|Stop Posturing and Start Talking
July 22, 2009
Despite the fact that the dispute involving the Chevron Hydrogen and Energy Renewal Project is neither under consideration by a legislative body nor up for a popular vote, advocates for the project continue to posture as if there were a political solution. There is not. This dispute is now in the courts, and there are only two ways it can be resolved, either by an appellant court decision that is totally unpredictable or by a negotiated settlement among the parties.
For those who truly want to settle it, fanning the flames by slamming one or the other of the litigants only tends to encourage them to harden their positions. What we need is reconciliation, not posturing.
However, both the Richmond Chamber of Commerce and Refinery Manager Mike Coyle are still engaged in flame throwing this morning. See the two pieces below, the first a letter from the Richmond Chamber to its members (with an attached editorial by Nat Bates) and the second, a letter from Coyle to the Chronicle.
A settlement can start with what both sides agree on, which is substantial. In concept, both sides agree that upgrading the refinery to make it more efficient and less polluting is a good thing. That’s a good start.
I would also like to believe that both sides want to see thousands of now out of work construction workers get back on the job.
At least for the foreseeable future, we all, including CBE, West County Toxics Coalition, EarthJustice and APEN, need fuel (hopefully, less and less of it), and Chevron wants to sell it to us.
For the environmental organizations, the court order was not just a victory; it was also the conveyance of a responsibility to use it wisely to shape a better future. The outcome of future court actions is uncertain for either party, and Pyrric victories are potential outcomes.
At the end of the day, what this is about is money. If it costs Chevron a little more to reduce pollution in Richmond, they can pass the cost on to all Northern California drivers, airline passenger and bus riders. Share the burden with those who benefit.
This reminds me of a story. The first architect I worked for out of school was Edward Durrell Stone, who was America’s leading designer of the 1950s and 1960s. Stone had designed the Standard Oil Building (now known as Aon Center) in Chicago and was making a final presentation to the board. Unfortunately, the latest cost estimate had come in substantially over budget. Stone had really poured his heart and soul into the design and was understandably shaken when the board chairman thanked him for his efforts but informed him that the project would be abandoned. It was just too expensive.
Stone and his staff packed up their models and presentation boards and headed for the elevator. Just as the door was closing, the board chairman ran up and stopped him. Mr. Stone, he said, our controller has calculated that if we raise the price of gas one quarter of one cent, we can raise enough money to pay for the cost overrun. People buying gas won’t even notice.” Stone was back in business, and the building was completed. No one noticed that the price of Standard Oil gasoline in middle America went from $0.3675 to $0.3699.
This true story illustrates how the consumers of a commodity, in this case fuel, can be part of the solution. We all know that people will pay whatever it costs for gasoline. The price fluctuates wildly month to month, and people keep on buying roughly the same amount. How much would Chevron have to add to the price of a gallon of gas to guarantee a future limit on emissions in Richmond? Probably not very much.
Let’s quit posturing and start talking.
Dear Chamber Members,
The recent decision by a Contra Costa Judge – made at the request of Communities for a Better Environment – to halt Chevron’s modernization project is having a deep impact on Richmond. In addition to stopping a project that the Bay Area Air Quality Management District concluded would have improved air quality in Richmond, the decision has cost 1,100 local workers their jobs.
While some are claiming the court decision is a victory for Richmond in reality this is a difficult loss for our city at a time we can least afford it.
I wanted to take this opportunity to share with Chamber Members an Op-Ed submission from Nat Bates that has been submitted to the Contra Costa Times for publication. The following is an
Important quote from his article with the full article attached.
“By stopping this project these irreconcilable organizations, which are mostly non Richmond residents, will kill 1,300 jobs, eliminate $61 million in spending on programs that help Richmond residents and prevent the refinery from making upgrades to its equipment that improve air quality. If you truly care about Richmond, you should be doing everything in your power to maintain existing jobs and create new ones – not take them away.” Nat Bates - Richmond City Councilman.
It’s hard to add much to this comment. All I hear are dominos falling. This lawsuit and the stoppage of work are impacting small, medium and large businesses alike. Richmond restaurants and hotels expected to ride this recession filled with workers and their families from this project. In turn these workers shopped at local markets and bought local services. The empty hotel rooms and restaurant tables means less sales taxes, Transit Occupancy Taxes and Richmond Tourism Business Improvement District Assessments; revenue the City can ill afford to lose. Fewer customers means small businesses will layoff or cut hours or close their doors and the downward spiral continues.
It’s a bleak picture and it punctures my usual good humor and sense of hope for the City of Pride and Purpose. In the last several years Richmond has turned it around. Their financial picture looked pretty rosy a few weeks ago. Now it’s weighing layoffs. And the business community is reeling. The longer this impasse continues the harder it will be for Richmond to recover.
I urge everyone involved to quickly resolve this. The rest of Nat Bates letter is attached for you to read. Add your voice and let your local leaders know how this will impact you personally.
Richmond Chamber of Commerce
A Devastating Loss for Richmond
By Richmond City Councilman Nat Bates
California’s unemployment rate has climbed to 11.5%, the worst since before World War II. It is painfully higher in Richmond.
In yet another blow to working families, a lawsuit filed by Communities for a Better Environment, West County Toxics Coalition and the Asian Pacific Environmental Network has stopped the Richmond Renewal project at the Chevron Refinery. The project was providing 1,300 good-paying construction jobs – a real economic stimulus. Now all of those workers no longer have jobs and are now left wondering how they will put food on their tables and provide health care for their families.
