Jul 11, 2014

The Richmond Planning Commission unanimously certified the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the Chevron Richmond Refinery Modernization Project on Thursday, sending the project on to City Council for final approval.

The certification calls for Chevron to follow an alternative plan to mitigate greenhouse emissions that had been recommended by Attorney General Kamala Harris’s office. The planning commission also approved the conditional use and design review permits for the $1 billion project, but not without adding a long list of conditions and requirements endorsed by opponents of modernization. The commission’s conditions went against the recommendations of the city’s own team of experts, who had been hired to put together the 1,100-page EIR.

One of the conditions would force Chevron to provide funds for health services in the city, a payment commissioners hoped would be earmarked toward saving Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo, which is grappling with an annual $18 million deficit.

Thursday marked the second consecutive night of the planning commission hearing, held at Kennedy High School, and it was once again packed with supporters of the modernization project.

“We are pleased that the Richmond Planning Commission made a decision tonight; however, we have grave concerns over conditions placed on the approval,” Chevron Richmond spokesperson Melissa Ritchie said in a statement afterward. “We will review the final resolution over the next few days. Based on what we heard tonight, we believe this is an issue that the Richmond City Council will need to review and make a final decision on, which is expected at the end of the month. We look forward to working with the City Council and its staff on this important project that will make the refinery newer, safer and cleaner and bring important benefits to the community.”

The project next heads before City Council July 22.

The modernization project, which would replace an existing hydrogen plant with a modern version that is 20 percent more energy efficient, as well as enhance the refinery’s sulfur recovery units, will create about 1,000 construction jobs and 1,300 indirect jobs. The project would reduce overall emissions, and Chevron has pledged to invest $30 million over 10 years to lower greenhouse gas emissions in the community and create local green jobs.

The commission said Harris’s alternative proposal to mitigate environmental impacts would further reduce emissions. The alternative is spelled out in the document posted below.



  1. I can see why Chevron is disappointed not to get everything it asked for in the EIR. But I’m glad that the Planning Commission certified the EIR, and provided a basis for moving forward with the modernization project, which I think almost everyone agrees will be a benefit to the community as well as Chevron. As a next door neighbor to the refinery, I do think that the Commissioners have served the interest of the community by making sure that the benefits of the project include no net increase in actual harmful emissions. This allows so-called opponents of the project to become supporters of the project. Though this will inevitably cause Chevron some profits, it will give them (and our community) a facility we all can be truly proud of, and demonstrate the company’s sincere desire to minimize the refinery’s health impact, while continuing to be a vital economic force in Richmond.

    Bruce Kaplan | Jul 11th, 2014
  2. Why should a “modernization” project ONLY offer a “no net increase in actual harmful emissions”? That’s a low bar to strive for. If they were interested in actual modernization, they’d be modernizing the other parts of the refinery- the ones that won’t be converted to refining more sulfuric crude. They can afford it.

    This isn’t modernizing at all- this is changing what they do and calling it “modernizing” because other refineries are processing cruder oil and Chevron has to stay competitive. So far as I can tell, Chevron isn’t even promising that these changes will result in cleaner air- they’re promising to try to get the refinery as a whole to put out about the same amount of pollution (in other words, they’ll try to lower the rest of the refinery’s pollution to make up for the increase in this section’s.)

    Chevron initially got their “modernization” plan rubber stamp approved by its pet City Council in 2008 without an EIR at all, and it wasn’t until later that it was sued because it hadn’t bothered to disclose its plans to process dirtier crude. Chevron cannot be trusted.

    Chevron’s NET income for the first quarter of 2014 was nearly $20 BILLION and that was down from 4th quarter. It has also wasted taxpayer money fighting every penny of its already low property taxes. (On an unrelated note, it’s stock prices have been at an all time high.) Chevron can afford to modernize right.

    I anticipate that Chevron will throw an unprecedented amount of money at political candidates this year. I have no doubt that it’s fuming that it had to even acknowledge the health concerns of its neighbors.

    Chevron’s comment? “Chevron spokeswoman Melissa Ritchie lamented that “our critics continue to focus on the amount of money that we spend to educate voters about the best possible candidates for the Richmond City Council.”

