By Katherine Tam
West County Times
Posted: 05/20/2009 09:56:11 AM PDT
Updated: 05/20/2009 02:13:44 PM PDT
activists gained ground this week in their legal challenge of Chevron's
plan to replace decades-old equipment at its Richmond refinery, a plan
the activists claim could increase pollution in the area and pose a
public health risk.
Contra Costa Superior
Court Judge Barbara Zuniga issued a tentative ruling, stating that a
city-approved environmental impact report is "unclear and inconsistent"
on whether the project enables Chevron to process heavier crude. The
city also "improperly" deferred developing measures to deal with
greenhouse gas emissions for up to a year, she said.
respect to other issues raised by petitioners, given that EIR is
already in need of revision, addressing additional issue [sic] seems to
be rather moot," Zuniga wrote.
ruling comes eight months after the West County Toxics Coalition of
Richmond and Communities for a Better Environment and the Asian Pacific
Environmental Network, both of Oakland, filed a lawsuit against the
city of Richmond and Chevron in state Superior Court. The environmental
groups argue that the city's environmental review was flawed and failed
to disclose, analyze and mitigate all the potential impacts.
The city and the oil giant dispute these claims.
plan to replace its hydrogen plant, power plant and reformer to refine
a wider range of crude with higher sulfur content has been one of the
most hotly contested and polarizing issues in Richmond,
drawing standing-room-only crowds to hearings and sparking dozens of protests.
oil giant contends it will continue to refine light to intermediate
crudes and insists its project is not a public health risk. But
opponents say the project would allow the processing of heavier crude,
which could increase pollutants by 5 to 50 times, and demanded the city
limit the amount and kind of oil Chevron can refine.
summer, a divided Richmond City Council certified the environmental
report and approved the project with about 70 provisions, including
monitoring requirements and a limit on the amount of crude running
through a piece of equipment considered key to refining. Opponents said
the provisions aren't extensive enough to protect the public, and they
made good on their promise to sue.
Wednesday morning, the parties gathered in Superior Court in Martinez
to make arguments, focusing mainly on the crude and how greenhouse
gases would be mitigated.
Will Rostov, an
Earthjustice attorney representing the environmental groups, said, "The
EIR did fail as an informative document," adding that the city and
Chevron "masked the crude switch."
and Chevron countered the charge. Ellen Garber, an attorney with San
Francisco-based Shute, Mihaly and Weinberger, representing the city,
said: "The city believes the process was at all times as transparent as
it can be. To say the city tried to trick the public cannot be found
anywhere in the record and need not have been said."
said she would take the information into consideration, and she
recessed the hearing about 11:30 a.m. Wednesday. It is unclear when the
hearing will resume or when a final ruling might be issued.
parties milled around on the steps of the courthouse afterward. Rostov
said the environmental groups would wait to hear the outcome of
Zuniga's deliberation. Refinery spokesman Dean O'Hair said the hearing
was a chance for Chevron to clarify its project for Zuniga and said the
city's environmental review had been thorough.
has begun constructing part of the project, but two of the components —
the power plant replacement and the new continuous catalyst reformer —
are delayed indefinitely.
Legally, the permit the city issued gives Chevron until July 2013 to build these components, officials said.
delay does not affect payouts from a $61 million community benefits
agreement, a deal in which Chevron promised to fund police, job
training, health care and other programs, they said. The agreement was
approved the same day as the Chevron project.