A not-so-well-known regulatory agency may have taken the first steps towards dismantling not only Richmond’s oil refinery, but also all other petroleum plants in the region, according to some environmental groups.
The Bay Area Air Quality Management District—often referred to as the Air District—passed a resolution last week to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. To meet the goal, Chevron’s century old refinery in Richmond would need to drastically cut the amount of greenhouse gasses it releases.
“This is one piece of the puzzle towards a just, peaceful, and healthy future for all Bay Area residents,” said Jessica Dervin-Ackerman, a spokesperson for the Sierra Club, an environmental group that worked closely with the agency on the resolution. “Basically what this would do is it would prohibit refining fossil fuels in the Bay Area,” she said.
Not everyone thinks the Air District’s proposal will end oil refining in the region. In fact, some don’t even think its benchmarks are attainable. “I’m not sure anyone thinks it’s actually possible given today’s technology,” said Guy Bjerke, manager of the Western States Petroleum Association. Chevron directed all press queries on the topic to the association.
Bjerke also balked at the idea that the plan could ultimately shut down the refinery. “[The Air District] can’t adopt a regulation that would put the refineries out of business, that would go against state law,” he said.
The Air District does have far-reaching regulatory powers though, and if it’s serious about meeting its goal, emissions from the Richmond refinery will need to drop dramatically.
Processing crude oil produces 40 percent of all greenhouse gasses in the Bay Area. In 2008, Richmond’s plant was California’s biggest polluter, releasing nearly 5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide and other related greenhouse gasses, according to the California Environmental Protection Agency.
“It’s going to take some innovative thinking in order to get the results that we want,” said Aaron Richardson, a spokesperson for the Air District. “But we’ve worked with refineries on reducing other levels of air pollutants, so we think we can work with them to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions as well.”
The agency still hasn’t figured out how exactly it will meet its goal. Some are worried that refineries and other emitters will use cap-and-trade to offset their emissions. “We don’t necessarily want them to buy their way out of this goal by paying to reduce emissions somewhere else,” said John Gioia, a Contra Costa County supervisor who’s on the Air District’s board.
The Air District is considering another resolution, which would force refineries to keep their emission at present day levels. This could impact Chevron’s $1 billion modernization project, which would allow the refinery to process slightly heavier and more sulfuric crudes, and potentially increase emissions. “If we’re successful, then they would not be able to increase their emissions, even with that project,” Gioia said.
While Bjerke seemed somewhat concerned about the Air District’s plans, he said people in the industry aren’t panicking. “There’s a lot of folks in the Bay Area who believe reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a good idea, that it’s important,” Bjerke said. “That it would end up shutting down refineries, I’m not sure most people think that’s a good idea.”