Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Huntington Park Communities Recognized for a Better Environment by EPA

Imperial Valley News - October 23, 2008.

San Diego, California - Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency honors two southern California environmental organizations with the agency’s first annual Environmental Justice Achievement Awards: San Diego County’s Negocio Verde Environmental Justice Task Force, and the Huntington Park-based Communities for a Better Environment.

“We all have a stake in ensuring that our air is cleaner, our water is purer, and our land is better protected,” said Granta Nakayama, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “These organizations are making a positive impact in their communities by promoting a clean and healthy environment for all people.”

San Diego’s Negocio Verde Environmental Justice Task Force provides free, bilingual compliance assistance and pollution prevention training, primarily in the county’s communities that face the greatest environmental justice concerns. Since 2003, the Task Force has trained over 6,500 individuals and promoted interaction between small businesses, local agencies, and community members on issues of environmental justice.

Susan Hahn with the County of San Diego Department of Environmental Health, a member of the Task Force, accepted the award. The Chair of Diego’s Negocio Verde Environmental Justice Task Force, Kacey Christie, said, “We’re very excited to receive this honor from the EPA. It will energize us so we can go forward and present more environmental workshops."

Huntington Park’s Communities for a Better Environment focuses on environmental health and justice within working class communities of color through organizing, scientific and policy research, and legal assistance.

“Communities for a Better Environment is very proud to receive this award from the EPA,” said Bill Gallegos, executive director, Communities for a Better Environment. “It goes out to all of our African-American and Latino neighbors who are on the front line for environmental justice and climate change; this is really their award.”

The EPA’s Environmental Justice Achievement Awards recognizes organizations for their distinguished accomplishments in addressing environmental justice issues. Award recipients include representatives from community-based organizations; academic institutions; state and local governments; tribal governments and indigenous organizations; and non-governmental organizations and environmental groups.

In addition to San Diego’s Negocio Verde Environmental Justice Task Force and Huntington Park’s Communities for a Better Environment, at today’s ceremony in Atlanta, Ga., the EPA honored:

* Anahola Homesteaders Council (Anahola, Kauai, HI)

* Center for Environmental and Economic Justice (Biloxi, Miss.)

* Citizens for Environmental Justice (Savannah, Ga.)

* Dillard University, Deep South Center for Environmental Justice (New Orleans, La.)

* Duke University, Children’s Environmental Health Initiative (Durham, N.C.)

* Medical University of South Carolina (Charleston, S.C.)

* New Mexico Environment Department (Santa Fe, N.M.)

* Safer Pest Control Project (Chicago, Ill.)

* South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (Columbia, S.C.)

* West End Revitalization Association (Mebane, N.C.)

Your request is being processed... Daphne Zuniga Daphne Zuniga Posted October 14, 2008 | 05:02 PM (EST) BIO Become a Fan Get Email Alerts Bloggers' I

The Huffington Post - October 14, 2008.

These days, pretty much everyone seems to know about the energy crisis. And, by now, most people also know a little something about Global Warming. But despite the increasingly vocal green movement, far too few know anything at all about Environmental Justice and the communities it aims to serve.

The time is now to raise awareness, to make a difference, and to -- literally -- save people's lives.

Environmental justice is about the people who live next to our power plants, oil refineries, manufacturing plants, incinerators, and waste treatment facilities.

It's about the poor neighborhoods where mountains of empty, hydrofluorocarbon emitting, cargo containers are piled high on residential city blocks...

And it's about the communities near ports like the Port of Los Angeles, Long Beach and others, where hundreds of thousands of ships, trains and diesel trucks travel every day, hauling everything from fruit to furniture to our Toyota Priuses.

It's in these places that childhood asthma is epidemic and lower test scores are the result of deadly toxic fumes children inhale regularly.

Thankfully, it's also in these places that eco-heroes like Bill Gallegos, Hilda Solis, Majora Carter, Van Jones and others are hard at work winning incredible battles -- battles that make a difference for all of us.

For example, in Southern California, when Bill Gallegos and Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) prevented the City of Vernon from opening a massive new fossil fuel power plant we all won.

The CBE's recent court victory (won with the help of the California Environmental Rights Alliance and the National Resources Defense Council) stopped 11 new power plants from going online, keeping 2.8 million tons of greenhouse gases and toxic pollutants from being emitted into our air annually.

But unfortunately, despite all the media attention focused on green these days, the grassroots activists who lead the movement against global warming and power plants in these communities simply do not get the publicity they deserve.

And the challenges they face remain significant.

In the San Gabriel valley, Congresswoman Hilda Solis, recipient of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for her work on environmental justice issues, represents a district burdened with rocket fuel tainted drinking water, granite quarries that leave gaping canyons miles in diameter, and air so thick with life threatening particulates that the EPA refuses to come in and measure them.

This media neglect wouldn't happen if it were the Pacific Palisades - but of course it would never be the Palisades.

When Majora Carter, founder of Sustainable South Bronx, asked Al Gore how Environmental Justice communities could play a part in his coalition, she made clear that she wasn't looking for just a grant. "Don't waste me," she said.

(It's not that Sustainable South Bronx couldn't use the funding, because of course they could. One clear outcome of the media inattention to Environmental Justice efforts is the lack of support and funding they receive.)

Majora and other EJ leaders don't want to, and shouldn't be, wasted because they bring so much to the table. They are organized, motivated (they have to be when at least 66% of Hispanics in the US live in communities where the air quality does not meet federal standards), and they do daily battle with corporations that are betting the rest of us will just keep avoiding, or pretending we don't see, the injustice.

By working with communities that may sound far away but aren't, we will find that our fight against global warming, and civil rights becomes much more effective. Solutions are fortified by our collective power.

"We get people involved. That's the tradition in this country. That's the civil rights tradition, the farm workers tradition, the women's suffrage tradition. Because we know that when people get involved they make change," says Bill Gallegos.

One of the most compelling, frightening, ways to become aware and to get involved is to take a Toxic Tour. Most EJ organizations offer them, and I recently went on one with CBE.

On one street in the LA Southland, I watched as an elderly woman walked out of her small house to her mailbox. She never looked at the massive Conoco oil refinery that loomed behind her at the street's end. Nor did she take notice of the freeway racing by at the other end of her block.

But I sure did. And it's changed me. It'll change you too.

Suit challenges Richmond’s Approval of Chevron’s Refinery Project

San Francisco Business Times - September 5, 2008.

Three community groups sued the city of Richmond and Chevron Corp. and its subsidiary Chevron Products Co. to try and force the city to throw out the environmental impact report it conducted for a substantial upgrade project at Chevron’s Richmond refinery.

The groups, Communities for a Better Environment, the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, and the West County Toxics Coalition, asked the court to have the city withdraw the approvals and project permits it issued in July for the project.

The plaintiffs allege the city illegally certified the environmental impact report, or EIR, and issued a conditional use permit and a design review permit to Chevron Products Co. that will allow the refinery to process lower-quality heavy oil that is more polluting than the grade of oil currently processed there.

The plaintiffs allege 11 violations of the California Environmental Quality Act, including failure to provide an adequate project description, failure to provide a proper baseline for measuring polluting emissions, and failure to evaluate the project’s significant environmental impacts.

“We want a brand new EIR,” said William Rostov, an attorney with Earthjustice representing the community groups. “We want the project to be fully studied and the environmental impacts from the project mitigated.”

The multi-year, $1 billion refinery upgrade, dubbed the Energy and Hydrogen Renewal project, includes four major components and many smaller components. The main pieces of the upgrade include replacing a hydrogen plant, replacing a power plant, hydrogen purity improvements, and a new catalytic reformer. It would include replacing and building new storage tanks, new maintenance facilities and a new central control room.

The draft EIR did not address greenhouse gas emissions at all. The final EIR did include the fact that the project will increase greenhouse gas emissions by at least 898,000 metric tons per year, but gave the oil company a year to develop a plan to mitigate that increase in emissions.

A spokesman for the Chevron refinery could not be reached immediately to comment. Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin could not be reached immediately to comment.

In a succession of hearings before the city planning commission and City Council, Chevron officials denied that pollution will increase as a result of the changes planned at the refinery.

After the city certified the EIR and issued conditional use and design review permits, both Communities for a Better Environment and Chevron appealed. Chevron challenged a number of conditions of approval that the city placed on the company as it issued the permits, saying some of the conditions were infeasible. Communities for a Better Environment, in its appeal, challenged the EIR as inadequate.

During a July 15 hearing of the appeals, Chevron presented a so-called Community Benefits Agreement under which it agreed to give the city $61 million over a number of years on the condition that the city issued it the necessary permits to go ahead with the project.

The terms of that agreement, signed on July 31, call for the money Chevron gives to the city to fund jobs, safety and education initiatives in Richmond. Some of the funding would go to hiring new police officers, and $14 million in funding would be provided for alternative-energy projects within Richmond over a five-year period, including alternative-energy projects at the refinery.

The suit challenging the city’s approval of the renewal project puts the community benefits agreement at risk, according to the agreement.

One provision of the agreement states that if a court sets aside the city’s approval of the renewal project for any reason except for a challenge by Chevron, then the agreement will be null and void and Chevron will owe no funding obligations to the city. During the length of the court challenge, however, the agreement will be deferred.

'Toxic Tour' takes in Los Angeles' Dirty Little Secrets

AFP - August 14, 2008.

LOS ANGELES (AFP) — Whether you want to see the multi-million dollar home of a Hollywood celebrity or the scene of an infamous crime, Los Angeles has a guided tour to suit almost every taste.

