RICHMOND (KPIX 5) — An environmental group is suing the agency that oversees air quality in the Bay Area after approving a $1 billion modernization project at the Chevron refinery in Richmond.
Chevron officials said they want to replace some of the oldest processing equipment with newer technology that’s more energy efficient and safer to operate. An environmental impact report noted that the upgrade would allow the refinery to process even dirtier crude oil.
The project prompted Communities for a Better Environment to fire back with a lawsuit against the Bay Area Air Quality Management District after the agency approved a project that they say will cause more air pollution.
“It just seems like this is a classic case of environmental injustice,” said Andres Soto, community organizer for Communities for a Better Environment, after a Planning Commission meeting at the Richmond civic center April where the public voiced concerns over the impact the project could have on the community.
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The City of Richmond’s 4,000 page environmental impact report noted that the upgrade would allow the refinery to process even dirtier crude than it already does, doubling the sulfur content of the crude processes from 1.5 percent on average to 3 percent on average. Despite processing more sulfur, Chevron said the newer technology proposed in the project will not increase sulfur emissions.
Sulfur corrosion of piping in Chevron’s crude oil unit is what caused a massive fire at the refinery in August 2012 that sent a plume of black smoke over Richmond and put 15,000 people in the hospital complaining of respiratory problems.
Chevron has argued that the modernization project would simply replace old equipment in the refinery, including some piping, and any increases in emissions would be off-set by cap and trade.
“Our commitment is for no net increase in criteria air pollutant, health risk and greenhouse gas emissions,” said Nicole Barber, a Chevron spokesperson.
Meanwhile, union members said the refinery expansion would create about 1,000 temporary construction jobs and 29 permanent ones.