevron has sought approvals to enlarge its Point Richmond facility. Environmental groups fought the plans, claiming that the company's description of the project fell short. This year, an appeals court agreed with critics about the insufficiency of the environmental report.
Since then, an all-sides mediation effort has gone on to work out a settlement. Assemblyman Mike Feuer, a Los Angeles Democrat, and leaders of the Assembly and Senate have presided.
As cumbersome as this path might be, it's infinitely preferable to the alternative of overriding an environmental law that ensures that Californians can see - and comment on - major projects in or near their communities.
Meanwhile, Chevron’s refinery tour caught the attention of the SFWeekly reporter Peter Jamison, who called me for any information I had. I explained to him that Chevron seemed to be making a better effort on public relations than they had in many years. I told him the last time I could recall a refinery tour was maybe 20 years ago. Meanwhile, I had read some complaints in the North and East Yahoo Group about frustrated applicants for the tour. One individual had made a reservation by phone on August 23 and had heard nothing back. On September 6, he signed up on line but did not receive a confirmation until yesterday.

I think it’s nice of Chevron to provide tours of the refinery, but I suspect there are motives beyond having an “open dialogue and opportunity to engage with our neighbors.” Tippen said that he hoped it would “clarify some of the misunderstandings of what happens within this facility." I think most people understand that they refine petroleum into fuel and other products at the refinery, but if we are misunderstanding this and the bus tour reveals other endeavors such as growing marijuana or farming salmon, it would be interesting to know this.








When: Saturday, September 18,
2010, 9am to 1pm

Where: Chevron Richmond

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Is Chevron's Richmond Refinery 'Tour' a PR Stunt Connected to Upgrade Plans?

By Peter Jamison, Tue., Sep. 7 2010 @ 1:59PM


Chevron's Richmond refinery

Chevron is facing serious criticism of its alleged efforts to evade state environmental laws and push through a proposed rebuilding of its oil refinery in Richmond. Faced with the opposition of environmental activists and some state legislators, is it a surprise that the company would choose to mount a potentially meaningless public-relations stunt?

In a word, no. The Richmond Chevron refinery is making much of its upcoming "community tour day" on Sept. 18. Are public tours of the facility, which ranks as one of the top polluters in Northern California, the norm? Not at all, according to Richmond City Councilman Tom Butt, who says the last tour of the refinery he can recall was held sometime in the 1980s.

"This is the first time they've done something like this in years," Butt said. "Chevron has been engaged in a battle with the city of Richmond and the larger environmental community for years. ... They're trying to figure out a way to curry goodwill in the community."

Seems like a good time to make that effort. Just yesterday the San Jose Mercury News reported that Chevron, chastised by the courts for inadequately evaluating the environmental impact of its development proposals in Richmond, is trying to persuade legislators to enable an end run around the environmental regulations it failed to meet.

Chevron lobbyists are asking state lawmakers -- to whom they have given more than $4 million in campaign contributions since last year -- to grant the company an exemption from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which requires environmental review of large building projects, the Merc reported.

We left messages with Chevron spokesman Brent Tippen. No word back yet.

Who knows just how much goodwill the tour will curry -- Butt tells us that he has heard complaints from several Richmond residents who have had trouble signing up for the event. It's also worth noting that as "tours" go, this one will resemble a trip inside Area 51. As Chevron's website notes,
Tours will be conducted entirely from a bus. There will be no food served, nor will there be any live demonstrations or walking tours within the plants. All adult participants will be asked to show a government issued photo ID. All bags, backpacks and purses need to be left in your cars. No still, video cameras or camera phones will be allowed.

There are legitimate security concerns at a large oil refinery, which could be a potential target for a terrorist attack. Then again, details about the facility are already laid out in the company's environmental impact report on its development plans.

UPDATE, 4:08 P.M.: We talked to Tippen. He says the community tour "has nothing to do" with the controversy over proposed rebuilding at the Richmond refinery, and that none of the complaints Butt mentioned from people who want to take the tour have reached Chevron officials. Tippen says the tour has been in the works since last year, and was announced on the company's website about a month ago.

"This tour has been being planned for quite some time as an effort to communicate with the surrounding community," Tippen says, adding that Chevron hopes it will help "clarify some of the misunderstandings of what happens within this facility." As for the limitations on the extent of the tour, Tippen says they are intended for visiting neighbors' safety, as well as the security of the refinery.