A California environmental group sued the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) in federal court today over the district's permitting of a $1 billion modernization project at Chevron's Richmond refinery. Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates is a member of the BAAQMD board.
The complaint, filed by Communities for a Better Environment, or CBE, seeks injunctive relief and alleges that the air district issued a permit for Chevron's planned expansion of its Richmond refinery without the proper public review or analysis of the project's effects on the environment.
"The air district issued the permit for the Chevron modernization project before the environmental impact report had even been voted on by the city of Richmond," said CBE attorney Roger Lin.
"Letting oil refineries expand without requiring -- or even looking for -- measures to prevent the resultant air pollution threatens our health," he said.
A spokesperson for the air quality district today declined to comment, saying that the district does not comment on pending litigation.
Instead of waiting for the environmental impact report on the project to be completed, the air district renewed a Chevron permit approved in 2008 for an earlier form of the modernization project called the Chevron Hydrogen and Energy Renewal Project, according to CBE.
Courts rejected permits for the plan in 2009 and in 2010 after CBE and other environmental groups sued, alleging that the environmental impact report did not adequately explain the project's effects on the community.
The lawsuit filed today alleges that the air district disregarded that decision when it renewed Chevron's permits for its revised modernization project in 2010 and most recently in 2012.
The air district then declined CBE's call to revoke the project until the environmental impact report was completed, prompting the group to sue. The Environmental Protection Agency gave permitting authority to the air district in 2011 to uphold air quality standards.
"It's kind of ironic because a modernization project should use the most modern technology that only the most modern regulations would require, not an illegal one from 2008," Lin said.
Another concern of the group's is that Chevron's proposed modernization project would release close to 1 million additional tons per year of greenhouse gases into the air, according to the draft environmental impact report for the project.
In addition, the proposed project calls for the refining of lower-quality oil, which would produce different types of emissions - another element that is not addressed in the environmental impact report, Lin said.
Chevron Richmond spokeswoman Melissa Ritchie said she couldn't discuss the lawsuit but that the modernization project is "a good project that will result in a newer, safer, cleaner refinery by replacing some of the oldest processing equipment with modern technology that is inherently safer and meets the nation's toughest air quality standards."