Chevron plant upgrade promises more jobs and more greenhouse gases

Chevron has maintained major facilities in Richmond for more than a century. (courtesy U.S. Department of Energy)

Chevron has maintained major facilities in Richmond for more than a century. (courtesy U.S. Department of Energy)

Chevron’s billion-dollar upgrade project, initially proposed almost ten years ago, reached a major milestone this week when the city of Richmond released its more than 1100-page draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) on the refinery modernization plan.

Union workers welcomed the prospect that the project finally will move forward and bring much-needed jobs to the city.  But environmentalists were more skeptical, questioning the adequacy of efforts to offset a predicted increase in greenhouse gases from the project noted in the report.

The proposal includes replacing Chevron’s hydrogen plant, which is more than 50 years old. It also involves improving some existing equipment, such as the refinery’s sulfur recovery units, which remove sulfur from crude oil. Pipelines and electrical equipment will be upgraded and other energy efficiency measures will be adopted.

“The installation of more reliable equipment will ultimately improve community health and worker safety,” said Richmond Pastor Marcus Mitchell, on behalf of Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 342.

Many workers are hopeful that the project will soon be approved, bringing back hundreds of construction jobs that were lost when the project was halted in 2010.

“It impacted families and children, and they suffered,” said Greg Feere, an officer of the Contra Costa Building Trades Union. “This happened a month and a half before Christmas.”

Union worker Antoine Cloy of Richmond agreed. “We’re tired of all the people in our community not working,” Cloy said. He added he hopes the city will help Richmond workers benefit from the project by changing its hiring ordinance to require 40 percent local hires.

Chevron’s project has faced many hurdles over the years: from a lawsuit by the environmental advocacy group Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) that exposed gaping holes in the original EIR, to the company’s Richmond refinery explosion in 2012 that blackened the skies and sent more than a thousand people to the hospital claiming respiratory issues.

An appeals court ruled in 2010 that the city’s EIR on the project lacked information on greenhouse gas emissions and failed to disclose what types of crude oil would be processed by the new equipment.

“This is not going to happen again,” said Feere of the Building Trades Union, adding that the union’s attorneys are vetting the city’s new EIR.

Environmental groups sounded more skeptical as they continued their analysis of the voluminous new report.

“We’ve been waiting for this since CBE took them to court,” said Andres Soto, CBE Richmond Organizer. CBE’s scientists and attorneys are in the process of reviewing the lengthy new EIR to determine whether the city addressed all necessary environmental and safety issues.

“[Chevron has] an incredible responsibility to assess the impact of their process on climate change and health and safety,” Soto said.

The metallurgy of the materials used in the project is one issue to which Soto is paying particular attention.  The 2012 fire was caused by corroded pipelines, he said.

Greenhouse gas emissions are another concern, Soto said.  “[Chevron is] claiming that this is going to result in zero net emissions increase,” he said. “But what does that mean?”

The new EIR states that the project will in fact increase greenhouse gas emissions, but adds that, through mitigation measures, the project will have a “less-than-significant impact on climate change.”

This isn’t good enough, Soto said. “We’re looking for a reduction in emissions, not the status quo,” he said.

The proposed mitigation measures include a solar energy facility on Chevron property and an urban forestry program throughout the city. If any emissions increase were to occur, the EIR states, the refinery would purchase greenhouse gas allowances through the state’s cap-and-trade program.

Jeff Hartwig, Chevron’s project permitting manager called Richmond’s report “one of most robust and comprehensive EIRs in refining history.” The project will replace some of the refinery’s oldest equipment, he said.

The city and CBE are both planning to hold community meetings to educate the public about the EIR and the issues it raises about the Modernization Project. The Planning Commission will hear public comment for at least 45 days and then bring the decision to a vote. The vote can be appealed to the city council.

