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.