Groups Protest Proposed Expansion of Chevron's Richmond Refinery

Groups for and against a proposed $1 billion expansion of Chevron's Richmond refinery planned dueling rallies ahead of a public hearing and city planning commission decision on a final environmental impact report for the project.

The planning commission will meet Wednesday night in the Kennedy High School cafeteria at 6:30 p.m. at 4300 Cutting Blvd. to hear public input on the 2,500-page environmental impact report for Chevron's refinery modernization project, which would expand the refinery's ability to process crude oil and oil with higher levels of sulfur.

After hearing from the public, the commission will decide whether to certify the report and issue a conditional use permit allowing Chevron to begin work on the project.

The commission will likely make their vote during a second special meeting set for Thursday evening, since more than 100 speakers are expected to attend Wednesday night's hearing, Richmond city planner Lina Velasco said.

Before the hearing, Chevron refinery representatives and environmental groups plan to rally near Kennedy High to present their opposing views on the modernization project.

Chevron representatives and supporters plan to gather at 5 p.m. at the Easter Hill United Methodist Church and John F. Kennedy Park across from the high school to announce "broad community support" for the project.

Refinery representatives said in a statement Wednesday morning that more than 10,000 Richmond residents have "pledged their support" for the project, although they did not specify how that support was measured.

"More than 10,000 Richmond residents have already pledged their support because they know that modernization is as important to our community as it is to refinery operations," Richmond refinery general manager Kory Judd said in a written statement. "We want to continue to operate in this community for years to come. Modernization will help make that possible."

Around 5:30 p.m., several local groups including Communities for a Better Environment, the Asian Pacific Environmental Network and California Nurses Association will hold a separate rally opposing the refinery project.

The groups will highlight concerns about the project's expected increases in air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions and will call for the creation of a clean energy and jobs program, according to a statement from Asian Pacific Environmental Network, or APEN.

"Poison from the refinery releases into our community, impacting the health of our community members, including my own family," APEN member Lipo Chanthanasak said. "We need better solutions -- renewable energy owned and operated by our local residents to produce local clean jobs and power."

The proposed refinery project has drawn increasing opposition from the community since Chevron submitted its application for the expansion in 2011.

State Attorney General Kamala Harris last month sent a blistering letter to the city of Richmond criticizing its draft environmental impact report for the project.

The letter stressed that the main purpose of the refinery project is to produce higher-sulfur crude oil, the kind that caused the corrosion that led to the refinery's massive August 2012 fire and explosion.

Harris called for a risk-management plan for the project that would fully address the higher risks associated with the higher-sulfur crude. The attorney general later said she would support an alternative plan proposed by Richmond's environmental impact report consultants that would create no increase in greenhouse gas emissions from the refinery.

If the planning commission doesn't approve the environmental impact report by July 16, it will go to the City Council for final approval. However, the public has 10 days to appeal the council's decision.

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