RICHMOND -- The City Council on Tuesday heard Chevron's appeal of the Planning Commission's recommended amendments to a proposed $1 billion modernization of its local refinery.
The council is set to render its decision at its next meeting July 29.
Jennifer Hernandez, the lead consultant retained by the city to analyze Chevron's project, said that without the Planning Commission's additional recommendations, the project caps greenhouse gas emissions at current levels, reduces the amount of sulfur refining capacity from previous proposals and makes the facility safer.
"We believe we have accurately reported to the public to the best of our ability," Hernandez said.
More than 400 people turned out to hear Chevron appeal the Planning Commission's recommendations. Chevron officials, employees and many residents implored the council to accept the current conditions, which have also been supported by city staff and consultants. The meeting was held in the city's auditorium to accommodate the larger than average crowd.
At least 192 people signed up to address the council for one minute each, and the meeting stretched late into the night.
"This project balances the good of the company and the community," said refinery General Manager Kory Judd. "The Planning Commission adopted amendments proposed by outside groups, some of whom have stated goals to stop the continuation of our business."
Chevron officials on Monday reversed their previous position and agreed to an alternative, dubbed Alternative 11, that caps greenhouse gas emissions and reduces sulfur-processing levels. State Attorney General Kamala Harris has expressed support for Alternative 11.
In its agenda report, city staff and consultants recommended the council reject the commission's recommendations on grounds that they are not legal and are "factually contradicted by substantial evidence on record."
But supporters of the commission's recommendations, which include requirements for new piping throughout the refinery, $8 million per year until 2050 in community investments in green energy programs, and steeper reductions on a range of emissions, urged the council to use this opportunity to back up the commission. They also cautioned the council not to forget Chevron's history of accidents that have polluted the area and harmed residents, most notably a massive blaze at the refinery in August 2012.
"This is an extreme oil project," said Greg Karras, a senior scientist for Communities for a Better Environment. "Its most basic change is to refine more high sulfur gas oil, (and Alternative 11) may have been the real project all along."
Another commission supporter, mayoral candidate Mike Parker, said the city should maintain momentum and also require the oil company to provide funding to Doctors Medical Center, a beleaguered local hospital that faces closure.
"Chevron has responded to community pressure, Alternative 11 was only included as a response to community pressure," Parker said. "But it is only a first step."
The crowd was dominated by Chevron supporters, many of them workers at the refinery and union members who stand to gain from the 1,000 expected jobs associated with the project. Many wore shirts and brandished signs supporting the project.
"It appears that 100 percent of Chevron employees support the project," Councilman Tom Butt wrote on his Facebook page during the meeting.
Union workers in support industries also turned out.
"The project means jobs, so me and my union colleagues are here to support it," said Alejandro Navarro, a member of a carpenter's union and a local police commissioner. "Everybody stands to gain."
But environmental watchdogs held out hope that the council would wring more concessions out of the process and hold fast to at least some of the conditions favored by the Planning Commission.
"In terms of community health, what is being proposed and recommended by city staff is a tiny improvement from where we are today," said Denny Larson, executive director of Global Community Monitor. "There is still a shot the council will support the Planning Commission's full mitigation package, and that would be a leap forward."
The main project components include replacing a 1960s hydrogen plant with more modern technology. The project would give the refinery flexibility to process crude oil blends, including higher levels of sulfur.
The new agreement would pave the way for a project that is "effectively smaller" than the original proposal and "authorizes less additional sulfur," as well as "no physical increase in greenhouse gas emissions from refinery operations relative to the base line," according to the city's staff report.
The council is expected to vote on the issue July 29. If approved, Chevron would have to return to a Contra Costa County court that halted a previous version of the project in 2009 to get that judgment lifted before construction can begin.
Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726. Follow him at Twitter.com/sfbaynewsrogers.
By: Robert Rogers