But away from the well-worn tourist routes of Beverly Hills and Hollywood, Robert Cabrales is preparing to take a bus-load of sightseers on a journey that he says aims to expose the city's "dirty little secrets".

Organized by the advocacy group Communities for a Better Environment (CBECAL), the "Toxic Tour" takes eco-tourists through the sights and smells of some of Los Angeles' most notorious environmental black spots.

"The purpose is mainly to let people know that there is something going on here, which is the dirty little secrets that pretty much most people don't know about," Cabrales says. "When we talk about tourism and people coming over to visit Los Angeles they're not going to see the nasty parts."

Launched in 2007, the tour departs several times a month, ferrying anyone from environmentally conscious tourists to schoolchildren, activists and even government officials.

Cabrales said the tour aims to shine a light on the "environmental injustices" of Los Angeles, where residents in poorer neighborhoods live in close proximity to heavy industry.

Among the tour's stops are the former site of "La Montana" -- a vast mountain of concrete rubble left over from the 1994 Los Angeles earthquake that for several years was deposited next to a strip of family homes.

It was nearly a decade before the rubble mountain -- blamed for worsening air quality and a spike in respiratory illnesses in the adjacent neighborhood -- was removed, and only then after a city council member called on to inspect the site had suffered a severe asthma attack and a collapsed lung as a result.

Cabrales says Huntington Park is known as "Asthma Town" because of its high asthma rates amongst children.

He says the community suffers because it is surrounded on three sides by the Vernon, which is almost exclusively an industrial district.

One of the tour's most striking stops is the Suva Elementary School in the Bell Gardens neighborhood, scene of a public health scandal caused by pollution from nearby chrome plating facilities.

From 1987 to 1988, seven out of 11 students at Suva who became pregnant miscarried, and of the seven miscarriages, four involved deformed fetuses.

Worried by the rash of failed pregnancies, school officials began conducting their own inquiries and discovered that the high rates of miscarriage and cancer were mirrored in the broader community.

An air monitor later revealed high levels of hexavalent chromium in the atmosphere, which was later linked to chrome plating facilities -- one of which had a smoke stack pointing directly at the school's playground.

Elsewhere on the tour, the bus stops in a quiet residential road which could be anywhere in America, if it wasn't for the metal towers and columns of a vast oil refinery just over the fence at the end of the street.

For tour group member Patrick Becknell, a 23-year-old Los Angeles musician, the stop is the most startling aspect of the tour.

"The juxtaposition of an oil refinery and a neighborhood was the biggest eye-opener for me," Becknell told AFP. "Just knowing that their backyard was literally an oil refinery. It's inspiring and awing at the same time.

"If your average tourist or Los Angeles resident saw what we saw I think they'd have more of an appreciation, and also of what organized community action can do."

SoCal Power Plants On Hold

How do you build 11 new gas-fired power plants in Southern California when you already exceed federal standards for unhealthful air? Under the U.S. Clean Air Act, the local governments that make up the South Coast Air Quality Management District can allow more pollution in one place only if they reduce soot and cancer-causing airborne particles somewhere else in the same region through a complex system of pollution credits, also known as offsets.

Given how dirty the air is, such pollution credits are scarce and expensive--which is why the AQMD, years ago, set some aside for such public projects as hospitals and police stations. Then, last year, it voted to sell these "Priority Reserve" credits to power plant developers at about half their market value.

Not so fast, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ruled today.

In a lawsuit brought by the Natural Resources Defense Council, California Communities Against Toxics and other groups, Judge Ann I. Jones told the air quality district in a 32-page decision that it could not subsidize the plants until it fully reported on the environmental impact under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

Community activists rejoiced, saying that the decision delays for at least one to two years the construction of power plants that had been proposed for Vernon, Grand Terrace and other largely poor and minority parts of the Los Angeles and Mojave air districts. "It is the air district's job to clean up the air in places like Southeast L.A.," said Darryl Molina, an organizer at Communities for a Better Environment. "The court understands: Creating new pollution credits meant that new power plants like Vernon's will make the air dirtier for people in low-income communities of color."

Angela Johnson Meszaros, an attorney for California Communities Against Toxics, a group of 70 local organizations, said, "This case is about the district trying to change its rules to help fossil fuel energy developers. As if that's not bad enough, the district insisted that it didn't need to undertake environmental review before changing its rules."
LA Times, July 29, 2009.

But Barry Wallerstein, AQMD's executive officer, said the decision "could make it extremely difficult to build new, low-emission power plants needed in California. Ultimately this could lead to power brownouts or blackouts, which, in turn, could greatly affect public health and safety, as seen during the state's 2000-01 power crisis."

Will the decision mean fewer electricity plants for the state's burgeoning population? Not necessarily, said V. John White of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies. "It will require South Coast to look at alternatives to more fossil fuel plants, which they failed to do in granting these blanket waivers from air quality protections. Hopefully, this will lead to more focus on energy efficiency and solar power." Dozens of new solar and wind plants have been proposed for Southern California, and to meet the state's goals to reduce greenhouse gases, utilities must get a third of their energy from renewable resources, according to the state Air Resources Board.

Suit prevents new polluting power plants in low-income neighborhoods

NRDC - July 30, 2008.

Finding for a coalition of community, health and environmental groups, the Honorable Ann I. Jones’ decision today forbids the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) from subsidizing new power plants in the Southland at the expense of air quality without a full analysis of the environmental impacts. Today’s court decision confirms that AQMD’s environmental study failed to admit the nature of the project AQMD proposed: to create new credits and distribute them for use by fossil-fueled power plants. The study also failed to disclose impacts to air quality and public health, or explore alternatives and protections that could minimize those harms. Power plants are proposed in Vernon, Grand Terrace, and other parts of the Los Angeles and Mohave air basins.

“Millions of people living in Southern California are currently living with the worst air quality in the nation,” said David Pettit, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “It’s possible to meet Southern California’s energy demand without poisoning ourselves in the process. It’s taken decades to slowly improve the air quality in Southern California and today’s decision not only protects those gains, but sets us on a path to breathing cleaner air.”

“It’s the air district’s job to clean up the air in places like South East LA, where the Vernon Power Plant wants to build,” said Darryl Molina, an organizer at Communities for a Better Environment. “That plant alone would result in between 3 and 11 deaths every year it operates. Ordering the district to consider and address the rules’ impacts shows that the court understands: creating new pollution credits means that new fossil fuel power plants like Vernon will make the air people in low income communities of color breathe dirtier.”

Today’s decision rescinds two AQMD rules allowing power plant developers to purchase air quality credits from the “Priority Reserve” account, which is an internal reservoir of pollution credits usually reserved for essential public services like schools and hospitals. Although it offered credits at below-market rates, AQMD stood to profit roughly $420 million by selling Priority Reserve air credits to power plant developers.

“The District’s effort to ensure that the Basin’s energy needs are met with fossil fuels instead of clean-renewables is outrageous in light of global climate change and the negative health impacts on every person living in this air basin,” said Angela Johnson Meszaros, attorney for California Communities Against Toxics. “We call upon the District’s Governing Board to take the negative health and environmental impacts of fossil fuel seriously.”

Federal law requires developers to purchase emission credits prior to power plant operation to confirm no net increase in future pollution, ensuring the South Coast Air Basin progresses toward federal air quality standards under the Clean Air Act. AQMD is trying to create air credits from emission reductions that occurred in the past – up to 18 years ago – to stock the Priority Reserve.

The coalition includes Natural Resources Defense Council, Communities for a Better Environment, Coalition for a Safe Environment, and California Communities Against Toxics.

Our Lungs Are Not For Sale

David Pettit, NRDC - July 31, 2008.

NRDC and its allies Communities for a Better Environment, Coalition for a Safe Environment, and California Communities Against Toxics won a huge victory on July 28, 2008, when the Los Angeles County Superior Court ruled in their favor in a CEQA case challenging the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s “Priority Reserve” rules.

Here is the context for this win. Because the LA area is in “non-attainment” under the federal Clean Air Act for PM2.5 particulate matter (the really small stuff), a new facility can’t be built that emits PM2.5 particles unless it can buy credits on the open market for the amount particulate matter that it plans to emit. The credits typically come from existing, polluting companies that shut down or that are emitting less than they are permitted to do. Credits for PM2.5 have become hugely expensive in this market as a result of small supply and huge demand. The SCAQMD became concerned that facilities like hospitals and police stations might not get built because of this, and so created a “bank” for PM 2.5 credits that SCAQMD would give away for free to these public uses. This was called the “Priority Reserve.”

What the lawsuit is about is that SCAQMD decided to open up the Priority Reserve to private, profit-making electricity generating facilities such as the proposed Vernon Powerplant, and sell PM 2.5 credits to such facilities at far below market value. This meant that communities like Boyle Heights would be subjected to many tons of pollutants by facilities situated literally next door. Selling these credits at a cut-rate price is also a subversion of the market-based system that is doing exactly what it is supposed to do: make credits expensive in order to incentivize conservation, innovation and non-fossil fuel sources of power. Moreover, SCAQMD stands to make over $400 million by selling these credits: that is the price (at below-market rates) of the PM 2.5 credits they hope to sell to electrical plants and, eventually, to oil companies.

This twist to this whole scenario is that SCAQMD is the agency that is supposed to protect us against air pollution, but by making these credits available, and on the cheap, we could actually end up with more air pollution. Their response is that we need more power in the LA area. That may or may not be so, but SCAQMD has exactly zero expertise in this area (that is the job of the California Energy Commission), and the shoddy environmental documents that SCAQMD produced did not back up their excuse.

