Hundreds of people flooded Richmond Memorial Auditorium Tuesday night to support the latest version of the Chevron Richmond Refinery Modernization Project, which is facing a crucial City Council vote July 29.
The overwhelming show of support came in the wake of Chevron Richmond’s announcement Monday that it has accepted an alternative to its proposal that will put a cap on greenhouse gas emissions. The company will also double the community investment it promised in conjunction with the project, from $30 million to $60 million.
The acceptance of so-called Alternative 11, pitched by Attorney General Kamala Harris, was a result of feedback received from members of the community during the permitting process who called for more emissions reductions.
Kory Judd, the refinery general manager, said the community dialogue has led to unprecedented commitments by Chevron to protect the health and safety of Richmond residents.
“This project balances the good of the company and the community,” Judd said.
Jennifer Hernandez, the independent consultant retained by the city to vet the project, said the latest version would reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), meaning the project no longer relies on cap-and-trade to mitigate increases. The project also limits the amount of sulfur that can be removed from the refinery on a daily basis and will make the facility safer, Hernandez said.
Throngs of Richmond residents and Chevron employees attended Tuesday’s public hearing to support the project. Reports pegged the number of attendees at about 440, mostly project supporters. At least 192 people signed up to speak at the hearing.
“The modernization project is the best project we can do to reduce GHGs” said Susan Nordum, a Chevron Richmond employee who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work with the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Laborers supported the hundreds of construction jobs that would be generated by the $1 billion project. “Time to work together to put labor, Chevron and the community in the right direction,” Local 324 member Alex Smith said.
The project has even gained support from activists normally critical of Chevron.
“Chevron arch-enemy Henry Clark of West County Toxics Coalition says this is the best project Chevron ever put forward,” Councilmember Tom Butt wrote on Facebook during Tuesday’s council hearing.
The latest version of the project also received support from, among others, Jack Broadbent, CEO of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District; the Contra Costa County Health Services; Richmond NAACP; the East Bay Leadership Council; and the Council of Industries.
Opponents of the project, many of them members of the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA), urged council to accept a set of conditions that emerged from the Planning Commission. The conditions would force Chevron to spend an additional $250 million over 35 years on community investments and replace all piping in the refinery installed prior to 1990.
Mayoral candidate Mike Parker, an RPA member, also demanded that Chevron pay to maintain the financially struggling Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo, which has an $18 million annual deficit.
City staff and consultants rejected the Planning Commission’s additional conditions as “factually unsupported by evidence on record” and legally impermissible based on court precedent.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Judd noted the Planning Commission’s bias toward environmental activist groups, some of which would like to see the refinery close. The commission’s members are appointed by Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, an RPA member.
“The Planning Commission adopted amendments proposed by outside groups, some of whom have stated goals to stop the continuation of our business,” Judd said.
Andrea Bailey, community engagement manager for Chevron Richmond, noted the refinery has invested more than $580 million in the community since 2009 and is poised to continue supporting local programs for youths, education, job training and green energy projects.
“We are committed to supporting STEM in local schools and in driving economic development,” Bailey said, referring to science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs.
Lisa Raber, a Richmond resident and Chevron Richmond chemical engineer, said modernization “means a safer place for me to live and for my neighbors to live.”