RICHMOND, Calif. — The battle over Chevron's plans for a $1 billion expansion of its Richmond refinery came to a head Wednesday night as dozens of locals weighed in during a public forum.
The city Planning Commission met at Kennedy High School where commissioners heard hours of public input on the environmental impact report for the Chevron project.
They're deciding whether to certify the report and grant a conditional use permit allowing Chevron to start work.
The project has divided the city, with some torn between the hundreds of jobs it will create and the expected increases in air pollutants it will generate.
"It's all about getting good jobs and they're good paying jobs. They're union jobs," said Troy Tagliaboschi of Richmond company Overaa construction.
He said the project would allow him to hire 50 to 100 employees.
"I just ran into a guy that is not working, that's been off for 11 months and he's waiting for this project to start," Tagliaboschi said.
But environmentalists are skeptical of the project.
"I think this modernization project will actually increase pollution that will greatly affect me, my neighbors, said Andrea Weber of El Sobrante and member of the Center for Biological Diversity.
She's critical of Chevron's proposal to expand the refinery's ability to process crude oil and oil with higher levels of sulfur.
Others said they share that concern especially after the 2012 fire and explosion at the refinery which was caused by a leak in a pipe that had been corroded by sulfur.
"Our job is to move it forward with some recommendations for a safe plant. We're going to put forth some conditions that will ensure the safety of the residents and workers," said Richmond Planning Commissioner Roberto Reyes.
He told KTVU he's happy with most of the changes in the new environmental impact report that will require Chevron to take steps to protect the community's health and safety.
"It's all coming together. It really is," Reyes said.
Chevron officials insist the new project will lead to a safer, cleaner refinery.
"We made the commitment of no net increase in criteria air pollutant greenhouse gas and health risk from toxic air contaminant emissions, so as a result of our project, our emissions won't go up, " said Chevron spokesperson Nicole Barber.
Because of the large turnout, the planning commission scheduled another special meeting for Thursday evening, when it's expected to vote.