So, NRDC and its allies sued SCAQMD under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), arguing that AQMD could not open its Priority Reserve to private entities such as the proposed Vernon Powerplant without doing full environmental review. Judge Jones of the LA Superior Court agreed in a decision issued on July 28, 2008. In her order, Judge Jones prohibited AQMD from “undertaking any action to further implement these rules” without complying with CEQA. It should take 1 to 2 years for AQMD to complete a decent environmental review.

In the mean time, projects such as the Vernon Powerplant cannot go forward unless they can buy credits on the open market, without governmental subsidies. That is as it should be. The health of the public cannot be priced and sold like a commodity.

Judge’s ruling throws Southern California Power Plant Plans into Disarray

Margot Roosevelt, LA Times - July 31, 2008.

Does Southern California need a dozen or so new gas-fired power plants – and if it does, can it build them? No one seems to know for sure.

The region’s long-term plans to generate electricity to serve a growing population and to replace decades-old dirty plants were thrown into disarray this week, when a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday that local authorities had failed to do the necessary environmental and health analyses.

Officials from the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which encompasses Orange County and large swaths of Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside counties, warned of likely “blackouts and brownouts” if the plants are not built.

Many of the plants, such as a 914-megawatt generator sponsored by the small industrial city of Vernon, would be in low-income, crowded areas that have high rates of asthma and other pollution-related diseases. Though they would be outfitted with the latest in pollution-control technology, the gas-fired generators would emit thousands of tons of fine soot particles, which are linked to cancer, heart disease and other illnesses.

The court decision is “a victory for the health of our children,” said Lucy Ramos, a Boyle Heights middle-school aide and president of Mothers of East L.A., a group that has been fighting the Vernon plant. “Our community is not a dumping ground.”

The proposed plants, which include 11 in the Los Angeles Basin and two in the outlying areas of Desert Hot Springs and Victorville, would be built by private companies, which would sell the power to Southern California Edison and other utilities. But under the federal Clean Air Act, no polluting facilities can be built unless soot and chemicals are reduced elsewhere in the region through a complex system of pollution credits, also known as offsets.

Years ago, the air district set aside what it called Priority Reserve credits so that projects such as hospitals and police stations could be built even if they added to the region’s pollution. Last year, the district, lobbied by a host of former politicians, decided to sell the credits to energy companies for $420 million: about half the market value, according to environmentalists’ calculations.

Environmental and community groups said Wednesday that they would sue in federal court to nullify such credits.

The decision, meanwhile, left air regulators perplexed at their next move.

“What’s the responsible action?” asked Barry Wallerstein, the air district’s executive officer. “Should we wait until we have brownouts and blackouts to build new power plants? We need lights in our schools and power for our factories and electricity in our homes.”

Wallerstein said the region needs about 2,000 megawatts of new capacity, and that sufficient offsets are unavailable on the open market.

The 32-page decision came in response to a lawsuit filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Communities for a Better Environment and other groups. In it, Judge Ann I. Jones told the air district it could not sell offsets to the plants without a fuller analysis under California’s Environmental Quality Act. In particular, the judge said, the district needed to analyze exactly how many tons of pollutants, including health-damaging soot and planet-heating greenhouse gases, each proposed plant would emit.

Wallerstein said the district is unlikely to appeal the ruling. “It will be a question of whether we proceed with a new rule, or whether we throw up our hands and say, someone else should figure this out because it is beyond our control.”

If the judge’s concerns “are beyond our ability to address, then there will be a permanent moratorium on power plant construction in Southern California.”

Environmentalists and many industry experts say that much of the region’s demand can be met through conservation and renewable energy.

But no one knows how much could be supplied by wind farms, geothermal energy, solar rooftop facilities or large solar plants, many of which are proposed in fragile desert areas.

Until the 1998 electricity deregulation, the state’s Energy Commission was responsible for determining needs. But later, the commission’s role was largely reduced to permitting the siting of plants, leaving the market to decide how much and what kind of generation is needed.

Southern California Edison has signed long-term power purchase agreements for 2,556 megawatts of power from new gas-fired generators, including proposed plants in Walnut Creek, Calif., and El Segundo. Spokesman Gil Alexander said Wednesday that the company had not assessed the effect of the judge’s decision.

“Obviously we believe new capacity is a critical energy planning issue for the region,” he said.

Under California law, private utilities, which produce 11% of their power from renewable sources, must boost their so-called “green” portfolio to 20% by 2010. But a recent plan released by the state Air Resources Board said the amount must increase to a third by 2020 for all utilities, if the state is to meet its goal of reducing greenhouse gases that are causing global warming.

Aides to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger are negotiating with legislators to put the 33% requirement into law this year, a measure that could alter plans for many of the new gas-fired plants.

Richmond Council OKs Chevron Refinery Plan

SFGate - Carolyn Jones, July 18, 2008.

A sharply divided Richmond City Council approved on Thursday Chevron's controversial plan for a major upgrade of its century-old refinery and accepted $61 million from the oil company for community programs.
More Bay Area News

The council voted 5-4 to approve a conditional use permit for Chevron to replace a hydrogen plant, install new hydrogen-purifying equipment, build a new cogeneration power plant and replace other antiquated machinery.

"We're pleased with the vote and look forward to moving ahead with construction," said Dean O'Hair, a Chevron spokesman. "This project will make us more efficient and reliable than we already are."

The council also agreed to Chevron's offer of $61 million to help the community in the next decade, including funds to extend the Bay Trail and build solar and wind energy plants on Chevron property, and to support violence prevention, community health, job training and other programs.

After hearing often-heated public comment and staff testimony Tuesday and Wednesday nights before deliberating early Thursday, council members Nathaniel Bates, Ludmyrna Lopez, Harpreet Sandhu, John Marquez and Maria Viramontes voted to grant Chevron the permit.

Tom Butt, Jim Rogers, Tony Thurmond and Mayor Gayle McLaughlin voted against it.

Chevron's Richmond refinery is the largest in Northern California and provides about 25 percent of all the gasoline in Northern California. The new equipment will allow it to process about 1,000 extra barrels of gasoline a day.

Environmental and community groups fought the plan, saying it would lead to more emissions and allow Chevron to process heavier grades of crude oil.

"We still believe there's going to be a huge increase in pollution. We still have to stop this project and we're now looking at all our legal options," said Greg Karras, senior scientist for Communities for a Better Environment, one of the groups opposing the plan. "This fight is only getting started."

Much of the controversy centered on sulfur emissions, which Karras said cause respiratory and nervous system disorders when inhaled. Chevron's new equipment would allow the refinery to process crude oil that has 3 percent more sulfur than the oil it currently handles, refinery officials said.

But because the new facility would be more efficient and cleaner than the current plant, the refinery's overall emissions would actually decrease, O'Hair said.

Chevron hopes to begin construction on the refinery in August and finish in about four years. Labor unions have been ardent supporters of Chevron's plans because of the 1,200 construction jobs the project will create.

Critics blasted the package of benefits Chevron promised the city, saying the details are vague and that Chevron had agreed to several of them already. O'Hair said the refinery will hammer out details with city staff in the coming months.

The package of about 15 projects and programs includes $11 million for violence prevention and public safety programs; $10 million for the Richmond Community Fund; $6.7 million for job training, high school tutoring and other classes; and $5 million for the Bay Trail link.

Some council members complained about the lengthy permit process and environmental review, which lasted four years.

"It seems like everyone involved did everything they can to thwart what this community wants," said Butt at Wednesday's meeting. "I'm extremely disappointed with the way this process went. I don't know how it's going to end up, but I have a bad feeling about it."

Lively meeting expected on Chevron expansion

SF Chronicle - Carolyn Jones, July 16, 2008.

More than 1,000 people jammed a Richmond City Council meeting Tuesday night to make impassioned pleas for and against Chevron's plan to expand its waterfront refinery.

The City Council is expected to meet again tonight to vote on the issue, which has galvanized environmentalists, community groups and labor unions.

"We're driving to the hospital while Chevron goes to the bank," said Rev. Kenneth Davis, a Richmond resident. "My health is not for sale."

Chevron wants to build a new power plant and crude-oil refining facility at its 3,000-acre plant. Material processed at the new facility would contain higher levels of sulfur and other contaminants, city officials have said.

The Richmond Planning Commission initially approved the plan, with a limit on the amount of heavy crude oil the refinery can process. But on June 19, the commission reversed its decision, lifting the cap after a city-hired consultant said the refinery's emissions are already limited so a cap isn't necessary.

Chevron and environmental groups both appealed the Planning Commission's decision to the City Council.

"I'm swayed by those who've asked for a more comprehensive crude-oil cap," City Councilman Tony Thurmond said. "My concerns are what the environmental, health and safety impacts will be, especially in a community with such a high rate of asthma and other illness."

Chevron has said that the new facility would produce an insignificant increase in air pollution, and that the project would actually decrease overall emissions.

"This project has no significant environmental impacts. That's a remarkable achievement for a project of this magnitude," said Bob Chamberlin, an environmental specialist for Chevron. "In fact, this project makes things even better."

Labor groups have been pushing for the expansion because of the new jobs that would be created during construction.

But environmental groups have decried Chevron's plan, saying it would unleash dangerous amounts of mercury, selenium and sulfur into the air and water.

"The potential for more emissions is enormous. Because this facility will allow them to process lower-quality crude," said Adrienne Bloch, a senior attorney with Communities for a Better Environment.

Before the meeting, Chevron told the city it would give $61 million in health, education, environmental and alternative energy programs to mitigate for the project.

Environmental groups said that it wasn't enough, and that Chevron was required to do many of those programs anyway.

