Richmond Wins Again, Chevron Expansion Project Ruled Illegal

By Julianne Hing Apr 28, 2010

On Monday the California First District Court of Appeals issued another favorable decision in the ongoing saga of Richmond, California’s fight with Chevron over a proposed facility expansion project in the East Bay town. A judge said that Chevron’s Environmental Impact Report, which community groups had charged was inadequate and too vague to okay construction, was indeed in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act. Chevron has been trying to expand its oil refinery facilities there for a while. But when community groups challenged Chevron on the vagueness of its $800 million construction plans, the mess went to court, where a community coalition has been battling it out against the corporation for over two years. "It was a huge victory," said Adrienne Bloch, an attorney with Communities for a Better Environment, one of the organizations that had been fighting the illegal expansion. "It just means that oil refineries and huge corporations are accountable. They’re not above the law." Chevron framed the debate as a choice between jobs or no jobs; it’s estimated that the expansion project would provide as many as 1,200 temporary construction jobs and several times intimated that they would up and leave the town if community pressure continued. But for groups like CBE, the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, West County Toxics Coalition and Earthjustice, the debate was about responsible business practices and the health of the community, made up mostly of people of color, most affected by Chevron’s pollution. In 2009, Chevron had the distinction of being the state’s largest industrial emitter of greenhouse gases. And 46 percent of the adults and 17 percent of kids in the town have asthma. But Chevron’s plans for expansion would have included building in new systems so that the Richmond plant could refine heavier crude, which would have meant more pollution for the surrounding communities. The court ruled that Chevon broke the law when they conveniently failed to disclose their plans to refine dirtier oil that would have adverse affects on the community. "Refineries that have begun the switch to heavier, dirtier crude oil emit up to 58 percent more greenhouse gases per barrel refined as compared wiht the average U.S. refinery," said Greg Karras, a scientist with CBE said in a press release. The appeals court also ruled that Chevron, which had been trying to weasel out of a state mandate to outline how it would mitigate the increased pollution output from its refineries, could not start construction without first spelling out a plan. "The court told Chevron: you cannot defer the description of how you’re going to deal with 898,000 tons of extra greenhouse gases every year," said Bloch. "You can’t tell us after the fact how you’re going to accomplish that." Chevron has repeatedly denied the community coalition’s invitations for for public negotiations and a sit-down conversation. Chevron could appeal their case, try for a settlement with the environmental justice groups, or commit to submitting a better Environmental Impact Report. "The ball is in their court now," said Marie Choi, a representative from APEN. photo credit: Creative Commons/summer