Communites for a Better Environment News

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Major Climate and Environmental Justice Victory in Richmond!

On Monday, April 26, the California State Court of Appeals rejected Chevron’s appeal on the refinery expansion in Richmond. The court ruled that the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the project violated state environmental law. The court ruled that the EIR was “far from informative,” that the project description was inconsistent and vague, and that it was entirely unclear whether Chevron was going to use this project to process dirtier crude oil. The Court also held that the "EIR completely fails to properly establish, analyze, and consider an environmental baseline." The court also cites CBE's recent, March 2010, groundbreaking Supreme Court victory against ConocoPhillips involving CEQA, as direction as to how this baseline must be established.

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This is a major victory for our communities and it would not have been possible without the coalition support of our co-plaintiffs Asian Pacific Environmental Network, West County Toxics Coalition and our legal co-counsel Earthjustice and CBE’s Senior Staff Attorney. Together, we showed that we can hold Chevron—the largest greenhouse gas emitter in the state of California—accountable to environmental health and justice standards. The court made it loud and clear that oil giants and major corporations are not above the law.

For the past year, Chevron has blamed community groups for lost jobs; the accusation is unjustified since it is clear from the court decision that this project was in violation of the law. Chevron could have resolved these issues during the EIR process, or after the trial court decision, but it chose not to. Throughout this legal process, Chevron has used jobs to hold our communities hostage and threat of leaving Richmond to force us to choose between our family’s health and having jobs when the reality is, we need both.

CBE and allies have consistently throughout this lawsuit called on Chevron to negotiate an agreement that protects community health and gets people back to work. We all know times are tough but we need good jobs and clean air to sustain our families, communities, our youth and the next generation. We continue to support Chevron to expand and/or upgrade its refinery in a way that's legal and won't harm the health of residents living near the refinery.

For decades, Chevron has pumped toxics into backyards of Richmond’s residents and our children’s air every day. Black, Latino, and Asian communities already have more than their fair share of cancer, asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Richmond’s poor air quality is financially affecting our community. Children in Richmond are already hospitalized for asthma at almost twice the rate of children in the rest of Contra Costa County.

If this current project were to go forward and Chevron processed lower quality crude, the refinery would likely emit significantly more toxic pollution. This pollution would include chemicals linked to cancer and respiratory ailments, according to the groups’ expert. The EPA reported nearly 100,000 pounds of toxic waste from the site in 2007, including more than 4,000 pounds of benzene (a known human carcinogen) and 455,000 pounds of ammonia, repeated exposure to which can cause an asthma-like illness and lead to lung damage. This project also would create an additional 900,000 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions, not taking into account a switch to dirtier crude.

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The implications of this community victory reach far beyond the City of Richmond. Chevron is using its expansion project to also attack the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The law requires companies to disclose greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts of proposed projects. The state goes even further, requiring companies to reduce significant environmental impacts. We have a right to know what toxics are being pumped into our bodies. Communities across California will suffer from weakened health and environmental standards.

Thank you to our community members, Richmond residents, Bay Area and international allies who have been supportive throughout the campaign and this lawsuit. Among many others, we thank City of Richmond workers’ SEIU union local 1021 for its unwavering support. We thank Mayor Gayle McLaughlin for her leadership on this issue, and Richmond City Councilmembers and staff who have supported finding a resolution to the case. We thank State Attorney General Jerry Brown and his staff for their attempt to craft an alternative proposal for resolution of the lawsuit. We thank Nancy Skinner, Loni Hancock, George Miller and Mark Desaulnier of the state and federal legislatures for their letters, time and commitment in working with us to seek such a resolution. We thank Speaker of the Assembly Karen Bass, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, and Assemblymember John Perez for meeting with us toward that end.

For more information and become a volunteer, contact Ana Orozco at, 510-302-0430x12.

In the news:

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Chevron Defeated in CEQA Lawsuit; Richmond Refinery Plans in Doubt - Berkeley Daily Planet June 11, 2009

By Richard Brenneman
Thursday June 11, 2009

Chevron’s environmental study of a proposed expansion of their Richmond refinery received a fatal blow Friday at the hands of a Martinez judge.

Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Barbara Zuniga struck down the environmental impact report (EIR), declaring that the document’s “project description is unclear and inconsistent as to whether (the) project will enable Chevron to process a heavier crude slate than it is currently processing.”

The court also struck down a decision by the city to allow Chevron to wait a year after the EIR was completed to prepare a plan to mitigate the refinery’s globe-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

Judge Zuniga ruled that Chevron had failed to meet a fundamental requirement of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). “An accurate, stable and finite project description is sine qua non of an informative and legally sufficient EIR,” she wrote.