City Councilman Tom Butt said he would like to see Chevron do more for Richmond residents, such as offering health, education and employment programs, and reduce its emissions overall.

"My No. 1 priority is, I want to be sure this project is not going to cause any increase in air or water pollutants. It's pretty simple," he said. "A lot of us believe this project is going to have an adverse impact on the community, and that's something Chevron should mitigate."

Big Oil's MTBE Cover-Up

Bill Walker - AlterNet - July 11, 2008.

Congress is considering legislation to strictly limit oil company liability for contaminating groundwater in at least 35 states with the toxic gasoline additive MTBE.

The industry's friends in Congress say it's only fair to shield MTBE makers from lawsuits, since, they claim, it was the government that mandated oil companies to reformulate gas with MTBE in the first place, to clean the air. But a different story has emerged from internal industry documents and depositions, made public in recent successful lawsuits brought by Oakland-based Communities For a Better Environment and the city of South lake Tahoe, CA, that have forced oil companies to pay to clean up water made undrinkable and unhealthy by MTBE.

The documents, provided to Environmental Working Group by CBE's lawyers, show that the oil industry itself lobbied hard for the MTBE mandate because they made the additive and stood to profit. A top ARCO executive admitted under oath, "The EPA did not initiate reformulated gasoline...." He clarified that "the oil industry... brought this [MTBE] forward as an alternative to what the EPA had initially proposed."

By 1986, the oil industry was adding 54,000 barrels of MTBE to gasoline each day. By 1991, one year before the EPA requirements went into effect, the industry was using more than 100,000 barrels of MTBE per day in reformulated gasoline. Yet secret oil company studies, conducted at least as early as 1980, showed the industry knew that MTBE contaminated ground water virtually everywhere it was used.

Oil companies are pressing Congress for liability protection because hundreds of communities have serious MTBE contamination problems, and company documents are coming back to haunt them in the courtroom. In April, the documents convinced a California jury to find Shell, Texaco, Tosco, Lyondell Chemical (ARCO Chemical), and Equilon Enterprises liable for selling a defective product (gasoline with MTBE) while failing to warn of its pollution hazard, forcing a $60 million settlement with the water district for South Lake Tahoe.

"The Government Made Us Do It"

MTBE, or methyl tertiary butyl ether, is an "oxygenate" that makes gasoline burn cleaner and more efficiently. Unfortunately, it is also a foul-tasting, nasty-smelling, probable carcinogen that spreads rapidly when gasoline escapes from leaky underground storage tanks, contaminating sources of groundwater and drinking water from New York to California. Once in soil or water, MTBE breaks down very slowly while it accelerates the spread of other contaminants in gasoline, such as benzene, a known carcinogen. Some communities, including Santa Monica and South Lake Tahoe, Calif., face tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in costs of cleaning up MTBE or replacing contaminated water supplies. At least 16 states already have passed measures to ban or significantly limit the use of MTBE in gasoline, and a federal ban is more a question of when than if.

In House-Senate negotiations to craft a compromise federal energy bill, pressure is building to follow the lead of many states and ban MTBE nationally by the year 2006. Members of Congress from corn-producing states support the phase out in part because ethanol made from corn is the primary MTBE substitute. Oil-state politicians, in turn, are demanding that any ban on MTBE shield its makers from product-defect liability. The proposal would not preclude suits against parties responsible for allowing MTBE to leak from storage tanks, but would provide immunity from suits claiming that MTBE itself was a defective product -- precisely the charge that won a $60 million settlement for the South Lake Tahoe Water District this year. The jury in that case found five oil and chemical companies liable for selling a defective product -- MTBE --while failing to warn of its pollution risks.

On Sept. 27, 2002, the Associated Press reported that the House proposal for liability relief has a good chance of being accepted by Senate negotiators: "Democrats and Republicans alike view it as a small price to pay in return for getting the politically popular ethanol provision into an energy bill only weeks before the upcoming elections." Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-LA, who is chairing the energy bill negotiations, said it's only fair that MTBE makers are shielded "when the government is responsible" for oil companies adopting the additive to meet federal air quality requirements. "We mandated MTBE to help the environment," Tauzin said. And lawyer who defends MTBE manufacturers told the AP, "You can't be held liable for just complying with the law."

The congressman and the lawyer aren't the only ones spreading the tale that oil companies were just following orders. Most news outlets have told the MTBE story as a lesson in the unintended consequences of efforts to reduce air pollution.

In 1997, the Los Angeles Times let stand without challenge the statement of a West Coast refiner: "[T]he issue of potential contamination of the state's water was not adequately considered prior to implementation of the federal and state reformulated gasoline regulations... Consequently, we find ourselves in a Catch-22, since the current regulatory framework effectively leaves us no choice but to use MTBE to meet clean fuel standards." This spin has traveled the high and low roads, reaching the editorial pages of The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Dallas Morning News, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Newsday and Denver Post, and providing California talk-show hosts with fuel for a belligerent populist campaign against overzealous environmental regulation.

The MTBE Papers

The paper trail, dating at least to 1980, tells a different story: How the oil companies took an unwanted byproduct of gasoline refining that was expensive to dispose of and created a profitable market for what they, until then, had been required to handle as toxic waste. Beginning in the mid-1980s, well in advance of the 1992 federal mandate to reformulate gasoline to meet the standards of the Clean Air Act, the petrochemical industry promoted MTBE to U.S. and state regulators as the additive of choice -- only much later admitting it doesn't do much to reduce air pollution after all.

Thousands of pages of internal documents and sworn depositions from the producers at Shell, Exxon, Mobil, ARCO, Chevron, Unocal, Texaco and Tosco (now Valero) have come to light through a lawsuit by Communities for a Better Environment. Many of the same documents were used in a suit by the South Lake Tahoe Water District against four oil companies and Lyondell Chemical Co. of Houston (ARCO Chemical Company), the nation's largest MTBE producer. In the CBE suit, several of the companies settled last year by agreeing to clean up MTBE spills at more than 1,300 California gas stations; the others continue to contest the case.

Earlier this year, a jury in the Tahoe case found Lyondell, Shell, Texaco, Equilon, and Tosco guilty of irresponsibly manufacturing and distributing a product they knew would contaminate water. In addition, the jury found by "clear and convincing evidence" that both Shell Oil Company and Lyondell Chemical Company acted with "malice" by failing to warn customers of the almost certain environmental dangers of MTBE water contamination.

In an interview with The Sacramento Bee, the jury foreman said he found the MTBE papers, which demonstrated the industry's early knowledge that MTBE would threaten water supplies "among the most compelling evidence he recorded in 635 pages of handwritten notes." The foreman stated that "[t]here were lessons to be learned, but (Shell) didn't (learn them) because it saw money to be made in selling the product." After the jury verdict establishing liability, but before the jury could assess monetary damages, the companies settled the case for $60 million.

Oil Companies Knew MTBE Was a Threat to Water Supplies

Even though MTBE was not classified as a probable cause of cancer in humans until 1995, refiners knew much earlier that its powerfully foul taste and smell meant that small concentrations could render water undrinkable, and that once it got into water supplies it was all but impossible to clean up. A Shell hydrogeologist testified in the South Lake Tahoe case that he first dealt with an MTBE spill in 1980 in Rockaway, N.J., where seven MTBE plumes were leaking from underground storage tanks. By 1981, when the Shell scientist wrote an internal report on the Rockaway plumes, the joke inside Shell was that MTBE really stood for "Most Things Biodegrade Easier." Later, other versions of the joke circulated, including "Menace Threatening Our Bountiful Environment," or apropos to the present attempt to limit liability, "Major Threat to Better Earnings."

In 1983, Shell was one of at least nine companies surveyed by a task force of the American Petroleum Institute on "the environmental fate and health effects" of MTBE and other oxygenates. Shell's Environmental Affairs department replied to the trade association: "In our spill situation the MTBE was detectable (by drinking) in 7 to 15 parts per billion so even if it were not a factor to health, it still had to be removed to below the detectable amount in order to use the water." (emphasis added). The survey, the results of which were later distributed to all API members, asked for information about the number and extent of spills, chemical analysis of the spill and the contaminated water, and health effects to people in the community.

Clearly, Shell was not the only company that knew about MTBE problems. An environmental engineer for ExxonMobil (the companies merged in 1999), testified that he learned of MTBE contamination from Exxon gasoline in 1980, when a tank leak in Jacksonville, Maryland, fouled wells for a planned subdivision. The ExxonMobil engineer said it was learned MTBE had also leaked into the subdivision's wells from a Gulf and an Amoco station.

Storage Tanks Were Known to be Leaking in the 1970s and 1980s

Refiners also knew that underground gasoline storage tanks were susceptible to leaks, a fact that would amplify the problem with MTBE. In 1973, an Exxon report on the problem said: "The subject of underground leaks at service stations is one of growing concern to gasoline marketers. Large sums of money, time, and effort are exhausted on a continuing basis in the location and detection of leaking tanks and lines."

In 1981, an ARCO memo said leaking tanks were "a major problem.... The issue is essentially a health/safety and environmental one. Escaping vapors can seep into basements, sewers and conduits, creating not only a nuisance but the danger of explosion and/or fire. Escaping gasoline also enters and pollutes the water table. (Groundwater is a major source of the U.S. water supply.) Certain chemicals in gasoline (namely the aromatics like benzene) may be carcinogenic or toxic in certain quantities."

