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Chevron’s Refinery Project

Final Chevron Project City Council Vote: 5-0-2

Reflections on the Council’s Chevron Decision

Liz Watts with husband Eduardo Martinez  
Photo by Tarnel Abbott

by Patsy Byers

Fearless they were not. The five men on the Council refused to impose on Chevron any of the conditions recommended unanimously by the Planning Commission. The same five voted to cut off all Council debate and discussion, period. So the public was denied the opportunity to hear what each member really thought and felt about the issues. And those five saved themselves the awkward task of explaining what they supported, and why. They also denied Mayor McLaughlin and Vice Mayor Beckles the opportunity to express themselves.

The Contra Costa Times reported shortly after the decision that the community benefits agreement, "agreed to by the oil giant to secure city approval," was a deal "three council members negotiated in a series of private meetings with a Chevron lobbyist."

"Chevron is a company used to getting its own way" begins Steve Early's recent CounterPunch article about the council vote and what's at stake in the upcoming election.

Mike Parker has an analysis that notes several missed opportunities for lowering pollution and health risks, outlines strategies for other approaches to achieve these outcomes, and declares: "If we had a City Council that was more willing to stand up to Chevron, our community could have benefited more."

Mayor McLaughlin wrote of her abstention on the final vote: "My vote reflects the ambivalence of two realities. I believe the proposal that passed reflected significant concessions by Chevron. I believe, just as strongly, that Chevron can still take additional steps to create the cleanest and safest refinery possible - and our community deserves this company's best effort... We pushed Chevron as it has never been pushed before, and we won serious concessions from the oil giant. We are proud of this. And the struggle continues. Doctors Medical Center should have been funded in the Chevron agreement. We will continue to fight for this essential health facility."

On the July 22 Public Hearing

In Defense of the Planning Commission’s Work

Mike Parker   Photo: Juan Reardon

Over 400 people showed up. Over 200 signed up to speak. Chevron had many there with their with signs and blue and white jerseys and impatience for approval. While in smaller blocks, the green shirts of APEN and the red ones of CNA were a welcome sight.

Before the hearing, Chevron announced it would accept the environmentally superior Alternative 11, but the appeal continued, pressing the City Council to lift additional conditions imposed by the Planning Commission.

Greg Karras of Communities for a Better Environment, and RPA's Mike Parker shared the 8 minutes allowed for formal advocacy of the Planning Commission position. Speaking first, Karras made the case for the conditions --lowering emissions, replacing old components subject to corrosion, and funding an expanded Clean Energy Jobs Program-- as consistent with high standards for public health, worker safety, a just transition to a clean energy future, and environmental stewardship.

Mike Parker's statement is worth hearing in its entirety.

About 100 public speakers followed, many urging the City Council to follow the recommendations of the Planning Commission.

For a broader report on the hearing, read the East Bay Express article.

“Do not agree that they have the right to continue to poison us.”

Modernization Must Mean a Cleaner Refinery

Mike Parker to City Council 7/22

On 7/22/14, the Richmond City Council heard Chevron appeal conditions on its permit for a project to process higher sulfur crude oil. The conditions would require steps to reduce pollution.

The Richmond Environmental Justice Coalition urged support of the conditions placed by the Planning Commission. Mike Parker, representing REJC, explains why.

Good evening Council. I'm Mike Parker, and I want to thank Chevron for agreeing to accept Alternative 11. As a Chevron spokesman has said, Chevron has responded to community pressure. It shows that a community that stands up for itself can have power, even against a multinational corporation. Alternative 11 was only included in the Final EIR in response to community pressure, and now Chevron is accepting it for the same reason. But Alternative 11 is only a first step, and does not address serious problems.