Crucially, the judge ruled, the EIR “is unclear and inconsistent as to whether the project will or will not enable Chevron to process a heavier crude slate than it is currently processing.”

Heavier oils can produce larger emissions of greenhouse gases than the lighter “sweet” crudes, and the oil company did acknowledge the refinery might be processing oils with a higher sulfur content.

The city was at fault, Judge Zuniga ruled, by failing to state how the refinery would meet the city’s goal of requiring no net increase in greenhouse gas emissions and “by simply requiring Chevron to prepare a mitigation plan and submit it to city staff up to a year after approval of the conditional use permit” allowing construction to begin.

The city also erred in allowing Chevron to “piece-meal” its project, the judge declared. That term refers to a process in which developers attempt to minimize the impacts of a large project by seeking environmental approval in stages, rather than as a whole.

The piece-mealing fault found in the Chevron EIR was its failure to include a hydrogen pipeline planned as part of a hydrogen generation facility planned as part of the expansion.

Will Rostov, an Oakland attorney for Earthjustice, one of the four plaintiff organizations in the lawsuit, said that as a result of Judge Zuniga’s decision—and absent a reversal by an appellate court—Chevron and the city will be forced to redraft the EIR in accordance with the ruling.

“Chevron is disappointed with the court decision regarding the adequacy of the environmental review conducted by the City of Richmond related to the Energy and Hydrogen Renewal Project,” said corporate spokesperson Brent Tippen.

“Chevron believes that the Energy and Hydrogen Renewal Project was properly permitted and that the benefits of the project are identified in the thorough environmental review conducted by the City of Richmond staff and the city’s environmental consultants,” he said. “We will be reviewing the specifics of the court’s decision and will then be determining a course of action in cooperation with the City of Richmond.”

Other plaintiffs included Citizens for a Better Environment (CBE), the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) and the West County Toxics Coalition.

“This is a great victory for environmental justice,” said Dr. Henry Clark of the West County Toxics Coalition. “It proves that not all judges are in the pockets of Chevron and other corporations.”

Jessica Tovar of CBE said her organization had filed suit because “the people were demanding the truth from Chevron and the city. We’ve been going through this process for three years now.”

One of CBE’s major concerns was the hydrogen pipeline, which would carry the highly flammable gas to the ConocoPhillips refinery in Rodeo and Shell’s Martinez refinery, where, she said, it could be used to help those installations refine their own heavy crude oils.

Tovar said the proposed expansion was “designed to retool the refinery so it could process the heavier crude, and several scientists submitted data supporting our claim,” including one hired by state Attorney General Jerry Brown.

Torm Nompraseurt of APEN said his organization was concerned “that the city had conducted a process that was not very protective of the population.” Praising the judge’s decision, he said, “I think it’s time for Chevron to find a way to help make a greener and cleaner community.”

Nompraseurt also said that despite inconsistent reports to the community, Chevron had told its shareholders that the company did plan to refine heavy crude after the improvements.

Rostov said the next step in the legal process is preparation of a final order, which should occur within the next week or so.

One major question remaining is whether work on the project already under way will have to cease while the new EIR is prepared, or even whether work already completed will have to be removed.

Another CEQA suit against the refinery is also underway, this one involving a challenge to the state’s renewal in January of a 30-year lease for the refinery’s long pier.

That action was filed in March by Oakland attorney Stephan Volker on behalf of the Trails for Richmond Action Committee and Citizens for East Shore Parks.

Chevron is Richmond’s largest employer, and Richmond voters indicated last November that they felt the city should be contributing more to the community when they passed Measure T, a new business license fee structure which mandates that the refinery pay on the basis of the value of crude oil processed.

The company financed a campaign opposing the measure, but the measure passed and two members of the three-person progressive slate who backed it were elected to the City Council, replacing two Chevron supporters.

Judge deals setback to Chevron refinery plan - SF Chronicle June 9, 2009

Chevron Corp.'s long-planned, highly contentious project to revamp its Richmond oil refinery has been thrown into doubt, with company executives and local officials unsure what will happen after a recent court ruling.

Judge Barbara Zuniga of the Contra Costa County Superior Court has thrown out a key environmental report on the project, siding with activists who sued to stop the project after the Richmond City Council narrowly approved it last year.

In her brief ruling, Zuniga said the report was too vague on a key question: whether the project will allow the 107-year-old refinery to process heavier grades of crude oil than it currently does. The report, she said, also did not analyze a significant piece of the project - new hydrogen pipelines.

Finally, Zuniga criticized the city for giving Chevron a needed permit before the company submitted a plan for limiting greenhouse gases after the upgrade.

The judge's ruling did not, however, say whether work on the project must stop. After winning the City Council's approval in July, Chevron started the renovations in September.

