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AG Brown urges strong stance on Chevron project

By Lisa Vorderbrueggen
Wednesday, March 12th, 2008 at 12:40 pm in Contra Costa County.

California Attorney General Jerry Brown has sent a letter to the members of the Richmond City Council urging the elected leaders to clearly define in advance all conditions associated with the Chevron refinery’s proposed hydrogen plant.

The appearance of this letter shows that Brown remains fully engaged in the negotiations over Chevron’s application for a special use permit , which will go before the city’s Planning Commission on March 20. Most expect the commission’s decision — yes or no — will be appealed to the Richmond City Council later this year. (It could show up on the council’s agenda just in time for the Nov. 4 general election, where five councilmembers will be competing for three open seats as the council reduces its number of members from nine to seven.)

Brown has made his presence known all over the state as he pushes counties and cities to enforce newly adopted California’s greenhouse gas law or AB32. The attorney general has threatened lawsuits including in Contra Costa County in a Conoco-Phillips expansion, which was approved after the refinery agreed to contribute to a regional greenhouse gas reduction fund.

Brown called Richmond’s final environmental report on the Chevron proposal flawed in five areas. He said it included no requirement for specific mitigation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Richmond.

“By failing to identify specific mitigation measures and criteria that Chevron must follow, the city is relinquishing its opportunity (and obligation) to shape those mitigation measures and where they will take place,” Brown wrote.

Brown also said the document lacks an enforcement plan if Chevron falls short on mitigations.

He urged the city to define the mitigations and the penalties at the outset rather than “be left with the choice of either accepting the proposed plan it does not want or starting all over again, wasting valuable time and money,” he wrote.

Richman City Councilman Tom Butt, a vocal advocate for the imposition of significant conditions on Chevron including a $100 million for community impacts, issued a lengthy email this morning on the subject. (I’ve pasted it below.)

Butt called for residents to speak up and demand the city follow Brown’s advice because municipal staff and its attorneys are “faint of heart and have neither the chutzpah nor cojones that Jerry Brown has.”

Here’s what Butt wrote: (The underlines are his but I have modified some of the content in order to transfer the links. I also deleted a list of links to news stories on the subject.)

This may be the most important E-FORUM you have ever received.

California Attorney General Jerry Brown has sent each Richmond City Council member a letter criticizing the direction that Richmond City staff appears to be heading in the approval process for the Chevron Energy and Hydrogen Renewal Project. The letter concludes with the following admonition:

While the FEIR indicates that the GHG [greenhouse gas] mitigation plan must be approved by the City, it would be better at the outset to set forth the conditions the City wants. Otherwise, the City would be left with the choice of either accepting the proposed plan it does not want or starting all over again, wasting valuable time and money.

We urge the City Council to address these issues by requiring specific and enforceable mitigation and ensuring a full discussion of impacts in the FEIR.

There is a way that the City can conform to Jerry Brown’s advice. The Planning Commission can adopt a set of Conditional Use Permit (CUP) conditions that require Chevron to invest prescribed amounts of money IN RICHMOND RIGHT NOW to mitigate greenhouse gases and to protect the health, safety and welfare of the people of Richmond, as allowed by CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) and the Conditional Use Permit process. Although Brown was addressing the CEQA process, the City has even more latitude in the CUP process. The legal test is whether the conditions protect the public’s health, safety or welfare and whether they have a reasonable public purpose, which would include a connection to the project.

The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing to receive public comments and make a decision on the project’s Design Review permit, Conditional Use Permit and adequacy of the Environmental Impact report (including a Draft and Final EIR) only nine days from now, on March 20, 2008. Click here for the full agenda announcement.

The Chevron Energy and Hydrogen Renewal Project is exactly the type of equitable development and social justice issue we talked about in New Orleans, and with your help, we can do something about it to improve the quality of life in Richmond’s downwind and fenceline communities, which are also Richmond’s most challenged communities.

This project will result in more pollution in Richmond and more greenhouse gas emissions. If approved, it must be mitigated by measures that will offset its negative impacts. I didn’t make this up. This is what California Attorney General Jerry Brown is telling us.

Click here for a list of $100 million of “Community Impact Projects” to mitigate greenhouse gases and protect the health, safety and welfare of Richmond residents. I am challenging you to help make equitable development, social justice and smart growth work right here in Richmond right now by organizing grass roots support for this $100 million of “Community Impact Projects.”

You can support the $100 million “Proposed CUP Conditions to Protect the Public Health, Safety and Welfare by letting your Planning Commissioners know that you support the $100 million CUP Conditions. With your help, I believe our Planning Commission and City Council will do the right thing.

Do not expect that City staff or the City Attorney’s Office will be sympathetic or supportive. They are faint of heart and have neither the chutzpah nor cojones that Jerry Brown has. They are afraid of making a mistake and always take the most conservative position. They will equivocate, parse and prevaricate rather than take an aggressive stand for the people of Richmond. Like the apostle Paul in 2 Timothy (also see 1 Corinthians 16:13), as he summoned Timothy in an admonition about leadership and responsibility, our Planning Commission and City Council must be “strong, brave and steadfast,” and must strike out on their own to do what is right, even in the face of timid bureaucrats and hypercautious lawyers.

Planning Commissioners and their contact information is listed below:

Project Description

The proposed Energy and Hydrogen Renewal Project consists of a number of component projects, including Hydrogen Plant Replacement, Power Plant Replacement, Reformer Replacement, and Hydrogen Purity Improvements. In general, the project would modify, replace and install typical refining equipment such as piping, heat exchangers, instrumentation, catalytic reactors, fractionation equipment, pumps, compressors, furnaces, tanks, hydrogen sulfide absorption capacity, hydrogen generation capacity and their associated facilities, including steam and electrical generation as well as some refinery buildings and infrastructure. These changes would include construction and installation of new facilities as well as replacement of or modifications to existing facilities. The project would not increase refinery use of crude oil beyond currently permitted levels, although process upgrades would allow the refinery to use a wider range of crude oils. Included in the project components are upgrades to increase energy efficiency, reduce air emissions, and increase equipment reliability.

Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR)

The FEIR for this project is now available. The FEIR consists of the Response to Comments and the Response to Comments Appendices in combination with the Draft EIR and the Draft EIR Appendices. (Click here for a link to the city’s web page with the FEIR documents.)

Hard copies of the FEIR are also available at the following locations:
Richmond Public Library – Main Branch
325 Civic Center Avenue
Richmond, CA. 94804

Richmond Planning and Building Services Department
1401 Marina Way South
Richmond, CA. 94804.

The Planning Commission will determine the adequacy of the FEIR and, if adequate, will certify that the FEIR was prepared in compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act. The FEIR will be considered by the Planning Commission at a noticed public hearing. If the Final EIR is certified and after the City takes final action on the proposed project, the City will file a Notice of Determination. After the Notice of Determination is filed, a 30-day statute of limitations for court challenges begins to run.

Photo information: New state attorney general Jerry Brown gestures during a speech after he took the oath of office during a public ceremony in San Francisco, Monday, Jan. 8, 2007. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

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