The city is holding a public workshop on Wednesday, April 2, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in the Richmond Memorial Auditorium 403 Civic Center Plaza.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated the public comment period for the draft EIR begins April 17. In fact, the public comment period began March 18 and runs through May 2. Oral comments can be given at the Planning Commission meeting on April 17. Written comments can be submitted at the city’s public workshops, or mailed to: Lina Velasco City of Richmond Planning Division 450 Civic Center Plaza P.O. Box 4046 Richmond, CA 94804.

31 Comments

  1. Jimmy wu

    Finally Richmond can see some real economic development , lets get to work and build ! We need a change in city leadership , starting with the city manager . His job was to advise the mayor and council , not to sue their number one tax payer Chevron . His job was to take the advice of civil grand juries in 2012 and clean up the housing authority , not to mention allowing a private business to be run out of the city managers office by the assistant city manager.
    What economic development has happened in Richmond with this mayor and Green Party dancing with the RPA ? The city loved to spend millions of tax monies on studies , lets build ! Not to mention a $100 million city hall , while people lived in a dump run by a housing authority , whom clearly played fast and loose. fire all of them and start over , what a waste!,,

    • We need a city without constant fallout from heavy industry, we need Chevron to reduce it’s local pollution not keep it flat and we need to demand they clean up their act with a full accountability and replacement, modernization, and repair of every leaky pipe, sulfur trioxide leak, poison gas cloud, and anything that makes the people of Richmond have that disgusting bleechy feeling that the air around here seems to have after what i believe are undocumented spills we need accountability for the negligence and we must have a few inspectors that work for the city and therefore the people of Richmond to have full access 24 hours a day and have the place be 100% compliant with the laws of safety, what if the place explodes and kills half the town in an earthquake? If we approve this project just because they bought every billboard in town and constantly send you propaganda mailers telling you what to think, a old rich white man telling you what to think from his cushy mansion over the hill, i don’t think so, we must demand they spend the 18 million dollars out of their nearly 5 billion in profit on making this refinery zero emissions so we never have to gasp for air while watching our kid choke out from this corporate hated and complete disregard for our townsfolk

    • ten ho

      do you understand the impact of sulfur in your lungs over time. do you understand that the health effects will eradicate every single dollar you earn in that facility. Have you ever had cancer? know anybody who does? .Look at Chevrons record of violating pass regulations. which is why the “accident” happened in the first place. So what if they pay the most taxes…they make the most money. One more thing…1 billion for “modernization” 3 million for mitigation of greenhouse gases that’s .003 percent for your health risks

  2. tony

    It goes without question that Richmond needs economic development with 17% unemployment. The problem is the structure of the city charter , which lends itself to a strong city manager form of Government , therefore abuse of power is possible . Oakland changed their charter for Jerry Brown to have a strong Mayor form of government. Richmond needs to elect it’s mayor by majority vote and adopt a strong form of Mayor government structure. We shouldn’t have a mayor elected in the city by 40% of the vote . The dysfunctional government only create the environment to allow lobbyist , lawyers and planning firms to get Rich at the expense of the city and their clients. What happens when projects are turned down lobbyist get paid more money to spend time to lobby votes , lawyers increase billing time , pollster charge $ 20,000 for one poll and focus groups increase fees to the consultant to run the enterprise. What they have learned in the past 20 years of polling ? Increase Police protection , economic development , clean environment , job creation and recreation with safe parks , simple and well known. Until the curtain is pulled open and the client wakes up and see in our opine a scam , they will continue to make lobbyist , consultants and lawyers wealthy , while Richmond suffers and the renewal project is delayed . Wake up and smell the coffee. We have watched this year after year , get your renewal project approved now for the health of Richmond economic development and please understand how your being played , everyone else see’s it , ask around. You suffer we suffer , and the lobbyist , pollster, consultants and lawyers get wealthier and enjoy a good laugh at your expense .