The project has long been the subject of protests and heated debate. Environmentalists and community activists call it a major expansion of a refinery that already sickens Richmond residents.

Chevron representatives call the project an upgrade, one that will modernize the aging plant. The refinery, one of California's largest, will process the same amount of oil after the renovations are finished, said company spokesman Sean Comey. But the changes will allow Chevron to make more gasoline from that oil, increasing gasoline production by roughly 7 percent.

Environmentalists who have fought the project for years want work halted immediately.

"My understanding is they're supposed to stop and dismantle any construction built so far," said Jessica Tovar, a community organizer for Communities for a Better Environment. The organization was one of four groups that sued to stop the project.

A Chevron spokesman, however, said the San Ramon company is still studying the ruling and isn't certain that construction must stop. And Richmond's city attorney said the city is awaiting clarification from the judge.

"I presume there will be a further order from the court that addresses that issue," City Attorney Randy Riddle said.

Critics say the project will allow Chevron to process heavier grades of crude oil, containing higher levels of toxins such as mercury, that could increase air pollution.

Chevron insists that the refinery will still use the same types of crude oil that it does now. Once the four-year upgrade is finished, however, the refinery will be able to process larger amounts of the heavier grades of crude already used there, Comey said.

But that distinction wasn't clear in the project's environmental report, Zuniga wrote in her decision released Friday. The report "is unclear and inconsistent as to whether (the) project will or will not enable Chevron to process a heavier crude slate than it is currently processing," she wrote. As a result, the report does not adequately assess the project's effects on the environment and "fails as an informational document," she wrote.
At a glance

What happened: A Contra Costa County Superior Court judge threw out a key environmental report on Chevron's project to revamp its Richmond oil refinery.

What it means: The decision throws the project into doubt. Opponents say must Chevron stop and dismantle any construction built so far. The company says it isn't sure construction must stop.

What's next: Richmond's city attorney expects a clarification from the judge.

E-mail David R. Baker at

Chevron Richmond Refinery Expansion Halted - East Bay Express June 9, 2009

A Contra Costa County judge has thrown out the environmental impact report for the massive Chevron Richmond oil refinery expansion, according to the Chron. Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Barbara Zuniga sided with activists and environmentalists who sued to stop the controversial project, ruling that the EIR was too vague on whether Chevron would be allowed to start refining dirty crude oil. Such refining could cause significant environmental problems. The judge's decision puts the future of the project in doubt, because it may force the city to redo parts of the EIR and re-approve it. But that could be a big problem for Chevron, because it no longer controls a majority of the Richmond City Council. After last November's election, progressives now have a 4-3 majority on the council with the addition of Jeff Ritterman, a physician who ran specifically against the Chevron refinery expansion plan. — Robert Gammon

Calif. law linking land use, greenhouse gas emissions passes court test - NYT June 8, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO -- A California law aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions from land-use changes has survived its first court challenge.
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Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Barbara Zuniga tossed out an environmental impact report Friday for a proposed Chevron Corp. refinery expansion in Richmond, Calif., saying the analysis failed to account for the project's greenhouse gas emissions as is required by the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA.

Zuniga said Chevron and the city had ignored greenhouse gas mitigation measures in approving a plan to expand the refinery, as required under CEQA. The judge also dismissed Chevron's contention that the expansion is not intended to enable the refinery to process a heavier form of crude oil.

"The [environmental analysis] project description is unclear and inconsistent as to whether [the] project will or will not enable Chevron to process a heavier crude slate than it is currently processing," Zuniga wrote.

The case represents the first time a major oil company has had to cope with CEQA's greenhouse gas requirements. Early court battles over the law's new climate provisions, which require developers to plan mitigation for carbon-dioxide emissions, have been limited primarily to municipalities looking to upgrade urban plans.

Earthjustice, the Asian Pacific Environmental Network and several community groups had filed a lawsuit against Chevron and the Richmond City Council last September seeking a rejection of the environmental impact report.

In oral arguments last month, William Rostov, a staff attorney at Earthjustice, charged Chevron with trying to defer its CEQA obligation to some unspecified future date. He urged the court to reject the project's approval and send a signal to other developers that the law has teeth needed to force a carbon analysis (ClimateWire, May 21).

Rostov said the project would let Chevron, which is based in San Ramon, Calif., switch to processing dirtier oils that would increase carbon dioxide emissions and toxics. He said Richmond officials glossed over the issue in the environmental impact report approved by the City Council.

Attorneys for Chevron and the city countered that the oil giant had completed the work required by CEQA. Ronald Van Buskirk, who had argued on Chevron's behalf before Zuniga, insisted that the environmental groups had ignored the CEQA documents approved by the Richmond City Council in the name of blocking any development.

Chevron is expected to revise its analysis and resubmit its project application to the city.