The Richmond Environmental Justice Coalition urges the Council to accept the full conditions established by the Planning Commission. I want to focus on one issue: the right to breathe clean air, and the enormous cost to the community, in health-care and property values, for the dirty air that we breathe. As the EIR acknowledges, Richmond is an impacted community. It already has high pollution, which creates a higher cancer risk for residents. That is fact. Chevron is not the only cause, but it is a major cause. Every year now, Chevron pumps into the air thousands of tons - think of that, visualize that - thousands of tons of pollutants, 500 tons of particulates, and others. Unfortunately, the City has very little everyday legal leverage in getting Chevron to reduce these pollutants. Now, in setting conditions for this project, it is the one time that the City has the ability to require cooperation from Chevron on pollution control. Now we have the legal leverage, and if we don't do it now, when will we ever do it?

Our position is that modernization of the refinery must make the refinery operations themselves cleaner, not dirtier. Chevron is making these changes in the refinery so that it can process higher sulfur crude, because that is more profitable. But without making other changes, the same process results in more Toxic Air Contaminants. So what is proposed here is really a toxic shell game: the refinery itself will polute more, but Chevron will compensate by cleaning up two of its ships and one of its tugs. It has been known for years that Diesel Particulate Matter is one of the most dangerous cancer-causing sources of pollution. Apparently, Chevron's ships and tugs have been spewing so much into our air that changing just a couple registers a significant change in the air we breathe. Chevron's business does not require these sources of pollution. They have just chosen to avoid the expense of stopping it.

In this case, Chevron owes it to our community to do everything reasonable to cut this kind of pollution. Change the ships. Change all the tugs. Electrify the dock. Cap all the tanks. And above all: do not accept that fixing these spewers of deadly particulates somehow gives Chevron license to increase 61 other Toxic Air Contaminants from the refinery. It is as though Chevron is claiming that the law grandfathers in its right to poison us. Do not agree that they have the right to continue to poison us.

I want to urge that we recognize that the refinery operation is a health problem for this community. We know that the refinery operation is dangerous. The continued operation of the refinery must include provisions for available medical care for the community, and must include a major contribution to keep Doctors Hospital Medical Center open as a full-service hospital. I urge the support of the Planning Commission conditions. Thank you very much.

Join with Richmond Environmental Justice Coalition to Say

City Council Must Uphold Planning Commission

The Richmond Environmental Justice Coalition (REJC) calls on the Richmond City Council to uphold the Richmond Planning Commission's decision*, which added conditions to Chevron's project to make the refinery cleaner, safer, and more modern, and to create more local jobs.

The project as originally proposed would allow Chevron to process higher-sulfur crude that poses greater threats to the health of the community. The Planning Commission unanimously approved the environmentally superior Alternative 11, as recommended by California's Attorney General.

Additional conditions set by the Planning Commission include:

  • Local reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, including the creation of a community-controlled Clean Energy and Jobs Program
  • Reductions in emissions of Toxic Air Contaminants
  • Adherence to BAAQMD's 1995 limit on unhealthy particulate matter emissions from the fluid catalytic cracker using state-of-the-art monitoring (improved measuring methods have shown that Chevron has been emitting substantially more than this limit)
  • Replacement of all pipes older than 25 years that process high-temperature oil
  • Replacement of all temporary clamps with state of the art leak repairs
  • Use of shore power for ships docked at the long-wharf, instead of using polluting heavy fuel power
  • Replacing 6 tugboats instead of 1 with less polluting technology
  • Placing domes on 30 storage tanks instead of 3 to contain volatile organic compounds
  • Documentation of Chevron's compliance with these project conditions

The REJC also favors including a strong local hire component that ensures one out of three workers are Richmond residents.

*See the full text of the motion approved by the Planning Commission on July 10.

A Brief History of Alternative 11

Making Sure Modernization is Done Right

In June, Richmond's City Council voted to curtail the power of the Planning Commission over Chevron's refinery project, with an amendment introduced by Tom Butt that will go into effect July 17th; so the Commission is under pressure to complete its process ahead of that deadline.

