Chevron Modernization EIR Debate: RPA Says They Want Refinery Safer and Cleaner; Workers and Experts Say “You Got it.”


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blogimage.jpgThe Richmond Progressive Alliance and its supporters insist that the Chevron modernization project needs to result in a revamped refinery that is safer for the workers and runs cleaner and more efficiently in the interest of saving the environment. 

They are insistent and unshakable on these demands.  They will stop at nothing to get what they say is in the best interests of the workers and the community.  The trouble is – according to Chevron’s workers and the City’s expert consultants – the Chevron modernization project as planned fulfills those very two requests.  The plant is already one of the safest in the country and this modernization proposal seeks to make it even safer; the plant could run cleaner, and Chevron is proposing to make it do so.

The Richmond Progressive Alliance and its supporters insist that the Chevron modernization project needs to result in a revamped refinery that is safer for the workers and runs cleaner and more efficiently in the interest of saving the environment.  They are insistent and unshakable on these demands.  They will stop at nothing to get what they say is in the best interests of the workers and the community.  The trouble is – according to Chevron’s workers and the City’s expert consultants – the Chevron modernization project as planned fulfills those very two requests.  The plant is already one of the safest in the country and this modernization proposal seeks to make it even safer; the plant could run cleaner, and Chevron is proposing to make it do so.

So, what more could the RPA supporters want from the City and from Chevron?  According to at least one CBE speaker and RPA supporter, the answer is “hemp oil....”

According to federal and state laws, any time a company or the government undertakes a project that could potentially have adverse effects on the environment, an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) must be commissioned and published for comment and approved by local government before the project can be started.  In Richmond, that means that the City needed to put together an EIR addressing possible effects of the proposed Chevron refinery modernization project.  And so they have…  It is 4,500 pages; and it is dense.

Last night was the first public comment hearing before the Planning Commission regarding the City’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the Chevron refinery modernization project.  The city council chamber, where the meeting took place, was packed to the brim – nearly claustrophobic – with both supporters and opponents of the project.

As most residents of Richmond know, this is Chevron’s, and the City’s, second try at an EIR for modernizing the refining facility – the first EIR was approved in 2008, but was overturned by a court order after a lawsuit was filed by the Richmond chapters of Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) and Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN).

The 2008 EIR was criticized for being too brief.  Opponents claimed it did not address enough of the possible consequences for the environment and for worker safety.  A judge agreed. 

The new EIR puts all complaints about thoroughness to rest.  It addresses almost every conceivable facet of the construction and modernization project of which one can think.  It involved scores of consultants from different companies and agencies and it took years to put together.

To that end, almost everyone involved in the debate over the modernization project seems to agree that the EIR is comprehensive and represents a good example of what an EIR should be.  There are, of course, a few dissenters, such as an attorney from CBE who spoke at the public comment hearing and claimed that the EIR fails to adequately address solar alternatives and is therefore deficient; but such views seem to be in the minority.  Even mayoral candidate and Richmond Progressive Alliance figurehead Mike Parker has called it an “extremely good EIR.”

What neither side seems to agree on is exactly what all of the information in the new EIR actually means.

Last night, speakers from CBE and APEN were back to attack the EIR and the modernization project itself along with representatives from the California Nurses Association (CNA).  Their members, many of whose comments needed to be translated from Lao to English in the case of APEN, expressed a great deal of concern for the health of Richmond’s citizens.  The speakers from CNA focused a lot of their attention on the effects of the refinery incident that occurred in 2012, while the members of APEN and CBE spent the majority of their time talking about alternative energy possibilities and air quality indicators.  One woman even requested that Chevron forgo all fossil fuel production and move entirely into the field of hemp oil production. 

They all said that the refinery is not nearly safe enough and that the new EIR does not provide for the necessary improvements for worker safety.  They also claimed that the refinery is the chief polluter in the Richmond area and that the EIR shows that production of toxic air contaminants and green house gas emissions will increase dramatically as a result of this project. 

On the other side of the aisle were the labor unions such as the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and the Steamfitters union along with members of the Richmond Proud movement.  Their members pointed to the 2,300 projected construction jobs that will be created as a result of the modernization process (CBE speakers claim the number is closer to 29 jobs in the long run).

Current Chevron workers and others hoping to get a job at Chevron working on the modernization and expansion project attended the meeting in droves and many got up to speak as well.  The workers and union members showered praise on Chevron’s facility as a beacon of safety and said that they modernization project can only yield positive results by making the refinery even safer while simultaneously producing a cleaner-running facility and creating jobs for local residents.  They also pointed out that the EIR indicates there will be no net increase in pollution of any kind from the refinery once it is modernized and up and running.

So there you have it.  Most everyone agrees that this new EIR is a huge improvement over the last – some local leaders from the usually anti-Chevron RPA faction even call it a “great” EIR – but no one seems to know what the whole document actually says or what many of the statistics mean.  To that end, it looks like the consultants have a rough month of responding to additional comments and answering questions about discrepancies ahead of them.

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