RICHMOND (BCN) ―
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Chevron Refinery in Richmond.
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A Contra Costa County Superior Court judge ruled Friday that an environmental impact report on Chevron's proposed upgrade to its Richmond refinery failed to disclose whether the project would enable the refinery to process heavier crude oil.
The ruling voids the environmental impact report on the refinery's Energy and Hydrogen Renewal Project, which was approved in July by a divided Richmond City Council, Jessica Tovar with Communities for a Better Environment said Monday.
The project included replacing the refinery's 1960s-era hydrogen plant and its 1930s-era power plant.
Refinery officials said that the upgrade would increase the refinery's flexibility to process a larger variety of crude oil and improve the plant's energy efficiency and reliability.
In September, three environmental justice groups filed a lawsuit challenging the city's approval of the project.
Experts at Communities for a Better Environment, Asian Pacific Environmental Network and the West County Toxics Coalition - plaintiffs in the lawsuit - said that the upgrade would allow the refinery to process heavier crude oil, which would result in increased pollution and increased risk of explosion at the plant.
Heavier crude oil can contain higher amounts of contaminants such as mercury and selenium, which can cause serious health problems, according to Communities for a Better Environment.
"Communities in Richmond, particularly low-income communities of color, already suffer from industrial pollution-related health problems, including high rates of asthma and cancer. Chevron's refinery is the largest industrial polluter in the region," plaintiffs said in a news release issued Monday.
Processing heavier crude also takes higher temperatures, which increases the likelihood of upset or explosion, Tovar said.
Tovar said that the proposed project is similar to an upgrade at a Chevron refinery in Mississippi that has allegedly enabled that plant to process heavier crude oil.
In her ruling, Superior Court Judge Barbara Zuniga wrote that under the California Environmental Quality Act, the environmental impact report should enable the public, interested parties and public agencies to weigh the proposed project against its environmental costs and consider appropriate mitigation measures.
The ruling went on to state that the environmental impact report "is unclear and inconsistent as to whether the project will or will not enable Chevron to process a heavier crude slate than it is currently processing" and therefore "fails as an informational document."
Also at issue in the lawsuit was the refinery's plan to mitigate increased greenhouse gas emissions.
Plaintiffs argued that the refinery had not submitted a plan to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions during the environmental review process, but instead deferred the mitigation plans to a later date, which excluded the public from the process.
In her ruling, Zuniga found that under state Environmental Quality Act guidelines, the formulation of mitigation measures should not be deferred to a later date. She found that the "city has improperly deferred formulation of greenhouse gas mitigation measures."
Plaintiffs also alleged that the environmental impact report failed to analyze a proposed pipeline that would transport hydrogen from the new hydrogen processing plant to the Shell refinery in Martinez and the ConocoPhillips refinery in Rodeo.
The ruling stated that because the pipeline is an integral part of the project, it should have been addressed in the environmental impact report.
Tovar said that if Chevron decides to pursue its plans to upgrade the refinery, it will have to begin the environmental review process over again and include all of the information that was missing in the current environmental impact report.
"Chevron is disappointed and believes that the Energy and Hydrogen Renewal Project was properly permitted and that the benefits of the project are identified in the thorough environmental review conducted by the city of Richmond staff and the city's environmental consultant," Chevron spokesman Brent Tippen said Monday.
Tippen said Chevron officials were reviewing the specifics of the court's decision and would be determining a course of action in consultation with the city.
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