But the losses do not stop there. In addition to those jobs, Richmond loses a $61.6 million community benefits agreement with Chevron that would have helped address key problems in our city such as limited vocational education or hands-on job training opportunities, lack of access to health care, and public safety dangers. But because of Communities for a Better Environment’s lawsuit, the funding to address these critical needs is no more.
Ex-offenders, high school dropouts and discouraged job seekers find it particularly difficult to gain employment. One of the local nonprofits that has created job opportunities for these people is called RICHMOND BUILD, a twelve-week, nonprofit, pre-apprenticeship program that trains participants in green collar careers. The program mentors participants and helps them secure employment once their training is complete. The community benefits package funding to support it is no more.
In addition to employment challenges, too many families suffer from a lack of access to health care. The $6 million in funding that would have gone to the Brookside Health Clinic is also no more. This facility provides services to low income residents, and is in high demand as more people lose their jobs and health insurance.
The community cannot truly prosper until families feel safe raising their children. Therefore, a significant amount of the package was dedicated to working with the police department to increase the number of officers on the streets and develop a crime prevention strategy. Funding allocated to staffing and training at the city’s fire department is also no more.
Another public safety issue revolves around the Bay Trail, which currently has a dangerous “missing link” that forces pedestrians and bikers to take a detour onto I-580. The benefits agreement included grants for a land easement and construction of the final piece of the trail.
In order to make the community benefits agreement all-encompassing, the Richmond Community Fund was established and was to provide $10 million to 501 © non profits groups. A Community Fund Advisory Committee, comprised of Council Members and local residents, would award discretionary grants to other worthy community projects. Now that funding has been lost.
I am truly heartbroken when I think of all the people that could have received so many benefits from this project. My city – our city – deserves so much better.
And I’m not talking about sacrificing air quality or public health for jobs and investment in the Richmond community. Despite the confusion the Communities for a Better Environment and others have created, an almost four year review of the project by the City of Richmond, along with outside experts and the State Attorney General office, Bay Area Air Quality Management District -- the public agency charged with protecting the air in our community-- concluded the project would reduce emissions from the Refinery -- meaning the air we breathe will be cleaner.
By stopping this project Communities for a Better Environment, West County Toxics Coalition and the Asia Pacific Environmental Network will have killed 1,300 jobs, eliminated $61 million in spending on programs that help Richmond residents and prevented the Refinery from making upgrades to its equipment that would actually improve air quality in our community. Given the economic and social challenges we face, community leaders who care about Richmond should be doing everything in our power to maintain existing jobs and create new ones – not take them away. As a long-time Richmond resident, I know where my heart lies on this issue and as one councilmember, I will do everything I can to ensure that this city receives the benefits it so richly deserves.
Senior Member of the Richmond City Council
Anti-Chevron campaign punishes community
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
During the past four years, Chevron has been working with the city of Richmond and the community to plan a major equipment upgrade at our refinery. The upgrade would install newer, cleaner technology and equipment to improve energy efficiency and reduce emissions with no heavier crude oil processed. We would continue to make gasoline for the Bay Area from the medium and light crude oils we now process. I emphasize this point because those who oppose this upgrade claim otherwise. The claim is simply not true.
An extensive multiyear environmental review of the project was conducted by experts hired by the city and with oversight from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District - the agency charged with safeguarding regional air quality. The environmental review confirmed that the project would reduce emissions and improve air quality in Richmond, an area that already enjoys some of the Bay Area's cleanest skies. The refinery would continue to meet air district emission limits.
On top of the significant environmental benefits, the project would have created 2,000 construction jobs at its peak, pumped $75 million into the local economy and provided an additional $61 million in community and environmental benefits through an agreement with the city.
However, a lawsuit filed by Communities for a Better Environment , West Contra Costa Toxics Coalition and Asia Pacific Network has stopped project construction, forcing the layoff of 1,300 workers and leaving another 700 jobs unfilled. Imagine the effect on people who no longer have jobs to support their families during these difficult economic times.
The lawsuit also terminated the agreement providing $61 million for the community. This funding was contingent upon the project moving ahead. Nonetheless, Chevron made good on its commitment to honor the agreement's initial grants. Last week, we gave $565,000 to 19 groups in the Richmond area.
Despite the termination of the community benefits agreement, we plan to continue with our traditional support of community programs in Richmond.
Chevron has called California home for 130 years. Today, we are the state's largest company. According to a study by the Milken Institute, Chevron in 2007 generated more than $9 billion in economic activity. In 2007 and 2008, we purchased more than $1 billion in supplies from California minority and women-owned businesses.
In 2008, Chevron contributed more than $20 million to community programs in the state. Our employees volunteered more than 16,000 hours and donated more than $4 million to nonprofit organizations. Chevron is committed to making California a better place.
In Richmond, we have been a proud member of the community since 1902, three years before the city was chartered. Today, we are the city's largest employer and taxpayer - providing more than 2,500 jobs and paying millions in taxes to help fund critical local government programs and services.
While Chevron is appealing a court decision on the lawsuit, the future of the project is in question. It is unfortunate that a few voices have left Richmond waiting for a more modern refinery, thousands of new jobs and millions of dollars in support to help its people realize a better future.
Mike Coyle is the general manager of Chevron's Richmond refinery.
This article appeared on page A - 15 of
the San Francisco Chronicle