By 1980, Exxon had an annual testing program for tanks and found that 27 percent were leaking; two years later the failure rate was up to 38 percent. In 1981, Shell and ARCO, the first refiners to add MTBE, estimated that 20 percent of all U.S. underground storage tanks were leaking. Five years later, in 1986, the EPA concurred. Prior knowledge of the extent of leaking gasoline storage tanks was a major part of South Lake Tahoe's case: Fully aware that tanks were leaking, the petrochemical industry nonetheless introduced an additive known to rapidly percolate down to groundwater from gasoline distribution systems with known leaks. Efforts were ongoing to upgrade storage tank systems, but when industry learned quickly that the new tanks were still leaking, it continued to expand the use of MTBE anyway.

The Industry, Not the EPA, Promoted MTBE as an Oxygenate

Recently disclosed court documents clearly show that the oil companies, not state or federal regulators, were the boosters of MTBE. The industry developed and promoted the concept of using reformulated gasoline to reduce air emissions, assuring the EPA that reformulated gasoline would be better than other options being considered. ARCO Chemical Co.'s Manager of Business Development from 1987 to 1998 testified: "What I recall is the EPA actually promoting using methanol blends... and the refining industry said here's another option... we can reformulate gasoline to reduce the emissions... that would be equal to or better than you would get by substituting or mandating the use of methanol vehicles... [T]he oil industry... brought this forward as an alternative to what the EPA had initially proposed." He continued, "The EPA did not initiate reformulated gasoline."

Well before the EPA mandated reformulated gasoline in 1992, the oil industry was aggressively promoting MTBE. According to the American Petroleum Institute, refiners were adding an average of 74,000 barrels of MTBE to gasoline per day from 1986 through 1991, roughly one third of the peak amount added to gasoline in 1998.

In 1987, a representative of ARCO Chemical (later absorbed by Lyondell), which was rapidly expanding its MTBE production, testified before the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission that the additive would reduce emissions and improve gas mileage, that supply and price were no barrier, and that consumers didn't need to be warned about the presence of MTBE in gasoline. Nothing was said about the leak and contamination problems that ARCO and the rest of the industry had known about for at least seven years. ARCO's representative testified that in the 1980s he played a similar role in "assisting" the states of Arizona and Nevada in the development of oxygenate programs -- programs that resulted in those states adopting MTBE.

The Industry Attacked Safety Studies and Withheld Information From Regulators

In 1986, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection published a report documenting extensive MTBE groundwater contamination in the state. The authors identified MTBE as a "rapidly spreading groundwater contaminant" and discussed the option that "MTBE could be abandoned as an additive in gasoline stored underground" or that gas with MTBE "be stored only in double-contained facilities." The Maine Paper was perhaps the earliest warning from government health officials about the dangers of MTBE. To the oil companies, it was a call to arms. Documents show that even as they were internally disseminating this study and treating its findings seriously, the oil companies joined forces to attack the study's authors and the article's "damage" in an effort to discredit their findings and downplay the risks of MTBE.

The industry disinformation effort began even before publication of the paper. A 1987 ARCO memo details the continued attack on the authors and their research:"We initially became involved with the Maine DEP prior to the presentation of their first version of this paper at the National Well Water Conference on November 13, 1986... Since the paper was presented last November, we have been working with API, the newly formed MTBE Committee [of the Oxygenated Fuels Association], and on our view to assess the potential impact of this paper on state policymakers [and] to contain the potential 'damage' from this paper...."

The memo goes on to explain how the Maine Petroleum Council, the state affiliate of the API, was preparing a paper claiming that MTBE didn't speed up the spread of benzene in water, that MTBE "only spreads slightly further" than benzene and other contaminants, and that MTBE could be easily removed from water with existing technology -- none of which is true. Internally, however, the industry admitted the Maine paper was a scientifically credible threat. A 1987 letter from an ARCO refining executive to his Unocal counterpart admits the MTBE task force didn't "have any data to refute comments made in the paper that MTBE may spread further in a plume or may be more difficult to remove/clean up than other gasoline constituents."

In 1987, at the same time that ARCO and API were leading the attack on the Maine Paper, the U.S. EPA issued a request to the industry for "more information on the presence and persistence of MTBE in groundwater." As reported last year by the San Francisco Chronicle and The Sacramento Bee, ARCO responded: "Where gasoline containing MTBE is stored at refineries, terminals or service stations, there is little information on MTBE in groundwater. We feel that there are no unique handling problems when gasoline containing MTBE is compared to hydrocarbon-only gasoline."

Internal Memos Warning Against MTBE Were Ignored

There were voices within the industry that warned against the use of MTBE, on grounds both of public health and cleanup costs from the inevitable leaks. A document dated April 3, 1984 from an Exxon employee said:

"[W]e have ethical and environmental concerns that are not too well defined at this point; e.g., (1) possible leakage of [storage] tanks into underground water systems of a gasoline component that is soluble in water to a much greater extent [than other chemicals], (2) potential necessity of treating water bottoms as a 'hazardous waste,' [and] (3) delivery of a fuel to our customers that potentially provides poorer fuel economy.... " (Emphasis added.)

That same year, an Exxon engineer wrote the first in a series of memos outlining "reasons MTBE could add to ground water incident costs and adverse public exposure:"

"Based on higher mobility and taste/odor characteristics of MTBE, Exxon's experiences with contaminations in Maryland and our knowledge of Shell's experience with MTBE contamination incidents, the number of well contamination incidents is estimated to increase three times following the widespread introduction of MTBE into Exxon gasoline...." Later, the document notes: "Any increase in potential groundwater contamination will also increase risk exposure to major incidents."

An Exxon memo from 1985 discusses MTBE's "much higher aqueous solubility" than benzene and other gasoline components:

"This can be a factor in instances where underground storage tanks develop a leak which ultimately may find its way to the underground aquifer. When these compounds dissolve in ground water and migrate through the soil matrix they separate into distinct plumes. MTBE creates the most mobile of the common gasoline plumes. MTBE is not a known carcinogen like Benzene, however we can be required by public health agencies to remove it based on its taste and odor characteristics."

Despite all the evidence pointing to its shameful neglect of public interest, the oil industry is poised to be free of any responsibility for environmental destruction.

Will Richmond, Calif., Be the First to Stand Up to Chevron?

B Gallegos, New American Media, July 8, 2008.

On July 15 the Richmond, California City Council has a chance to make history. On that day it could be the first city in the United States to decide to protect the health of its residents and stand up to the Chevron oil company and impose a cap on its plans for further expansion.

To do that the council will have to turn down Chevron Richmond's proposed "Energy & Hydrogen Renewal" project to process thicker, dirtier crude oil. On the other hand, if the council approved it, it would expand some of the Chevron refinery's most polluting processes. It will increase Chevron's emissions of toxins, heavy metals and greenhouse gases; there is the potential to increase releases of some chemicals by 5 to 50 times current levels.

While many Californians are trying to reduce their contributions to greenhouse gas emissions and slow down global warming, Chevron will be doing the opposite and thereby put public health at greater risk.

Hundreds of residents have turned out to oppose the expansion project, fearing that it will further damage their neighborhood and their health. They've expressed their opposition at public hearings. Hundreds more have signed a petition opposing the project. On June 5, when the planning commission heard the application for expansion local residents lined up for hours waiting to raise their objections.

As a result, the Richmond Planning Commission voted 3-2 to impose a "crude cap" on refining dirty crude oil. That means that the company must strictly limit the emissions of certain pollutants that result from the refining process. A week later, however, the commission changed its mind, preferring a very weak crude cap. They refused to re-circulate an environmental impact report. The reversal was based on a report from an independent consultant who advised that a strict cap on dirty crude was unnecessary. The consultant admitted that his conclusion was based on data from Chevron, data that could not be revealed to either the commission or the public.

Yet a review of Chevron's emissions data and proposed expansion plans by MacArthur prize-winning chemist Wilma Subra determined that if the refinery processes heavier and more contaminated oil, this "will increase the number and severity of accidental releases." The increase in air pollution will hurt not only refinery workers but also those who live near the refinery.

People in Richmond still remember the 1993 spill from Chevron's sulfuric acid plant, which serves the refinery. That spill sent 20,000 people to the hospital. They already suffer from pollution created by some 350 other industrial polluting facilities in the city. Given these high levels of pollution it is not surprising that the city has the highest rate of hospitalization for asthma in Contra Costa County. Two of Richmond's neighborhoods, directly upwind from the refinery, have some of the highest rates of hospitalization for asthma in the entire state.

Even more alarming, with this expansion, Chevron may be creating a model for the entire oil industry. Chevron wants to have the competitive advantage of refining dirty crude and if approved, this will lock that process into place for up to 50 years. Oil companies across the country are watching to see if this is the future of their industry.

Chevron seems driven by the sole goal of making bigger profits from high gas prices. It has large reserves of high quality oil, but growing global demand makes low quality contaminated crude oils substantially cheaper for refiners. They can achieve price discounts of more than $5 per barrel, which would generate $400 million in yearly profits for a refinery the size of the Richmond operation.

There is now a global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and to respond to the alarming data about the rate and impact of climate change. For Chevron to add to the problem is unconscionable.

When it meets July 15, the City Council is not bound by the cowardly acquiescence of the Planning Commission. It can send the report back with an order to strengthen the recommendations on the crude cap and environmental impact report.

As they discuss their choice, they will face the Richmond Alliance for Environmental Justice, a coalition that includes Communities for a Better Environment, the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, the West County Toxics Coalition, Atchison Village Environmental Committee, Richmond Greens and Richmond Progressive Alliance, which collectively represents thousands of people.

