RICHMOND -- Chevron Corp.'s quest to begin construction on a $1 billion upgrade to its refinery is set for another showdown July 22, when the City Council will weigh competing visions for the project proposed by the energy giant and the city's Planning Commission.

The commission last week unanimously approved the project's environmental impact report, written by an outside consulting firm, but added more than a dozen safety and pollution-reduction amendments, which the company said Monday it will formally appeal.

"We will appeal everything (in the Planning Commission's amendments) and will propose the project to the City Council in the form of the final EIR," Chevron spokeswoman Melissa Ritchie said.

Aerial view of the Chevron Richmond refinery on Oct. 14, 2010, in Richmond.
Aerial view of the Chevron Richmond refinery on Oct. 14, 2010, in Richmond. (Susan Tripp Pollard/Staff file)

With the commission and refinery at odds, the council's decision will be watched closely by both sides in the hotly contested debate over the future of the 2,900-acre facility, which has raged since a larger version of the project was halted by a judge in 2009.

Whatever the council decides, either side may appeal to the courts, an option some council members hope to avoid.

"I'm trying to stay optimistic," said Councilman Tom Butt. "I think the council majority is committed to get this permit issued and done so with an EIR that is strong enough to discourage either side from filing a lawsuit."

But bringing both sides together may be difficult because the Planning Commission recommended sweeping changes, and Chevron has not budged.


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In addition, the office of state Attorney General Kamala Harris, in a letter to the city last month, proposed an alternative to one key element of the project -- calling for "no physical increase in greenhouse gas emissions from refinery operations" -- which the Planning Commission took one step further to recommend "significantly reducing toxic air contaminant emissions."

Chevron has rejected both suggestions, noting that the final EIR concluded that the project would have no "net increase" in emissions thanks to mitigation measures and other offsets and that the requirements of Harris and the Planning Commission "would significantly limit the refinery's requested flexibility."

Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, a staunch Chevron critic, declined to comment on the specifics of the dueling positions Monday, saying she was still reviewing the materials, but added that she "thought the (Planning Commission) process went very well."

Among the additional conditions the Planning Commission proposed were requirements for new piping throughout the refinery, $8 million per year until 2050 in community investments in green energy programs, and caps on a range of chemical emissions.

The commission's meetings last week were attended by hundreds of residents and workers split over whether to add new safety and environmental conditions or move ahead with the project as proposed.

Planning Commissioner Marilyn Langlois released an online statement urging Chevron to accept the recommendations.

"While Chevron has the right to appeal this decision to the City Council, I invite refinery General Manager Kory Judd and Chevron's Decision Review Board in San Ramon to accept the Planning Commission's decision, appropriate the funds needed to implement the additional conditions, and proceed with construction on the project without further delay," Langlois wrote.

Before the council meeting July 22, city staff and outside consultants are working fast to prepare an analysis of the commission's recommendations, including costs and impacts associated with each, Butt said.

"We'll need a comprehensive basis for the council to consider and act on," Butt said, adding that he thought it was crucial to make a final decision by July 29, before the council recesses for the month of August.

The July 22 council meeting will start at 6:30 p.m. at 440 Civic Center Plaza.

Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726. Follow him at Twitter.com/sfbaynewsrogers.