    • Jimmy wu

      Interesting , and I agree it’s well know in Richmond that the lobbyist have played Chevron and others such as the Indian tribes with the casino proposals . It’s also true Eric Zell a paid political lobbyist for Chevron and the tribes , Zell is chair of the doctors hospital . Understand Zell appears to have cut a deal with Casino San Pablo to buy the land where doctors hospital sits to relocate the hospital . The lobbyist are small fish in a big pond , the key is to clean house at city hall , elect Nat Bates as mayor then think about changing the city charter . Get the renewal project built then these small town lobbyist to look for other jobs .

      • tony

        My understanding from what I have read , is Nat Bates would have been Mayor today if they would require a run off from the two top vote getters in the last Mayors election. Was there a position taken by these high price lobbyist about a change in the city charter to allow a majority vote for mayor ??

        • Jimmy wu

          The high priced lobbyist were against a change in the city charter the reason is simple. Stability doesn’t pay as much as Chaos.

      • michael

        Ah, c’mon, jimmy….Nat Bates? Just get the strong form of Mayor (as in Oakland) first. Worry about the stupid, grandstanding, political hoofers later, ok?
        That way, we can vote for a Mayor with direction for the city, not placation of Council egos or agendas, or plans for their city-paid overseas vacations with “sister Cities”.
        That way, we can get more neighborhood policing, more mileage on, or throw under the bus those “consultants”, or “surveys” telling us what we already know, and our own kids are telling us.

    • What we need is for corporations to stop trying to control our government, your a company not the people, grow a conscience and let the inspectors in, city inspectors prove that you are serious about cleaning up your act, modern=clean #GayleMcGlaughlin #Chevron

      • Jimmy wu

        The inspectors rightfully are state and federal agencies , lit’s simple the city management can even keep the housing authority up to a livable standard , the staff needs to be fired starting with the city manager , what make you think this city can do better inspections then the state and federal govermemt ???

        • tony

          I agree the city can’t handle inspections , just look at the housing authority . The Federal government had to come in , and a civil grand jury had to raise hell to get the city to do anything , and the new bright idea by Mr. Cormick is the city of Richmond inspects the refinery to protect the Richmond residents , I think the federal and state government is better trained , and the have to inspect many of these facilities.

  3. Henry Wise

    Such short sighted comments so far. Let’s not sacrifice the health and safety of our city and the larger Bay Area for decades to come just for a couple of years worth of jobs. If the refinery continues to be a polluter then Richmond’s health and property values will remain depressed. Chevron can and should do better. Let’s see a plan that reduces emissions while increasing safety.

    • Jimmy wu

      The Environmental impact report is clear on the subject of air quality , the renewal project doesn’t have a negative impact. The delays by not upgrading the plant has kept Richmond at a higher risk. Although it’s true the plant is safe today , I would prefer a state of the art Facility It’s not just a couple of years of jobs as you stated , Chevron based on the delays relocated hundreds of jobs out of Richmond. What type of economic impact would happen if Chevron brought back these jobs increased investment in our city ? We need Chevron human energy , LBNL , UC . You should lobby to stop the lawsuits , work with banks , oil companies , LBNL and UC and others to build the city of Richmond , the RPA has zero accomplishments in almost 8 years . trying to pass a minimum wage without a staff report will result I the city losing Galaxy Deserts as an example .

      • tony

        I read a report that 70 percent of Richmond wants to see an upgraded refinery. The increase tax base is also important by building this project. I also read the city of Richmond faces a $9 million deficit next year as a result of poor leadership. Clearly Richmond needs to follow the lead of other cities and have district elections , a mayor elected by the majority of voters , and a strong mayor form of government. Get a required lobbyist reporting system to include how mush they are paid and by whom . Get power back to the people , not in the hands of the RPA. Let’s build our city up . A job is the best thing you can do for your cities health !

