Chevron refinery expansion permitted before environmental review, lawsuit charges

Pub date June 6, 2014
WriterRebecca Bowe
SectionPolitics Blog

Communities for a Better Environment, known for its watchdog efforts around Chevron’s Richmond oil refinery, has filed a lawsuit against the Bay Area Air Quality Management District for authorizing a permit to Chevron for a refinery construction project that’s still undergoing environmental review.

The project, known as a “modernization” in Chevron lingo, would essentially make it easier for the oil giant to process lower-quality crude, an industrial practice that CBE contends could significantly increase greenhouse-gas emissions.

CBE’s lawsuit charges that the Air District granted an “authority to construct” permit, which also authorizes operation, despite the fact that a state-mandated environmental review process is far from complete, with a draft review being released just this past March. “The authority to construct should be issued after the [environmental impact review],” CBE attorney explained Roger Lin explained in an interview.

The permit was originally granted in 2008, Lin explained, but it was based on an earlier environmental review that was later thrown out in court, because it failed to properly calculate the resulting air quality impacts. Since then, stricter greenhouse-gas regulations were passed, and Chevron was discovered to be emitting more harmful particulate matter into the air than it claimed to be. Meanwhile, a new environmental review process got underway.

Nevertheless, the “authority to construct” permit was renewed in 2012. “This permit was approved the same month that the Chevron Refinery blew up,” igniting a fire that could be seen for miles, noted CBE spokesperson Steven Low.

What’s more is that the draft environmental review proposes to mitigate new greenhouse gas emissions that would be released by the refining process “through cap-and-trade,” noted Lin. “For us, it’s not true mitigation.”

When the Bay Guardian phoned the Air District for comment, Public Information Officer Ralph Borrman told us there wasn’t much he could say on the matter. “Since it’s a lawsuit,” he said, “We’re just not able to comment on current or existing information.”