CBE settles with air district over Chevron Modernization, but construction still on hold

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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.

An environmental group announced Thursday it has settled its lawsuit with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District over permits for the Chevron Richmond Refinery Modernization Project, but that doesn’t clear the way for construction on the project to begin.

The same environmental group, Oakland-based Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), is also challenging an attempt by the city of Richmond and Chevron to lift a court stay on construction, which could take years to resolve, Chevron officials said.

This week’s settlement involved CBE’s lawsuit claiming the air district should not have renewed a permit for the $1 billion Modernization Project before an environmental review was certified by the Richmond City Council.

The air district denies that any permit was renewed and said it was waiting for the latest EIR to receive City Council approval. The EIR received unanimous approval by council in July.

District spokesman Ralph Borrmann told Bay City News its settlement with CBE “commits us to do what we would be doing anyway.”

The environmental group announced the settlement after Richmond council members on Oct. 8 called on it and similar groups to reconsider their lawsuits that are holding up the project.

Not only are Chevron and thousands of workers hoping construction can start, so is City Council. Only when Chevron clears legal hurdles preventing construction from beginning will funds for the $90 million community benefits agreement with Chevron be released. The council has expressed a desire to use a portion of that money to keep Doctors Medical Center open as a full-service hospital, but the financially struggling hospital is set to close early next year.

It could take months to years for those funds to be released due to the pending litigation by CBE.

A Superior Court hearing is set for Jan. 25 to hear the environmental group’s challenge of requests to allow construction to proceed.

Councilmember Tom Butt said in his e-forum Friday that it could take a minimum of six to eight months for a final decision.

“It is unclear when the Court will decide the matter, although judges are expected to rule within 90 days,” Butt said. “Either party then has 60 days to appeal an adverse decision. It is, therefore, possible that the trial court proceeding will not become final for 6-8 months from now, but it is difficult to predict.”

In 2009, a previous version of the refinery project was halted after a judge rejected the city’s EIR on the grounds that it failed to disclose whether the plan would allow for the processing of heavier crude, which has the potential to increase emissions.

Chevron Richmond returned with a scaled-down project that would reduce the refinery’s emissions and make it safer. The project’s EIR has the support of multiple state agencies and officials, including Attorney General Kamala Harris and frequent Chevron critic U.S. Rep. George Miller.

In his e-forum, Butt pointed out there has been “no challenge to the current EIR.”

“So the EIR certified in July is conclusively presumed to be a valid CEQA document for the Modernization Project,” the councilmember said.

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