After that Council decision, Richmond received a second letter on the project from Attorney General Kamala Harris' Office. That letter endorsed Alternative 11 from the Final EIR, which cuts high-sulfur crude inputs and limits hydrogen production, as the only scenario meeting California's environmental objectives—when implemented with the FEIR's pollution mitigation measures and other improvements. Councilman Butt observed that the AG's letter carries significant weight: "There's a presumption that the city will put (Harris' suggestions) into its requirements," Butt said. "The Planning Commission has the power to put this into the conditions of approval."

If Alternative 11 will be required, what else should be included in the conditions of approval? In the conclusion of his Key Points paper, Jeff Kilbreth suggests:

  • Public monitoring and oversight of Chevron's improvements on maintenance, safety, and emissions reduction
  • No increase in Criteria Air Pollutants or Toxic Air Contaminants
  • Requirements for further modernization and emissions reduction over the next 10 years
  • Dramatic improvements in emissions monitoring by January 2016
  • Any increase in greenhouse gas emissions at the refinery must be mitigated locally

On behalf of RPA and the Richmond Environmental Justice Coalition, Kilbreth presented these proposed conditions to the Planning Commission on Wednesday, July 9. Neither Chevron's statement at that meeting, nor any of the public comments from Chevron supporters, acknowledged the environmentally superior Alternative 11 endorsed by Kamala Harris, or conditions necessary to the goals of plant safety and reduced emissions.

To the cheers of most attending, the Planning Commission unanimously certified the Final EIR and adopted Alternative 11, with supportive conditions of approval, at the continuation of their hearing on Thursday. Now it's in the City Council's court, starting Tuesday, July 22.

A Very Informative Resource

U.S. Chemical Safety Board on Chevron Fire

For a reminder of what's at stake, watch the Chevron Refinery Fire Animation video and review the recommendations on the U.S. Chemical Safety Board's (CSB) webpage about the August 2012 Chevron Refinery Fire and Explosion. It also has links to the CSB's final report and related news stories.

Alternative to Reduce GHG Emissions

Attorney General Supports Alternative to Chevron Proposal

by Mike Parker

The Office of California Attorney General (AGO), Kamala Harris, has sent a letter, dated June 20, to the City planners stating support for the new alternative project described in the final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) for the Chevron Project. Combined with the first letter of June 6*, the AGO is saying that Chevron's original proposal is not adequate under California laws.

Spin on letters

The AGO does say that the Final Environmental Impact Report is acceptable. Many people have taken that to mean that the AGO has signed off on the Chevron project itself. But the reason that the AGO gives for finding the FEIR acceptable is that it includes a new alternative to the proposed Chevron project which "along with other improvements made in the final EIR... would resolve the AGO's concerns." It is this alternative that the AGO is supporting and not the original project as proposed by Chevron.

This re-evaluation and modification process is consistent with the purpose of developing an EIR in the first place: To examine the environmental impacts of a proposed project and weigh reasonable alternatives. Chevron's main reason for this project is to equip the refinery to process higher sulfur crude oil, which is significantly cheaper than traditional crude. The problem is that processing this higher sulfur oil produces more pollutants, more toxic substances, and requires more use of hydrogen (the production of which creates significant greenhouse gasses).

The Alternative

Again, the Alternative (6.5.11) cited by the AGO was not in the original Draft EIR. As a result of many public comments and criticisms, the City Planning Department included this alternative in the FEIR: "In response to comments, the Final EIR includes a new Alternative that combines the Reduced Sulfur Processing Alternative with a modified form of a Hydrogen Cap Alternative which focuses on total Refinery greenhouse gas emissions..." (FEIR 4-47)

Under this Alternative the amount of sulfur processed would be cut to half of that in the original proposal, and hydrogen production would be capped at a level that would not increase greenhouse gasses. With these proposed limits, the refinery could operate at about 85% capacity. (This level could increase if the refinery put in place other ways to locally reduce greenhouse gasses.)

Chevron has not stated whether it will accept the Alternative. As is noted in the FEIR: "The EIR preparers have no information regarding the economic feasibility of [the Alternative] for the applicant relative to the project."