These organizations will urge the Richmond City Council to stop Chevron from further exposing residents to harmful toxics and pollution that cause premature death, cancer, and other health ailments. They will suggest that Chevron invest instead in a clean and green economy in Richmond and that Richmond residents have a transparent and meaningful public process to participate in decision-making about Chevron's operations. They can decide to support the community's demands for a for a clean environment and public health; or they can choose infamy by supporting obscene oil industry profits and ignoring global warming. The people of Richmond and the world will be watching.

Chevron Richmond proposal moves on to City Council

Katherine Tam - Oakland Tribune, July 2, 2008.

Chevron's bid to upgrade equipment at its Richmond refinery is scheduled to reach the City Council for a ruling July 15.

No one is satisfied with the city's June 19 decision to grant a permit for the project along with about 70 provisions. Chevron filed a formal appeal the next day, stating that some requirements are not related to the company's plan to replace its hydrogen plant, power plant and reformer to refine a wider range of crude.

Environmental activists followed up this week with their own appeal. The approval lacks sufficient safeguards to prevent Chevron from processing heavier crude that could increase pollution and hurt public health, the opponents said. They have lobbied for tougher restrictions.

"The city should reject Chevron's project application and require equipment design to enable the project it described, or impose conditions that ensure that Chevron does not use the project beyond what has been disclosed, analyzed and mitigated," according to the appeal filed by Communities for a Better Environment, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, the West County Toxics Coalition, Richmond Greens, Richmond Progressive Alliance and the Atchison Village Environmental Committee.

That the issue would eventually reach the City Council is no surprise and was a direction many predicted. Some anticipate lawsuits will follow, no matter what the council decides.

Appeals also were filed on a related issue. Both Chevron and opponents are appealing the Planning Commission's June 5 decision to certify the project's environmental impact report, though for different reasons. The report is key because officials could not have granted a permit without approving the document.

The City Council plans to begin the July 15 appeal with a presentation from city planners, followed by arguments by appellants. The public hearing will open, and residents will be allowed to testify. The public comment portion of the meeting will then be closed, and the council expects to continue the hearing to another date, possibly July 16.

A council minority disagreed with that schedule because they fear a repeat of what happened at the Planning Commission's first hearing on Chevron when residents waited three to four hours after presentations and opening arguments to testify.

The meeting room was so crowded that more than 100 listened to the proceedings from a tent outside. Many had gone home by the time it was their turn to speak, in part because of the late hour and because it was cold outside.

Federal District Court Opinions - Communities for a Better Environment v. EPA

Lioslaw Federal District Court Opinions, June 24, 2008.

Ruling reversed for Chevron: No cap on types of crude oil at refinery

SFGate - June 20, 2008.

Richmond's planning commissioners on Thursday reversed a decision to limit the kind of crude oil that Chevron can process at its refinery in the city, a move decried by environmental groups concerned that a planned expansion of the plant would increase air pollution.

Chevron wants to expand its 3,000-acre plant on Richmond's waterfront to add a new power plant and crude oil refining facility. The material processed at the new facility would have higher contents of sulfur and other impurities, city officials said.

The commission on June 6 approved a limit on the amount of heavier crude the refinery can process and also OKd an environmental impact report for the project.

But Thursday, a consultant hired by the city to study the proposed plant expansion testified that the limit was unnecessary because there are already restrictions on the refinery's emissions. After hearing from the consultant, Ron Sahu, the commission voted 4-1 to reject the "comprehensive crude cap" advocated by environmental groups. Commissioner Charles Duncan was the lone dissenting vote.

Members of several environmental groups said a cap is necessary to restrict Chevron from processing dirtier, heavier crude oil that could pose additional harm to the health of plant neighbors and they vowed to appeal the commission's decision.

"Pollution will increase as a result of this," said Greg Karras of Communities for a Better Environment. "We are going to appeal this decision to the City Council and we will win."

About 80 people filled the council chambers at Richmond City Hall Thursday night, where the Planning Commission heard public comment.

Chevron spokesman Dean O'Hair said company officials were pleased by Thursday's decision.

The city paid for a highly detailed environmental impact report, which concluded that the expansion would increase air pollution in a "less than significant" way.

"The environmental impact report concluded this renewal project will result in an overall emissions reduction," O'Hair said. "Now we can move forward ... toward building a more reliable refinery."

Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, who attended Thursday's meeting, said she supports a limit on the kind of crude oil Chevron can process. "We need the fullest amount of protection possible," she said.

The matter will probably go before the full City Council during the summer.

Richmond planners near vote on Chevron plan

Christopher Heredia - SFGate - June 6, 2008.

The Richmond Planning Commission was expected Thursday to vote on whether to allow Chevron to expand its Richmond refinery, a proposal that set off intense community protest over potential increased pollution from the plant.
More Bay Area News

Chevron officials want to expand their 3,000-acre refinery on Richmond's waterfront to add a new power plant and crude oil processing facility. The material processed at the new facility would have higher contents of sulfur and other impurities, city officials said.

Environmental groups including Communities for a Better Environment, the Richmond Alliance for Environmental Justice and the Asian Pacific Environmental Network have protested the plan saying it would worsen already fouled air in the East Bay city.

"The community has a right to clean air and a right to full disclosure of Chevron's project," Jessica Tovar of Communities for a Better Environment said in a statement before Thursday night's meeting.

Tovar and other activists demanded that the city conduct a more aggressive review of potential health and environmental impact from the project before approving it. Opponents said the studies to date have not adequately vetted whether the project would increase greenhouse gases and other volatile organic compounds - factors contributing to global warming.

Richmond commissioned a highly detailed environmental impact report, which concluded that the expansion would increase air pollution in a "less than significant" way.

Chevron officials have said the project "meets or exceeds" state and federal regulations.

But others, including Councilman Tom Butt, disagree with the conclusions of Chevron or city staff's recommendation to approve the project with conditions.

The commission's decision, if appealed, will go before the full City Council at a future date.

"My overarching concern is that this project is going to result in increased emissions from a refinery that already has substantial toxic emissions," Butt said in an interview Thursday. "Those need to be reduced. You add one more molecule and it's significant."

Butt said he believes the company could reconfigure its refining processes to reduce toxic emissions, which are associated with higher than average asthma rates and other respiratory diseases in Richmond and neighboring communities.

Environmental groups demanded that the city limit the amount of crude oil that is refined at Chevron and ensure that all future expansion plans are examined in public.

State Attorney General Jerry Brown's office has stepped into the debate. In March, his office wrote a letter to Richmond officials indicating that the city's environmental impact report is inadequate.

Lawyers from Brown's office said the document failed to assess the project's impact on greenhouse gases or rule out that added emissions from the new part of the plant would not be significant. Brown's office also said the city provided no evidence it would adequately monitor or enforce air quality standards.

Judge Orders EPA to Hurry on Carbon Monoxide

SFGate - May 8, 2008.

The Bush administration has violated legal deadlines for updating the nation's clean-air standards on carbon monoxide, a federal judge in San Francisco has ruled.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White told the Environmental Protection Agency on Monday to follow a schedule that would allow a full scientific review, public comment and any proposed changes in the standard to take place by May 2011. The EPA had proposed a timetable that would extend through October 2012.

Carbon monoxide, an odorless and invisible by-product of incomplete combustion in auto exhaust, refinery fumes and other emissions of fossil fuels, is lethal at high levels and can cause health problems and birth defects at lower levels. It is one of the pollutants for which the EPA sets a nationwide standard, requiring states to devise their own plans for compliance.

The current national standard was set in 1971. Federal law requires a reassessment every five years, but the EPA last reviewed the standard in 1994 and made no changes, said Shana Lazerow, a lawyer for Communities for a Better Environment, one of the groups that sued the federal agency.

Environmental groups in the lawsuit said recent scientific studies have found that carbon monoxide is dangerous at levels that were previously considered safe. They said two reports in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, published in 2001 and 2005, both found low birth weights among children born to women who were exposed to carbon monoxide at levels far below those allowed by the 1971 standard.

"Current health standards allow our children to be exposed to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide across the country," said Jeremy Nichols, director of Rocky Mountain Clean Air Action, another plaintiff in the case.

Lazerow said studies also show that poor and minority children are most at risk.

Environmental advocates and officials in California and other states have accused President Bush's EPA of foot-dragging in regulating pollutants, including greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, and ignoring scientific recommendations.

The EPA says it has come up with a new approach to clean-air regulation that will streamline the process while incorporating the latest scientific information. But White, in his ruling, noted that the agency's own advisory panel of independent scientists called the new procedures "entirely unsuitable" in January, saying they failed to provide timely information about the contents of proposed regulations.

The judge said the EPA conceded it had missed the deadline for reassessing the carbon monoxide standard but argued that it should now have five years from the time the suit was filed in 2007, shortly before the agency took the first steps in the review process. White disagreed, saying the evidence showed a thorough review could be completed 17 months earlier.

There was no immediate comment from the EPA.

Chevron Defends Richmond Refinery Upgrade Project

KTVU - March 5, 2008.

RICHMOND -- A spokeswoman for Chevron's Richmond refinery Wednesday defended a proposed project to upgrade some of the plant's equipment, saying the project would not enable the refinery to process heavier crude oil than it currently processes.

"It's not an expansion project, it's an upgrade," refinery spokeswoman Camille Priselac said. "The refinery is going to continue using the same types of crude and the same amount of crude."

The refinery currently processes light and medium crude oil. The proposed upgrades, referred to as the Energy and Hydrogen Renewal Project, would not enable it to process heavy crude oil, Priselac said.

Greg Karras, a senior scientist with Communities for a Better Environment, an environmental justice organization, however, alleged during a press conference in Richmond this morning that the proposed project would enable the refinery to process dirtier, cheaper crude oil that could result in five to 50 times more pollution, including increased mercury, sulfur and greenhouse gas emissions.

