AG Kamala Harris submits comments on Draft EIR for Chevron Richmond refinery modernization

Community invited to Richmond fundraiser for Kamala Harris' Senate bid on Dec. 13

Attorney General Kamala Harris says the 1,100–page draft environmental review (DEIR) for the Chevron Richmond refinery modernization project needs to do more to prove that the planned upgrades will make the plant cleaner and safer.

In a 10-page letter to Richmond’s planning department, which can be viewed in full here, Harris called the city’s DEIR “incomplete,” saying the document fails to fully evaluate safety risks of the modernization project, address air quality impacts or adhere to the state’s climate change goals.

Chevron Richmond says the issues Harris raised have “either already been addressed in the draft EIR, or will be addressed in the final EIR [FEIR].”

The FEIR was released by the city on Monday and can be viewed here.

“Surprisingly, [Harris’] letter fails to acknowledge the economic and environmental benefits of the Project — including the unprecedented commitment to no net increase in criteria air pollutants, greenhouse gas emissions, and health risks — as well as the scope and depth of work done by the City, its independent third-party experts, and expert agencies such as the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and Contra Costa Health Services to prepare the most comprehensive and thorough EIR ever developed for a refinery project,” Chevron Richmond spokeswoman Melissa Ritchie said.

Richmond City Councilman Tom Butt, who is known to be a critic of Chevron Richmond, said Tuesday morning city officials felt blindsided by Harris’ letter.

“[The city] had been working closely with the AG’s office for a long time in an effort to resolve any concerns [about the EIR] and believed that resolution had been successful,”  Butt said.  “They also believe that most, if not all, of the AG’s concerns have been resolved in revisions to the DEIR that are included in the FEIR.”

The modernization project would replace a hydrogen plant operating on 1960s-era technology with a more energy-efficient version, and enhance the refinery’s sulfur recovery units. It would not change the grade of crude oil processed at the refinery but would allow crude with higher sulfur content to be used.

When the EIR for the project was first released in April, an attorney hired by the city of Richmond to vet the proposed project said the EIR sets a new standard for transparency in environmental reports.

“The final EIR will demonstrate that the modernization project will result in a newer, safer, cleaner refinery by replacing some of the oldest processing equipment with more modern technology that is inherently safer and meets the nation’s toughest air quality standards,” Ritchie said. “Modernization will increase energy efficiency, enhance the refinery’s rigorous inspection program, protect the environment and create 1,000 local construction jobs.”

The Communities for a Better Environment, a state environmental activist group, lauded Harris’ letter, saying it has raised the same concerns posed by the attorney general.