Chevron could also possibly find other ways to meet the same "no increase" objectives. (They could modernize the other parts of the refinery, for example.) If Chevron chooses to push its original proposal and manages to get it through City Council, Chevron and the City may face a legal challenge from the Attorney General.

If Chevron were to agree to the Alternative, it would be a giant step forward for both the project and for the health of Richmond, and it is likely that the project would move ahead quickly.

*For the full text of the first AGO letter click here, and use this link for the second one.

July 9 & 10, 6pm, Civic Center*, Witness History being Made

Planning Commission to Consider Chevron FEIR

The Richmond Planning Commission intends to exercise its mandate to review and evaluate the Chevron project Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR), despite the rush recently imposed by the City Council majority. Chevron has been waging a huge campaign to convince both the public and the council to support its project. It remains to be seen how it will respond to the recent endorsement of an alternative proposal by the State Attorney General's Office. The public health, environmental, and economic implications of this project are enormous; the technical complexities daunting. It has all the elements of good drama, and its resolution will impact Richmond, likely for decades.

How can you stay home? Plan to attend the Planning Commission meeting, and, if necessary, to be there the next night, too. Sign up to speak if you are willing and able to do so. If not, take a seat away from a paid goon. Participate in the process of public engagement, scrutiny, and oversight. We need you there.

And if you have an hour or more in the coming week to call other residents and urge them to attend, your can get a script and help getting started. Please call the RPA office, 510-412-2260, and leave a message about your availability, or come in to BBPC, 1021 Macdonald, 2-5 M-Th next week. (The office will be closed Friday, July 4th.)

*The exact location is still to be announced.

Astroturf Unanimity

Chevron Mobilizes for Approval of Its Project

by Mike Parker

Despite the community criticism about increased pollution and greenhouse gasses and the Attorney General's questions about the legality of Chevron's proposed project, Chevron is moving ahead with trying to win public support for its project. It's using its sponsored media like The Richmond Standard, and "Radio Free Richmond" to spin the news on its project. Its paid canvassers are knocking on every door in Richmond.

It also is apparently calling in chits on the community and non-profit groups that it funds.

So 4Richmond, which claims to unite Richmond and proclaims that it "is Richmond," has announced that its Board of Directors, Steering Committee, and staff "unanimously endorse the Chevron Richmond Refinery Modernization Project" [emphasis added]. 4Richmond has announced that they will be actively mobilizing community support for the project. (Also, 4Richmond is registered as a 'C4' non-profit which allows it to back candidates—so watch for it to be further involved.)

Kamala Harris Letter to Richmond Planning Department

State’s Attorney General Says Chevron’s EIR Needs Revision

Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) has just issued a press release, in response to the June 6th letter from California Attorney General Kamala Harris.

It begins:

Urging the City of Richmond “to revise the EIR so that it will fully inform the public and the City Council of the local and statewide impacts of this Project,” Attorney General Kamala Harris cited refinery safety, air pollution, and climate protection concerns with Chevron’s proposed Richmond refinery expansion—the same concerns raised by Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) last month.

It goes on to note that Harris identified at least five issues that require further evaluation:

  1. Safety hazards of the proposed project;
  2. Potential project impacts on statewide climate protection objectives;
  3. The project’s cumulative air pollution impacts on the already-disparately impacted local community;
  4. Feasible measures to cut local air pollution; and
  5. Reasonable alternatives that may be environmentally superior to the project as currently proposed.

See her letter here.

Why the Rush Now?

City Council Votes to Thwart Planning Commission EIR Review

Chevron’s theme has been that its “modernization” EIR is already perfect, ready to be-rubber stamped for immediate approval. It sent out numerous mailers; paid to have that message said loud and clear at City Council meetings, public information sessions, and hearings; and mounted an extensive “feel good, we’re good” billboard campaign.

On Tuesday, June 3, the five men on City Council—with uncharacteristic willingness to extend the meeting past 11:30pm—voted to amend the review process and usurp authority from the Planning Commission. In response, the Planning Commission is unanimously urging the Council to reconsider and not finalize that change on its second reading, June 17th, citing significant changes in the project since the Council’s action six years ago, the need for adequate time to thoroughly review the Final EIR (beyond the suggested 10 days), and questions about the rationale for this special case treatment.