Karras went on to allege that refinery officials lied to the city when it certified that the final environmental impact report was correct in stating that it would not enable the plant to process dirtier crude oil.

The environmental impact report states that the only pollution increase would be a 1 percent increase in sulfur emissions.

Priselac said the refinery has proposed to replace its 1930s power plant with a new power plant that would allow the refinery to become independent from the Pacific Gas and Electric Co. power grid. It has also proposed to replace its 1960s gasoline reformer with a new gasoline reformer.

The proposed project would reduce overall emissions and make the refinery more efficient and energy independent, Priselac said.

According to Karras, however, the proposed upgrades would give the refinery the capacity to refine dirtier crude oil, and, according to his experience with the oil industry, refineries have always used the capacity they have built for.

"Why would they go to cheaper, dirtier oil? (Because) price discounts can exceed $5 per barrel, which, for a refinery Chevron's size, could be about $400 million per year," Karras said.

He added that those price discounts would not necessarily translate into cheaper prices at the pump.

Communities for a Better Environment uncovered the refinery's alleged plan to switch to dirtier oil after looking at the final environmental impact report and finding that "it didn't make sense," Karras said.

They then looked at documents submitted to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and the Regional Water Quality Control Board and found that the project was similar to one proposed in 2001 in which the refinery applied for a permit to upgrade its refining capacity to be able to refine dirtier oil, Karras alleged.

The air district did not approve the project, Karras said.

Karras also said refinery officials have not agreed to limit the quality of crude oil they would be permitted to bring into the refinery.

"This project is about refining cheap and dirty crude at a cheap and dirty refinery," said Jessica Tovar, a community organizer for Communities for a Better Environment and a resident of Atchison Village, a neighborhood seated along the fence line of the refinery.

Sylvia Hopkins, another Atchison Village resident, said children in her neighborhood had extremely high rates of asthma hospitalizations and that she personally needed to use a machine to help her breathe every night.

Hopkins also said that residents in her neighborhood had unusually high rates of cancer.

According to Hopkins, elevated levels of sulfur, heavy metals and particulate matter were found inside and outside her house.

If the refinery were to begin processing dirtier crude oil, it would need to process that oil at higher temperatures, which could lead to more flaring, fires and explosions, Tovar said.

In some areas of west Contra Costa County, residents have double the asthma rate than the county's average rate, according to a 2005 report issued by Contra Costa Health Services Department.

Carla Perez, executive director of Communities for a Better Environment, said that while there are no published scientific studies that have been able to measure the damage done to people's health after breathing in chemicals from refinery flaring, anecdotal evidence has suggested that the pollutants may cause lung disease, cancer and other health problems.

"We know flares emit certain chemicals," Perez said. "We know what health effects those chemicals tend to cause. And we know what symptoms people are experiencing."

People living near the Chevron refinery frequently experience severe asthma attacks, dizziness, migraine headaches and rashes, Perez said.

One study showed that people living downwind from the Chevron refinery have the highest rates of hospitalization due to asthma attacks in California, Perez said.

Women living in west Contra Costa County also have some of the highest rates of breast cancer in the state and some of the worst breast cancer mortality rates, Perez said.

Henry Clark, executive director of the West County Toxics Coalition, said his organization has been "waging a struggle against Chevron for the past 20 years."

"Communities like mine, like North Richmond, have already taken more than their fair share of pollution," Clark said. "We've already suffered more than our fair share from asthma and death. For them to come back and say it's OK because it only adds a little more injustice ... this here is environmental racism."

Clark blasted the refinery for committing environmental crimes against the primarily low-income minority communities near the refinery.

"There's been a thorough review of the project" by the city of Richmond, its consultants and other government agencies, including the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, Priselac said, noting that although the permitting process was only supposed to take one year, it has dragged on for three.

The refinery must receive permits from the city of Richmond and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District before it can begin construction.

California Courts of Appeal Reports - Communities for better env. v South Coast Air Quality Management District

Lioslaw - April 16, 2008. Pay per View.

Groups Intend to Sue Agency Selling Sham Clean Air Credits

ENS - April 1, 2008.

Demanding an end to "years of unregulated and illegitimate pollution credits" provided by South Coast Air Quality Management District, AQMD, to polluting companies, a coalition of environmental groups today delivered a 60-day notice of intent to sue to the agency.

The letter uses data from the state of California to expose 17 years of credits unlawfully doled out by the air district to energy companies and other polluting facilities in Southern California, sometimes resulting in millions in profits.

Federal and state law requires developers to purchase emission credits before building or expanding polluting facilities. Valid emission credits are created from shutdowns of older facilities or reductions at existing facilities. They require proof that the decrease in emissions is real, permanent, quantifiable, and enforceable.

The coalition includes the Natural Resources Defense Council, Coalition for a Safe Environment, Desert Citizens Against Pollution, and Communities for a Better Environment. They seek a court declaration that AQMD violated the federal Clean Air Act and an injunction that prohibits AQMD from distributing invalid credits in the future. Facilities that relied on good faith on unlawful credits will not be affected by the lawsuit.

In its most recent effort to distribute non-existent credits, AQMD stands to earn $419 million while industry will save $300-500 million by purchasing the credits at below-market rates, the groups claim.

"Southland residents continue to suffer as a result of the air district's bungled efforts to comply with the same laws that it is supposed to enforce," said Tim Grabiel, environmental justice attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

"The air district is selling credits that flat out don't exist to the very companies pumping pollution into our lungs everyday. This has real and significant negative impacts on our health and the environment," he said.

"The program's emission credits were used up long ago, and not only once, but many times after that," said Jesse Marquez, executive director of Coalition for a Safe Environment. "The lack of regulatory agency oversight has allowed the public to be exposed to deadly air pollution."
Air pollution in Los Angeles (Photo by Ben Amstutz)

The AQMD is the air pollution control agency for all of Orange County and the urban portions of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. This area of 10,743 square miles is home to over 16 million people - about half the population of the state of California. It is the second most populated urban area in the United States and one of the smoggiest.

After the 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act, the AQMD "carried over" credits from its local trading program into the federal program.

Two recent lawsuits by the coalition have revealed that nearly 60 percent of the 1990 credits could not be verified, though AQMD continued to distribute them.

Questions regarding the remaining 40 percent of credits led AQMD to eliminate any that remained in 2005, but evidence indicates that AQMD had already excessively overdrawn pollution emission accounts by that year, allowing for tons of unlawful air pollution within the region.

"This trading program is deeply flawed," said Angela Johnson Meszaros, counsel for Desert Communities Against Pollution. "The district's effort to implement this federally-mandated trading program has slowed the air basin's progress toward meeting the health-based clean air standards."

This same coalition of environmental justice and environmental organizations filed two previous lawsuits in response to the 2007 AQMD rule change allowing 11 fossil fuel-fired power plants to move forward in Southern California.

A recent AQMD report confirmed that constructing one of the 11 proposed power plants in the city of Vernon will likely result in killing anywhere from four to 11 people each year, causing hundreds of premature deaths over the life of the facility. The plant is planned for construction next to a densely populated, majority Latino neighborhood.

"The irony of this situation is that the air district recently declared a public health crisis in the Southland due to severe air pollution, but they're contributing to it," said Darryl Molina, organizer with Communities for a Better Environment, who works in Huntington Park, opposing the Vernon Power Plant project. "It's the air district's job to protect the air we breathe. The day they fire up this power plant, everyone's health will suffer."

The coalition maintains there are other ways of meeting the growing energy needs of the area such as energy efficiency and renewable alternatives.

A report by an independent energy consultant, commissioned by the coalition, supports these claims. The report also indicated that the 2001 energy shortages were a result of energy supply manipulation by market players, not a true shortage of electricity.

Jerry Brown Calls Richmond Chevron's Report Inadequate

Oakland Tribune - March 10, 2008.

California Attorney General Jerry Brown has fired off a letter citing several concerns about the enforceability and adequacy of the final environmental impact report on Chevron's proposed upgrades to its Richmond refinery.

In a letter dated March 6, Brown stated that the final environmental impact report prepared for the project failed to adequately define how the proposed project's additional 898,000 metric tons per year of greenhouse gas emissions would be mitigated to zero, what those mitigation measures would be, where they would take place and how they would be enforced.

Brown wrote that the report fails to show how emissions of volatile organic compounds would be reduced to "below significant" levels.

Finally, Brown said that the report fails to ensure that the refinery wouldn't switch to processing dirtier or heavier crude oil at a future date, a topic that has concerned communities near the refinery and environmental justice organizations.

The project, the Energy and Hydrogen Renewal Project, proposes to replace the refinery's 1930s power plant, its 1960s gasoline reformers and its 40-year-old hydrogen plant and to upgrade existing hydrogen processing equipment. According to the environmental report, the upgrades would allow the refinery to use a wider range of crude oils.

The Richmond Planning Commission is scheduled to make its decision on whether or not to issue permits for the project March 20, but Brown urged the city to clarify the environmental impact report before making any final decisions.

According to Richmond City Councilman Tom Butt, if the city grants the refinery the permit for the project it "will result in more pollution, more greenhouse gas emissions and more impacts on the health, safety and welfare than the already precipitous operation that currently exists at the Chevron Richmond refinery."

"This is all part of the process," External Affairs Manager for Chevron's Richmond refinery Dean O'Hair said. "The final EIR is out for public comment and the Attorney General has commented."

O'Hair said that the environmental impact report concluded that the project would reduce overall emissions and create a safer, more reliable refinery.

