CBE ‘expert’ qualifications challenged by document

Environmental group's settlement with air district over Chevron modernization doesn't clear path for construction.
The graphic shows two main components of the Chevron Richmond Refinery Modernization Project.

As the “senior scientist” for the group Communities for a Better Environment, Greg Karras has been among the most active and vocal critics of the Chevron Richmond Refinery Modernization Project. At public forums and in front of the press, Karras has pitted his scientific knowledge against Chevron’s own staff and the team of independent experts who vetted the project for the city and produced a detailed 1,100-page environmental impact study.

It was on Karras’ recommendation that the city Planning Commission added multiple technical conditions before forwarding the environmental impact study on to City Council, which is expected to vote on the project this week.   The city’s consultants reviewed Karras’ recommendations and found them   “factually unsupported by evidence on record” and legally impermissible based on court precedent.  Karras, nonetheless, insists his conditions are scientifically sound and that they be included in the final document.

As the debate continues, Karras publicly positions himself as a credentialed scientist on at least equal footing with the experts he opposes. But a rare public document (see below) detailing Karras’ background raises questions about his qualifications as a “senior scientist” familiar with complex refinery operations. The document, known as a curriculum vitae, was included in written testimony Karras gave against an oil refinery in Santa Maria earlier this year.

Karras lists his only academic credential as a bachelor of arts degree in biology from UC Santa Cruz that he earned in 1979.  Unlike a bachelor of science degree, a BA requires fewer upper-level courses in biology, chemistry, mathematics and physics. His only work experience, other than a college internship at the California Air Resources Board, has been with CBE, where he began in 1982 as a research associate.

Karras lists only a handful of professional affiliations under “other relevant experience,” including membership with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which describes itself as the “world’s largest general scientific society”  and is open to everyone, regardless of scientific background.

By comparison, Shari Libicki of Environ, the group that developed the Chevron modernization project’s EIR is a nationally recognized expert in greenhouse gas emissions who holds masters and doctorate degrees in chemical engineering from Stanford, where she guests lectures.

Jennifer Hernandez, the Holland & Knight attorney hired by the city to vet the modernization project, holds an undergraduate degree from Harvard and a law degree from Stanford. She has taught environmental and land use law at both Stanford and UC Berkeley, and is the author of two books and 30 articles on the subject.

Also supporting the Chevron project is Susann Nordum, a Chevron Richmond employee who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work with the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.