Many important issues remain unanswered as of this writing. Why the rush now, after Chevron itself delayed the process for years?

Look over the Straight Talk about Chevron and Richmond mailing from Team Richmond that was delivered in May. It supports “modernization done right”:

  • Modernize the whole refinery, not just the proposed 20%.
  • Work hard to reduce emissions over time, not increase pollution as planned.
  • Stop trying to buy political power and control elections.
  • Be a better neighbor with more local job creation, fair tax payments, preventative safety programs, renewable energy projects, and support for education.

Think about what you’d like to see in a Community Benefits Agreement. Read the questions the Richmond Environmental Justice Coalition submitted in response to the EIR here.

Rush to Judgment on Chevron EIR

Serious Questions Remain Unanswered

by Mike Parker

It appears that there is a lot of pressure to jam the Chevron EIR through:

  • Chevron has mailed every home a mailer.
  • The city staff has scheduled the minimum amount of time the law requires for an EIR despite the mammoth size (over 4000 pages) and all the questions still to be answered.

And yes there are serious questions on the project including ones raised in the EIR.

The next public steps will take place at the Planning Commission Meeting, 6:30pm, Thursday May 8th, in City Council chambers.

The Richmond Environmental Justice Coalition (REJC) has submitted several pages of questions to be addressed in the revision process, before the EIR is completed.

Judge for yourself whether these are “significant.”

Read the REJC’s cover letter and list of EIR questions.

From the Planning Commission Hearing April 17th

Public Weighs In on Chevron DEIR

The Richmond City Council chambers were packed to capacity last Thursday for the Richmond Planning Commission’s Public Comment Hearing on the Chevron Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for its proposed project. By the Chair’s count, 63 people spoke, and by an informal tally those with critical questions and concerns outnumbered the “rubber stamp” advocates by 3-to-1.

At the pre-hearing rally, Andres Soto from Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) noted how great it was to see members of the California Nurses Association (CNA) in their red, the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) folks in their green, and the people of Richmond and neighboring communities in all their diversity. The energy and color carried over into the hearing, where a relatively small group sported blue and white jerseys for Chevron’s PR effort, “Richmond Proud.” Relatively few in number, they took up prominent seats behind the speaker’s podium and were loud clappers.

Nurses, who handled the front-line emergency treatment following the August 2012 fire and explosion, and who noted the high incidence of chronic respiratory diseases, reproductive problems, and cancers among their patients in Richmond, spoke with credibility and passion. Many long-term Richmond residents testified about the losses they had suffered among their friends, co-workers, and family members, and they made a plea for cleaner and safer operations, with no local increase in toxic emissions. Other speakers wanted more details about the 29 new jobs claimed for the completed project, as well as a better understanding of the scope and nature of the temporary employment the construction phase would offer.

More technical comments addressed a broad range of issues, from calls for more just and effective mitigation measures (including more intense and sustained funding of local alternative energy projects and renewable energy sourcing for Chevron’s operational needs) to a suggestion that any increase in CAPs and TACs (Criteria Air Pollutants and Toxic Air Contaminants) may violate the intent of AB 32. Several speakers questioned the validity of the baseline statistics used to set the “no net increase” goals. The relatively narrow scope of the proposed project also came under scrutiny, with recommendations that Chevron undertake a full and effective modernization of its whole Richmond facility. As one APEN member so clearly said of Chevron (in translation): “If they continue making money, they can continue to change!”

From Mike Parker, Candidate for Mayor

Statement on the Chevron Draft EIR

Photo by Michael Beer

1. Almost everybody in Richmond favors a “Newer, Safer, Cleaner” refinery. We have to work to make sure that such a project does go forward.

