Mike Responds to City Council Decision on Chevron Modernization

In response to the City Council's decision to accept the EIR for the Chevron modernization project subject to Alternative 11, Mike Parker issued the following statement:

The Chevron Project

A Partial Victory and Opportunities Lost

The Chevron project passed by the City Council on July 29, 201 4, is in part a victory for Richmond residents concerned with clean air, greenhouse gas, safety, and jobs. At the same time, there were important opportunities for the community that the City Council chose to ignore.

This permit part of the project is completed.  We hope the project can proceed quickly to deliver on the jobs that are promised.

But the job of the City is not done:

  • We must work on refinery safety issues and strengthen the Industrial Safety Ordinance
  • We must find other ways to work with Chevron  to reduce air pollution and get BAAQMD to require emission reduction
  • We must make sure that the local hiring provisions are enforced, and that  effective apprenticeship and training programs are in place
  • We must find a way to keep Doctors Medical Center (DMC) open.

We must maintain our vigilance and pressure on Chevron even while we attend to other important issues facing the city.


What we won

In the course of developing the Environmental Impact Report (EIR), the consultants forced Chevron to pay significantly more attention to safety, to replace more of its piping than it planned,  and  reduce some diesel particulate matter.   Chevron was forced to accept Alternative 11, a further limitation on the sulfur content of its crude and the principle that there be no increase, at least for now, in locally produced greenhouse gas.  Since toxic emissions are generally co-pollutants with greenhouse gasses, toxic emissions  should also be reduced.  Even at the very end, the last-minute concessions by Chevron in response to the Contra Costa Times editorial (July 28, 2014) were modest improvements.

Chevron increased its contribution in the Community Benefits Agreement  from $60 million to $90 million,  and several good programs were funded, including a scholarship program.

Opportunities lost

If we had a City Council that was more willing to stand up to Chevron, our community could have benefitted more.  For example, we missed a chance to reduce refinery pollution significantly. It was clear, thanks to the EIR, the dangers of diesel particulate matter, and how much is produced by specific equipment. We should have been able to achieve:     

  • Electrification of the dock, so ships could turn off their engines while docked.
  • Retrofitting additional tugs.
  • Adding a “third-pass” electrostatic precipitator

These improvements could have cleaned our air significantly and would not have affected Chevron’s ability to refine oil.  They should have been done a long time ago, and they are still the right thing to do now.

Similarly, one of the conditions asked for Chevron to focus on reducing toxic  emissions below their current level and come up with a plan for doing so. This condition was entirely reasonable.

Finally, we lost a chance to keep DMC open.

A Brief Recap

Although Chevron ran an unprecedented marketing campaign to sell this project, the community remained either suspicious  or opposed. Team Richmond put out a mailer to the community to explain some of  the issues—the first hard facts the community received that indicated the project was not all it seemed. The Richmond Environmental Justice Coalition did more community education.   In fact the project was about Chevron processing higher sulfur crude—much cheaper for Chevron. But the cost was a refinery that would pollute more. The California Attorney General’s office (AGO) responded to serious questions.   Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) and the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) submitted  proposed conditions to the Planning Commission. The Planning Commission approved a plan with the AGO-supported alternative, and  conditions that would  keep it real. Chevron at first threatened to appeal  Alternative 11,  but broad community support forced  Chevron back.   Lastly, Chevron made a few final small concessions in response to the Contra Costa Times editorial.

After two exhausting days of hearing from the public and  staff, the Council voted with  no discussion and refused to consider any amendments to the package supported by staff and worked out in the last few days.

The entire process of approving this project – from 2007 to its passage this week – demonstrates two important points:

First: when a community organizes, it can force concessions – even from powerful multinational corporations

Second: In these situations there are rarely any complete victories

Mike Parker