In his analysis of how the environmental impact report addressed greenhouse gas emissions, Brown commended the city for its goal of reducing emissions to a net zero, but said that the ways in which those emissions would be offset needed to be directly addressed in the report.

According to Brown, the current wording of the environmental impact report would allow greenhouse gas mitigation measures to take place anywhere in California rather than at the refinery or in Richmond.

Brown also noted that some methods of decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, like an increased use of diesel fuel, could result in an increase of toxic emissions. While diesel fuel is about 30 percent more efficient than gasoline, pollution from diesel emissions is responsible for an estimated 70 percent of the cancer risk in California, according to Brown.

Brown also wrote that the environmental impact report failed to address how the refinery's mitigation measures would be monitored and enforced and how the city would prevent the refinery from disproportionately impacting low-income communities.

On the topic of volatile organic compound emissions, Brown stated that the finding that those emissions were "now below the significance threshold" was not explained in the report. Brown also argued that the report relies on the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to enforce emissions standards even though the refinery hasn't completed its application to the air district.

As for the types of crude oil the refinery would permitted to refine, Brown urged the city not to issue a permit unless Chevron agreed not to change the types of crude oil it would be refining.

Chevron officials have repeatedly said they did not plan to change the types of crude oil being processed at the refinery, except for including crude oil with higher sulfur content.

"To ensure that the crude slate is not changed to a heavier and/ or dirtier crude as a result of this Project, the City should impose crude slate conditions on its Conditional Use Permit," Brown wrote. "Chevron should not object to the crude slate conditions since it states that it is planning on running a crude slate similar to what it is currently processing at the refinery."

Greg Karras, a senior scientist with the environmental justice organization Communities for a Better Environment, alleged last week that the refinery's proposed upgrades would enable the plant to process dirtier, cheaper crude oil that could result in five to 50 times more pollution, including increased mercury, sulfur and greenhouse gas emissions.

Karras said that his experience with the oil industry has shown him that refineries always use the capacity they build for.

O'Hair said an agreement wasn't necessary because "regardless of what the inputs are, we're regulated in our outputs."

Butt pointed out that while the refinery has denied allegations that it plans to switch to dirtier crude, the company issued a press release March 6 announcing its plans to build a plant at its refinery in Mississippi to test the "technical and economic viability of a breakthrough heavy-oil upgrading technology," according to the press release.

The release also said that the refinery has been developing new heavy-oil processing technology at its research center in Richmond.

"The patented process has undergone successful preliminary testing on a wide range of feedstocks in multiple pilot plants at Chevron's research center in Richmond, Calif.," the press release states.

Richmond hearing on Chevron refinery plan draws protests

Sacramento Business Journal - Mavis Scanlon, March 21, 2008.

Before an overflow crowd at Richmond's City Hall on Thursday night, Chevron refinery officials described their plans for a nearly $1 billion renovation project, then listened to hours of criticism from a skeptical audience.

The Richmond Planning Commission, after hearing testimony on the environmental impact report for Chevron Corp.'s contentious upgrade project for its Richmond refinery, scheduled a special meeting April 10 to continue fielding comments before it considers whether to approve the final report.

The commission heard more than five hours of testimony at the Thursday night hearing, where a standing-room-only crowd filled council chambers. About a hundred more, including dozens of Chevron employees and protesters, watched the proceedings on TV inside a large tent set up outside City Hall.

Refinery manager Mike Coyle and others described the project and tried to dispel objections and what they called misperceptions about the project, which would replace aging equipment, improve energy efficiency and give the refinery more flexibility in the "slate" of crude oil it can process.

Opponents said the dangers from pollution connected with the upgrade are far graver than Chevron contends, and that the company needs to supply more information. The project's opponents, including Communities for a Better Environment, the West County Toxics Coalition, and the Service Employees International Union, would like to see the city recirculate all or portions of the environmental impact report (EIR).

Approval of the report would pave the way for a conditional use permit for Chevron to go ahead with the upgrade, which is reported to cost $800 million to $1 billion.

The city's California Environmental Quality Act attorney, Ellen Garber of Shute Mihaly & Weinberger, explained that under CEQA the city could recirculate all or a portion of the EIR based on the issue of greenhouse gas emissions, which are considered a major cause of global warming.

In the final EIR, the city said it did not make a legal finding of the significance of greenhouse gases from the project because it did not have a baseline or an applicable threshold from which to work. Instead, the city decided to disclose that the five main project components would generate total new greenhouse gas emissions of 898,000 metric tons per year.

"The conservative approach would be to recirculate" the EIR, Garber said.

Chevron contends that the project would emit that total emission number only if one large component of the project, a new hydrogen plant that is to be built and operated by the Connecticut specialty gases company Praxair Inc., operated at full capacity 24/7, rather than producing only the amount of hydrogen necessary to run the refinery operation. Post-project, the hydrogen plant would account for 698,000 metric tons of new greenhouse gas emission per year, according to the final EIR. Praxair is planning to produce excess hydrogen and export it through an as-yet unbuilt 21-mile pipeline that would connect to other area refineries.

Some of the mitigations proposed by Chevron, including smaller furnaces and domes on storage tanks, will reduce emissions of volatile organic compounds to less than significant levels, Coyle said. The EIR states Chevron will mitigate greenhouse gas emissions to net zero. But it gives the company a year following approval of its conditional use permit to hire an expert to make an inventory of greenhouse gases at the plant and for the refinery to submit to the city a plan for achieving complete reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Some of the measures that could be approved in the plan include measures outlined for refineries by the California Air Resources Board under AB 32; identifying energy savings through energy efficiency; replacing certain diesel engines; retrofitting certain other equipment such as process heaters with higher efficiency burners; and initiating carbon capture and sequestration measures.

Another big issue of the night was the sulfur and pollutant content of the slate of crude oil the upgrades would allow Chevron to process. Chevron contends the refinery cannot process the heaviest grades of crude oil that are the most polluting, and the upgrade will not enable it to do so.

Greg Karras, staff scientist with Communities for a Better Environment, asked the planning commission to impose a condition on Chevron that would place an enforceable limit on the types of crude oil it can process. CBE would like to see Chevron supply more-specific data about the current types of crude oils it processes so the planning commission can make a better-informed decision about the ultimate and cumulative effects of the project, including more information about the exact slate of crude oils that are being processed and that will be processed, the sulfur content of those crude oils, and direct measurements of certain other pollutants.

"Chevron has not given us the most fundamental, basic information to determine how much pollution would increase," he said.

March 15 Protest Scheduled at Chevron

East Bay Business Times - March 14, 2008.

Community groups aim to shut down Chevron Corp.'s Richmond refinery for a day at a protest scheduled for March 15.

The groups Greenaction, West County Toxics Coalition, Amazon Watch, Richmond Progressive Alliance, Richmond Greens, Community Health Initiative, Communities for a Better Environment, Global Exchange, and Rainforest Action Network are organizing the protest ahead of a March 20 meeting of the Richmond Planning Commission, at which the commission will consider and could possibly approve a big upgrade Chevron is planning for the refinery.

The groups are encouraging people to assemble at the refinery by boat and by bicycle; shuttles will also take people to the refinery from the Richmond BART station and from Point Richmond. The purpose of the the protest is to shut the refinery down for one day and to support community efforts to stop Chevron from its project.

Camille Priselac, a spokeswoman for the refinery, said it will remain open for business but has taken measures designed to ensure the safety of the refinery and its employees. She declined to discuss specific security measures.

Chevron's Refinery Plans Spark Controversy

ABC 7 - David Louie, March 5, 2008.

RICHMOND, CA (KGO) -- One of the country's energy issues has historically been refining oil into gasoline, and now in the East Bay a battle over Chevron's attempt to upgrade its Richmond facility is getting a lot of attention.

The Freedom of Information Act allows reporters and the public to gain access to government documents. Using that tool, a community group in Richmond says it has found some documents it thinks could undo plans by Chevron to modernize its refinery.

"This is a showdown with Chevron. This is a showdown with all of those who support Chevron," says Henry Clark of the West County Toxics Coalition. Residents of Richmond claim proposed changes at the refinery will raise pollutants.

"We have documentation that four types of pollutant releases, Mercury, selenium, flare emissions, and greenhouse gases could increase by up to five to 50 times if this is built. There could be more pollutants involved," says scientist Greg Karras.

Chevron is seeking permits to do a major upgrade of aging equipment at the refinery. However, the refinery's director of external affairs, Dean O'Hair, says the upgrade will produce fewer emissions.

"The environmental review that the city conducted with the input and advice of the Air Quality Management District reports that there will be an overall reduction in air emissions from the project. That's just one of the benefits. The other benefits of the project are a more reliable refinery, local jobs, as well as some additional tax revenue for the city," says O'Hair.

Nearby residents have expressed concern for years about pollutants. Richmond resident Sylvia Hopkins has been attending public hearings about the refinery project, but doesn't believe anyone is listening to their concerns.

"I wish I felt they were listening. But when I was at the Air Quality Board community informational meeting, we asked them, we said, 'it sounds to us the way you're talking, like this is, what is in effect going to happen," says Hopkins.

The controversy over this project is an example why it can be difficult, even impossible, to undertake even bigger projects, such as expanding a refinery or building a new one.

"Business in general doesn't look forward to delays or unpredictability in the permitting process. It makes you think about where you want to make your investments, and I think you want to make those investments where there's some fair certainty about the permitting process and the outcome of that process," says O'Hair.

The Richmond Planning Commission will take up the Chevron refinery project in about two weeks from Thursday. That's when Communities for a Better Environment plans to bring those documents along to raise some serious questions about the environmental impact.