2. The Draft EIR is a real victory in terms of accountability and transparency. City staff, consultants and Chevron did excellent work on the Draft EIR. It provides a lot of information and allows a careful reader to understand most of what they need to know. There are still some questions to be answered and some additional scenarios that need to be run, but we’re right on schedule. We never got this much information in the past, so the report is a big step forward. Everyone should celebrate this document as a victory for good government and thank the organizations who forced the disclosure of so much information—CBE, APEN, the RPA and the West County Toxics Coalition.

3. The Draft EIR misses important scenarios. The Draft EIR provides us with an assessment of the likely and possible impacts on the community from this project under different project scenarios. Under CEQA, it is up to the city planning commission and ultimately the Richmond City Council to determine the final set of “reasonable alternatives” that should be considered and to determine what conditions to set, if any, in permitting a specific project. This is a negotiation.

4. Chevron places higher profits above controlling emissions. Despite being the 3rd most profitable company in America, Chevron has proposed a project that increases both local toxic emissions that damage our health and greenhouse gas emissions that damage our planet. Couldn’t they do better?

To read the full statement, click here.

4500 Page Chevron Report Released

Paid Supporters Welcome EIR at Council

By Mike Parker

The crowd at Tuesday's Council meeting was remarkable.

Most of the crowd was apparently paid to attend. Several in attendance reported that Building Trades members -most of whom do not live in Richmond-- were paid. A group of Richmond residents who were wearing the pro-Chevron shirts said they worked for Chevron. When asked where they work within the refinery, they explained that they were hired by Chevron to do door-to-door work.

The action was clearly jointly organized by the Building Trades and Chevron's PR firm Whitehurst-Mosher, whose Richmond operatives were also wearing the Chevron shirts.

The main spokespersons for the building trades were very careful to say the right and reasonable things: It is the job of the city to examine the Environmental Impact Report carefully.

Written in: Chevron announces upcoming jobs

But the main message of the paid supporters was that the 4500-page report, just released, "was perfect," as one said. There were thunderous denunciations of the city council for supposedly having stopped the project two years earlier and threats to make sure it would not happen again.

Facts

  • The project was not stopped by the City Council. In fact, in 2007 the City Council had a 5-member pro-Chevron majority and they approved the EIR despite the defects that the public pointed out. It was two courts that ruled that the EIR was badly flawed. (Some would say that Chevron lied.) Even still Chevron did not have to stop the project. They had the option of continuing the project while correcting the EIR. Instead, Chevron abruptly stopped the whole project.

    Only Chevron insiders know why for sure. One possible reason is that the expansion project was designed and started before the economic collapse of 2007. When it became clear how serious the recession was, Chevron's economic interest was to delay the project. The court rulings may have been a convenient excuse for Chevron to stop the project and blame others.

  • The "Modernization Project's" main purpose is NOT to modernize the plant as a whole. In fact, the majority of the plant is not even being touched by the project. After 5 fires, why aren't they modernizing the whole refinery? Is this really the best they can do?

  • The two primary purposes of the "Modernization Project" are to increase the amount of hydrogen being produced and to allow processing higher sulfur crude.

  • While some modernization of the crude unit has been added, it remains to be determined just how many of the problems identified by Cal/OSHA and the US Chemical Safety Board are being fixed and whether the "Modernization Project" is making the plant "state-of-the-art."

  • Chevron 2008 Stoppage
    Chevron 2008 Stoppage

    Even if Chevron makes improvements in emissions control, their plans will create more GHG and toxic air contaminants (TACs) locally in Richmond. The only way they can say "no net increase in emissions" is because they will buy credits elsewhere that "compensate" for the increased pollution in Richmond.

  • There are a lot of safety improvements and emission reduction opportunities that are not included in this "Modernization Project." Chevron must have ruled them out because of cost or because they would have kept the refinery out of production for a few more weeks. We should expect more of them.

  • The legal minimum 45 days to study and provide comment on the EIR is sadly insufficient. Thank you to Open Forum speaker Don Gosney and others like Communities for a Better Environment for demanding that the study/comment period be extended.