      • The facility is dilapidated by all reports, the “jobs” are just temporary gigs not permanent jobs of any sort, suggesting anything else is disingenuous, if you want to create jobs do bad commit to zero emissions and allow city inspectors so we know it’s safe and bring your shit up to code, it’s not, you’re a failure, fix yoself

        • tony

          Cleary economic development goes well beyond the construction jobs , they will have to pay increased property taxes which funds police and fire . Note Chevron pays $ 40 million a year now in taxes to the city of Richmond. Maybe you should go to contra costa collage and take an economic class.Troy >>>>>>

  4. Jimmy wu

    The renewal project will be built it’s just a matter of time. I’m sure there will be a lawsuit , however the EIR is a new standard for oil companies and addressed all the concerns and is defensible in court. Richmond needs structure to have a city that functions . It just a matter of time Before there is a change of city managers , history shows it’s a high turn over job , and that for managers that don’t make such huge blunders , the housing authority , Intimate domain suggested actions , $100 million city hall , allowing the Assistant city manager to run a private enterprise out of the city manager’s office…

    • what’s with all the distractions Wu? Why not come out and support zero emissions and city inspectors and bring the whole damn place up to code, protect your workers and community, that’s human energy not millions in propaganda that’s communist fascist propaganda bullshit papacito ¿Por qué no te compromisas con cero emisiones, inspectores independientes de la ciudad y aceptar la realidad que modernizar significa que actualizarías tu maquinaria decrépita hasta que siga las normas de CAL OSHA y no gastéis más en decepcionarnos no somos stupid papacito!

      • Jimmy wu

        Then I take it your for hydrogen cars and trucks with zero emissions on the road . if so we expect to see you standing up in support of the hydrogen renewal project to be built at chevron . To achieve zero emissions in cars and trucks , you do know you need hydrogen plants correct ?

        • tony

          Jimmy your correct , they should stand up for hydrogen production to increase the results of cars and light truck operating on hydrogen with zero emissions !! I guess the environmentalist are protesting to have the hydrogen plant built ? Question since they appear to have been against the Hydrogen plant , are they against zero emissions for cars and light trucks ???

  5. Philip

    I am going to skip the politics for this comment.

    I might be able to accept an upgrade to the plant, but only if it means that it is safer, cleaner for its neighbors and the city and East Bay in general.

    As I am not familiar with the latest development and the article does not provide much details I have some initial questions.

    1. How can a new plant be allowed to produce more green house gas emissions, especially when it is replacing one that is 50 years old? What sort of production increases are they planning and why is this allowed next to residential neighborhoods?

    2. I agree that Richmond needs jobs. However, short-term construction jobs will not solve its unemployment crisis. How can you guarantee that of these jobs will be given to people in Richmond specifically?

    3. Expanding high-polluting industry will limit home values and attractiveness to other commercial and residential investors in the surrounding areas, for generations. What kind of job and revenue increase has been estimated due to this upgrade? Do they outweigh the downsides described above?

    Let’s not frame the discussion as if there are only two choices here. There are plenty of places that are vibrant without polluting industry (Marin) and plenty of places that bet on industry and have done very poorly (Richmond, Detroit, the Rust Belt).

    There are many ways to stimulate an economy.

    • tony

      The economic impact of an additional $ 1 billion of development upgrades is huge for Richmond. The increase in property taxes alone will help Richmond come closer to balancing it’s huge deficits. I also agree that we should look pasted the small time, small town political consultants , and review the long term positive impacts of the renewal project.

