3-19-08 by dugan
The Oakland-adjacent and working class city of Richmond, Calif., is on the verge of allowing Chevron to
proceed with a huge, contentious "upgrade" of its refinery there so it
can process dirtier, heavier grades of crude oil. Chevron says the
plant will just become “more efficient.” Critics, including state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown,
see a stealth attempt to allow more, and more dangerous, pollution in
an already stressed environment.
Brown, however, also said there was no
state law that would let him do more than urge the small and badly
overmatched city of Richmond to do a better job. That seems like a refinery-sized loophole in the law.
project could set a dangerous precedent for more refinery “upgrades,”
especially those that could handle filthy Canadian oil tars.
Canada’s tar sands producers aren’t yet shipping their sticky, dirty, environmentally disastrous product to California, but they’re planning on it. Chevron and other refiners are certainly planning on using it.
originally touted the project at Richmond as a significant expansion of
refining capacity at the plant, which would trigger requirements for
clean-air upgrades of both new and old equipment. Then, by shifting to
“upgrades”, Chevron evaded federal air quality requirements and got to
deal with Richmond’s overmatched city planners instead of the federal
Now, those upgrades are looking a lot
like both an expansion of capacity and an increase in the release of
air garbage from sulfur to selenium, according to an in-depth analysis
by Greg Karras, senior scientist at a state pollution watchdog group,
Communities for a Better Environment. (The short version of his
conclusions is in this letter.)
The letter concludes:
[Chevron] Project as proposed would switch to extremely contaminated,
price-discounted feedstock that could include extra-heavy oil and oil
sands when better quality oil is available. By describing it as an
equipment replacement that only shifts to similar oils with one-percent
more sulfur … the [Final Environmental Impact Review] provides a
false description of the Project. The FEIR is fundamentally deficient
and must be revised and recirculated for public review.”
Gen. Brown earlier called for better review by Richmond of both a new
hydrogen-production plant on the refinery premises and the main
refinery overhaul. (The hydrogen is not for a clean-fuels project, but
because Chevron needs hydrogen to process the dirtier oils.) But Brown
has acknowledged that "there is no [state] rule or regulation in place
that binds the City’s actions", which is a shock when such a huge
project could impact air quality statewide. in a recent letter, Brown
seemed to accept the specious claims of the city’s final environmental impact report.
He merely urged the Richmond City Council to ask for more environmental
assurances from Chevron. The city council might also demand a
"mitigation payment" (see "bribe") by Chevron to the city.
If Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to
prevent a deeper tarnish of his Green Giant image, he’d better have
something to say about this Chevron project, including an invitation
for state laws that would even up a relationship like that between
needy Richmond and filthy-rich Chevron.