Environmental Report On Richmond Refinery Rejected - June 8, 2009 CBS5


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Chevron Refinery in Richmond.



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A Contra Costa County Superior Court judge ruled Friday that an environmental impact report on Chevron's proposed upgrade to its Richmond refinery failed to disclose whether the project would enable the refinery to process heavier crude oil.

The ruling voids the environmental impact report on the refinery's Energy and Hydrogen Renewal Project, which was approved in July by a divided Richmond City Council, Jessica Tovar with Communities for a Better Environment said Monday.

The project included replacing the refinery's 1960s-era hydrogen plant and its 1930s-era power plant.

Refinery officials said that the upgrade would increase the refinery's flexibility to process a larger variety of crude oil and improve the plant's energy efficiency and reliability.

In September, three environmental justice groups filed a lawsuit challenging the city's approval of the project.

Experts at Communities for a Better Environment, Asian Pacific Environmental Network and the West County Toxics Coalition - plaintiffs in the lawsuit - said that the upgrade would allow the refinery to process heavier crude oil, which would result in increased pollution and increased risk of explosion at the plant.

Heavier crude oil can contain higher amounts of contaminants such as mercury and selenium, which can cause serious health problems, according to Communities for a Better Environment.

"Communities in Richmond, particularly low-income communities of color, already suffer from industrial pollution-related health problems, including high rates of asthma and cancer. Chevron's refinery is the largest industrial polluter in the region," plaintiffs said in a news release issued Monday.

Processing heavier crude also takes higher temperatures, which increases the likelihood of upset or explosion, Tovar said.

Tovar said that the proposed project is similar to an upgrade at a Chevron refinery in Mississippi that has allegedly enabled that plant to process heavier crude oil.

In her ruling, Superior Court Judge Barbara Zuniga wrote that under the California Environmental Quality Act, the environmental impact report should enable the public, interested parties and public agencies to weigh the proposed project against its environmental costs and consider appropriate mitigation measures.

The ruling went on to state that the environmental impact report "is unclear and inconsistent as to whether the project will or will not enable Chevron to process a heavier crude slate than it is currently processing" and therefore "fails as an informational document."

Also at issue in the lawsuit was the refinery's plan to mitigate increased greenhouse gas emissions.

Plaintiffs argued that the refinery had not submitted a plan to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions during the environmental review process, but instead deferred the mitigation plans to a later date, which excluded the public from the process.

In her ruling, Zuniga found that under state Environmental Quality Act guidelines, the formulation of mitigation measures should not be deferred to a later date. She found that the "city has improperly deferred formulation of greenhouse gas mitigation measures."

Plaintiffs also alleged that the environmental impact report failed to analyze a proposed pipeline that would transport hydrogen from the new hydrogen processing plant to the Shell refinery in Martinez and the ConocoPhillips refinery in Rodeo.

The ruling stated that because the pipeline is an integral part of the project, it should have been addressed in the environmental impact report.

Tovar said that if Chevron decides to pursue its plans to upgrade the refinery, it will have to begin the environmental review process over again and include all of the information that was missing in the current environmental impact report.

"Chevron is disappointed and believes that the Energy and Hydrogen Renewal Project was properly permitted and that the benefits of the project are identified in the thorough environmental review conducted by the city of Richmond staff and the city's environmental consultant," Chevron spokesman Brent Tippen said Monday.

Tippen said Chevron officials were reviewing the specifics of the court's decision and would be determining a course of action in consultation with the city.

(© CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Bay City News contributed to this report.)

Environmentalists Claim Major Victory in Chevron Decision - KCBS June 8, 2009

RICHMOND, Calif. (KCBS) -- East Bay environmentalists are claiming a major victory in a battle with Chevron's Refinery in Richmond over its expansion plans.

A Contra Costa Superior Court judge has ruled that the environmental document covering Chevron's bid to replace equipment to refine a wider range of crude is insufficient and vague.

Chevron already has begun construction on its project, which replaces the hydrogen plant, power plant and reformer to refine a wider range of crude with higher sulfur content.

Listen KCBS' Dave Padilla reports

The West County Toxics Coalition of Richmond and Communities for a Better Environment and the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, both of Oakland, sued the city and Chevron in September. The groups have argued the project could increase pollution in the area and endanger locals.

"This is a huge victory for the environmental justice movement in terms of health of the community," said Jessica Tovar of Communities for a Better Environment. "Not just in Richmond but regionally."

Brent Tippen, spokesman for the refinery, says the report was through.

"Chevron is disappointed with the decision regarding the adequacy of the environmental review conducted by the city of Richmond related to the energy and hydrogen renewal project," Tippen said.

Tippen added officials at the refinery will review the decision to determine their next move.