      The Milken Institute produced a Contra Costa county : A Blueprint for Growth Oct 2012. With Acknowledgments to Chevron , the contra costa Economic Partnership and the Contra Costa Council for making the ( study ) possible. Authors Ross DeVol and Perry Wong.
      ” Richmond is a regional manufacturing center that is heavily dependent on it’s strong petrochemical industry. However biomedical , renewable energy , and logistics industries are also drivers in its knowledge-based economy. One challenge Richmond faces is maintaining its strength in heavy manufacturing while fostering a more diverse industry base. But it has an opportunity to strengthen its innovation capacity through the new local field station of Lawrence Berkeley national laboratory. Promoting strategic public-private partnerships through programs such as Richmond Build will help enhance the city’s workforce development pipeline.”
      The question should be what other economic impacts will Chevron bring to the table ? Will they strengthen their partnerships with LBNL and UC as a result of the renewal project ? Will they increase their long term economic development activities ? History says they will. So what Richmond gets is a major economic gift of a $ 1 billion expansion , a state of the art refinery , strengthened public private partnerships , Chevron / UC/ LBNL and all the jobs created. The city should have a Chevron Day on the calendar , and the mayor should give them a award as the best corporate citizen. We agree the mayor and city council needs to look past the political consultants , and look at the benefit the company brings to Richmond. We know it’s hard to look past the hit pieces , and lobbyist becoming millionaires, but think of the impact of this major job creation and how all of Richmond benefits , we will all get past these small town lobbyist.

      • Jimmy wu

        Thanks Tony , very Enlighting , has anyone done a study on the economic impact of the lawsuit against the project , which caused the major delays and loss of Employment , and economic downward spiral ? From the study you quoted it shows the advantages of economic development , how many millions in lost property taxes has taken place by the Green Party mayor and the lawsuit , she supported ?

        • tony

          Jimmy ,
          I don’t know if anyone has done the economic impact analysis of the lawsuit and the millions it cost Richmond if they have it’s not public , on the other hand it’s standard for large projects to show the positive economic impacts to a city. I’m sure at some point the public will be aware of the study and show their support during the EIR certification process.

          • tony

            Jimmy have you thought about running for Richmond city council ?

          • Jimmy wu

            Tony , it’s a temptation to run as a voice of reason . To run as a voice to stand up against corruption , against lobbyist know in some circles as bag man. pionting out the housing authority scandle , the city managers office scandle were a private enterprise was run out of that office by the assistant city manager , the eminate domain scandal which was a private enterprise to enrich a few players under the Disguise of helping by saving a few people’s homes from forecloser . To launch an investigation into the $100 million spent on a city hall while raising taxes and fees, exposé the underfunded pension plans for city employees, the outrages credit card charges by staff at expensive hotels , Restaurants and entertainment. That’s going to be my friend’s campaign not mine. But your correct , the renewal project will be built , then what a mess the lobbyist left us with , a Dysfunctioning city council and city govermemt.

      • Richmond doesn’t have a budget deficit, we have a great mayor!

        • Jimmy wu

          I suggest you read the times , or go on line to see the city has to make cuts to avoid the deficit. , also the city is under investigation by Wall Street on how the show their numbers to support the risk calculation . I don’t believe the mayor , a nice person understands bonds or risk calculation , or is responsible for the housing authority problems , however she is responsible to hire and fire the city Manager , with a majority vote , she sets the agenda . So are you for keeping Bill Lindsay ?

  6. Also this article incorrectly states one thousand were sent to the hospital by the refinery’s most recent megaspill however it was actually over 15000, nearly one in five residents, cough cough burn burn no one at Chevron came to check on us but now they want to expand? I say we need guarantees!
    Zero Emissions! City Inspectors! OSHA compliant!

    • tony

      Richmond I’m told has a history of false claims , it’s highly doubtful that as many people that filed a claim were really effected . It is common knowledge that lawyers set up table in town offering free money to join a lawsuit against Chevron , 99 percent of the claims are false !!!

    • Tony Suggs

      Troy,

      Richmond has a little over 100,000 residents. So if the 15,000 number is correct, that would mean that 1 in 7 went to the hospital after the Chevron fire, not 1 in 5.

      But we know that the 2 local hospitals could not have handled that many people in one week let alone one day.

      Secondly, as the other poster stated, most of those claims were bogus. I personally know several people who were no where near the cloud of smoke that went on to file a claim.

      Here is a question, how many of those “injured people” actually had to be admitted and treated? Very few I suspect.

      Same thing happened after the Safeway wharehouse fire years ago.

      If you think Chevron is such a problem, then why not push to have it closed? That would solve the problem once and for all.

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