RICHMOND (CBS SF) – Officials at the Chevron refinery in Richmond submitted an application to the city Monday to restart construction on a project to upgrade the refinery.

The project, which now includes building a new, more efficient hydrogen plant and equipment improvements that will allow the refinery to process crude oil with a higher sulfur content, was initially approved by a 5-4 vote by the Richmond City Council in 2008.

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KCBS’ Chris Filippi Reports:

Shortly after the company broke ground in 2009, a coalition of environmental groups represented by the law firm Earthjustice sued Chevron and the city to stop the project.

They argued, among other things, that the project would enable the refinery to process heavier crude oil that would result in increased pollution, an impact they said Chevron had failed to disclose in the project’s environmental report.

In July 2009, a Contra Costa County Superior Court judge sided with the environmental groups and ordered Chevron to halt construction on the half-finished project.

That decision was later upheld in the state Court of Appeal.

In the company’s application to restart the project, known as the Energy and Hydrogen Renewal Project, Chevron officials said the new “environmental review will confirm that the project will not change the refinery’s capability to process light-intermediate crudes and will eliminate any confusion created by project opponents about the refinery’s ability to process heavy crude oil.”

Chevron officials said the project will also improve the energy efficiency and reliability of the plant while reducing overall emissions.

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Greg Karras, a senior scientist with Communities for a Better Environment, one of the groups that led the lawsuit, said Tueday that community members had been celebrating the oil giant’s decision to submit the application to restart the project because it means they have decided to fully disclose and mitigate the impacts of the project.

“What it means is the final stage of a great victory for the community,” Karras said.

“It means Chevron has stopped trying to get an exemption in court … and there’s going to be full disclosure and real community participation,” Karras said.

He said that what the environmental and community groups had been seeking all along “is the right to have community participation in the decisions that affect our lives.”

“We’re looking forward to Chevron following the law,” said Deborah Reames, an attorney with Earthjustice.

According to Chevron, the Richmond City Council unanimously adopted a resolution in March encouraging the company to submit a revised application for the project.

“We are committed to working with the city of Richmond to move the Renewal Project forward with an open and transparent permitting process,” said Mike Coyle, general manager of Chevron’s Richmond refinery.

Dean O’Hair, a spokesman for the refinery, said it would be at least a year before construction could resume.

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