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Court Rejects Chevron Appeal of EIR Requirements

By Bay City News
Friday April 30, 2010 - 07:57:00 AM

A state appeals court in San Francisco on Monday upheld a lower court decision that the environmental report for Chevron's Richmond refinery expansion project is inadequate under state environmental laws.  

Last June, a Contra Costa County Superior Court judge ruled that the refinery's environmental impact report on the project was invalid because it failed to disclose whether the project would enable the refinery to process heavier crude oil.  

The ruling was followed by an injunction ordering the refinery to stop construction on the project, and Chevron began laying off workers.  

Chevron appealed the superior court ruling to the state Court of Appeal, but the appellate court upheld the lower court's decision Monday.  

"Chevron is disappointed with the Court of Appeal's ruling," Chevron spokesman Brent Tippen said today. "We feel both the evidence and the law amply supported the adequacy of the EIR prepared by the city of Richmond for the renewal project."  

The Richmond City Council narrowly approved the company's Energy and Hydrogen Renewal Project in 2008 and the company broke ground in 2009.  

Soon after the project was approved, however, a group of community groups represented by the nonprofit law firm Earthjustice sued the city, claiming the environmental impact report did not adhere to rules of the California Environmental Quality Act.  

Refinery officials claimed the project was an upgrade that would increase the refinery's flexibility to process a wider variety of crude oil and improve the plant's energy efficiency and reliability. They also said the project would reduce overall emissions at the plant and that the environmental review was sufficient.  

The environmental groups Communities for a Better Environment, the West County Toxics Coalition and Asian Pacific Environmental Network, however, claimed that the upgrade was actually an expansion that would enable the refinery to process heavier crude oil, resulting in increased pollution in nearby communities and a higher risk of an explosion at the plant.  

Tippen said today that the company believes that the project was properly analyzed and permitted.  

"We are now reviewing the court's decision and will determine what is next to be done," Tippen said.  

Earthjustice attorney Will Rostov said, "The court agrees that the people of Richmond have a right to know just how dirty the crude oil processed in this refinery will be."  

"The court pointed out the legal deficiencies in Chevron's refinery expansion plan and tells Chevron the simple steps it needs to expand their refinery in a legal way that won't harm neighbors," he said.  

"Asthma rates in Richmond are already twice the national average, said Richmond resident Kay Wallis, a health educator with the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at University of California, San Francisco. "For decades, Richmond families have paid a steep price for living near Chevron's refinery."  

In addition to describing the grade of crude oil the project will allow the refinery to process, the court is also requiring Chevron to revise its environmental report to include specific and proven mitigation efforts it will take for any increase in greenhouse gas emissions before it can proceed with the project.