Chevron flips on tougher refinery limits

Chevron has agreed to accept a lower cap on greenhouse gas emissions from its proposed refinery modernization project in Richmond and pledged to donate an additional $30 million to community initiatives ahead of a City Council decision on the project.

The oil giant Monday announced its decision to accept the Richmond Planning Commission’s stricter limits on greenhouse gas emissions, a marked change from Chevron’s plan earlier this month to appeal the new conditions.

In addition, the company said it would double its investment from $30 million to $60 million in community programs meant to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, create green jobs, send local students to college and provide job training.

The move comes as the Richmond City Council is set to hear public testimony on the final environmental impact report for the controversial $1 billion project at a special meeting Tuesday night. A final vote on the project is planned on July 29.

Chevron officials initially said they had “grave concerns” about the commission’s conditions for the project. The commission’s proposal was supported by state Attorney General Kamala Harris, who pushed for a project with no “net increase” in greenhouse gas emissions from the refinery.

The company’s announcement also followed input from community members who called for greater investment in local programs and voiced concerns over the project’s environmental impacts, according to Chevron.

Chevron refinery spokeswoman Melissa Ritchie said:

“We’ve been as transparent as we can … we’ve listened to the community and they want lower greenhouse gas emissions.”

Ritchie, who called the company’s acceptance of stricter regulations a “compromise,” said the new conditions would make for a better modernization project.

The project proposes to replace the Richmond refinery’s 1960s-era hydrogen plant with modern, more energy-efficient equipment, according to Chevron officials. It would also allow the refinery to produce more crude oil blends with higher levels of sulfur “while meeting strict environmental regulations,” company officials said.

However, Chevron is still not agreeing to accept many of the Planning Commission’s requirements for the project, including even stricter limits on emissions, replacing old piping throughout the refinery and a proposal to invest $8 million annually in local green energy programs until 2050.

Andres Soto, an organizer with the group Communities for a Better Environment, said:

“We know they’re more interested in their bottom line than the health and safety of their workers or the community and that’s why these conditions were proposed.”

Soto said that while Chevron’s pledge to donate to community projects was a good thing, he and other community activists would prefer to see the community have more control over where the money goes, saying:

“Historically, we’ve seen (Chevron) use that as leverage to try to manipulate community sentiment.”

Communities for a Better Environment and other project opponents are expected to attend Tuesday night’s public hearing on the modernization project, alongside those who support the plan. The meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. at the Richmond Auditorium at 403 Civic Center Plaza.

— Laura Dixon, Bay City News