    Autumn | Jul 11th, 2014
  3. I have been developing in Richmond for 30 years , there has been no new major development in the city of Richmond since 2005. , Unemployment remains one of the highest in the bay area at 9.6 % . The Chevron renewal project environmental impact report is extremely impressive and goes well beyond any environmental analysis we have ever seen. Richmond needs this project while facing huge economic challenges . The impact of the project will help with Richmond’s unemployment and image ., and will help the city attract new development and job creation zones.
    Let’s all come together it’s time.

    Richard Poe | Jul 12th, 2014
  4. This is a vile attempt to shake down Chevron to save what should be a County hospital.
    Voters spoke at the ballot box and turned down the DMC parcel tax, Measure C. Since
    then, every “stakeholder” group, except the most important stakeholder,, the property
    owners who pay the bills, have been trying to “save” DMC in its’ current configuration.
    This is obviously no sustainable. DMC is no longer a private hospital and it is not
    right that it should continue to be funded as such.
    Furthermore, even though taxpayers turned down Measure C, they are still on the hook
    for an $8M payback to the County’s general fund courtesy of Dist. 1 Supervisor Gioia and
    his machinations to make property owners pay, regardless.
    EIR consultant Hernandez repeatedly stated the emissions were based on “studies” and
    “models”, not on actual physical measurements. That’s bad enough but now the RPA wants to
    shake down Chevron even more.
    Please Chevron, don’t go along with this!!

    Marilynne L. Mellander | Jul 17th, 2014
  5. I agree with Richard. There’s so much negative publicity around Richmond that has little to do with the Modernization Project and perhaps more to do with the mismanagement in City bureaucracy that prevent Richmond from succeeding with pride and purpose! We need function before perfection and Richmond needs to be successful in a fair and balanced manner like other communities where refineries and communities flourish together in healthy environments. The real Richmond citizens deserve the same opportunity!

    The Planning Commission is providing a forum to ensure all parties are heard. The EIR was a fairly objective analysis of the Modernization Project that scientists, bureaucrats, and special interests group representatives agree. However, the Planning Commission is swayed by special interests who misinterpret facts as much as they accuse Chevron for doing the same. Chevron is offering tangible options for the community, whereas the Planning Commission offers little to no option for improving Richmond’s image, let alone their own, and the options seem more real and immediate than just wishful thinking. Are other companies like General Chemical and metal reclaimer held to the same standards? If Chevron leaves, will General Chemical go, too?

    While it is true that as a corporation, Chevron makes billions for its shareholders. However, the Richmond Refinery is a part of a significantly smaller business unit in the portfolio that needs to thrive just as promised in the Modernization Project proposal. And, just like an individual Krispy Kream or Starbucks store, if there’s nothing in it for the business, there’s not much reason to stay. The contribution of the Richmond refinery to the corporate portfolio is a mere blip on the corporate balance sheet but it is strategically advantageous in meeting the objectives of an integrated oil company, where others are more vulnerable. Similarly, I believe that it’s foolish for Richmond not to consider this as a strategic advantage. If a mutually agreeable compromise cannot be met, Richmond will continue to lose and be left with its own lingering negative image. If Chevron leaves, will General Chemical go, too? After that, is it the metal reclaimers and all other industry?

    Chevron as a corporation is not going away. Chevron is more responsible than most of its peers, and shareholders do not have to be the only winners. Moving industry offshore does not guarantee a cleaner or safer global environment, and Richmond will not be in any closer to setting a standard as a global leader if the City of Richmond and Chevron cannot work together. If other communities can flourish with Chevron, Richmond can too, and we deserve it. We are better than that and we can be smarter than that!

    Tom | Jul 17th, 2014

About the Author

Mike Aldax is the editor of the Richmond Standard. He has 13 years of journalism experience, most recently as a reporter for the San Francisco Examiner. He previously held roles as reporter and editor at Bay City News, Napa Valley Register, Garden Island Newspaper in Kaua’i, and the Queens Courier in New York City.