Is Chevron's Richmond Refinery 'Tour' a PR Stunt Connected to Upgrade Plans?

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Chevron's Richmond refinery
Chevron is facing serious criticism of its alleged efforts to evade state environmental laws and push through a proposed rebuilding of its oil refinery in Richmond. Faced with the opposition of environmental activists and some state legislators, is it a surprise that the company would choose to mount a potentially meaningless public-relations stunt?

In a word, no. The Richmond Chevron refinery is making much of its upcoming "community tour day" on Sept. 18. Are public tours of the facility, which ranks as one of the top polluters in Northern California, the norm? Not at all, according to Richmond City Councilman Tom Butt, who says the last tour of the refinery he can recall was held sometime in the 1980s.

"This is the first time they've done something like this in years," Butt said. "Chevron has been engaged in a battle with the city of Richmond and the larger environmental community for years. ... They're trying to figure out a way to curry goodwill in the community."

Seems like a good time to make that effort. Just yesterday the San Jose Mercury News reported that Chevron, chastised by the courts for inadequately evaluating the environmental impact of its development proposals in Richmond, is trying to persuade legislators to enable an end run around the environmental regulations it failed to meet.

Chevron lobbyists are asking state lawmakers -- to whom they have given more than $4 million in campaign contributions since last year -- to grant the company an exemption from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which requires environmental review of large building projects, the Merc reported.

We left messages with Chevron spokesman Brent Tippen. No word back yet.

Who knows just how much goodwill the tour will curry -- Butt tells us that he has heard complaints from several Richmond residents who have had trouble signing up for the event. It's also worth noting that as "tours" go, this one will resemble a trip inside Area 51. As Chevron's website notes,

Tours will be conducted entirely from a bus. There will be no food served, nor will there be any live demonstrations or walking tours within the plants. All adult participants will be asked to show a government issued photo ID. All bags, backpacks and purses need to be left in your cars. No still, video cameras or camera phones will be allowed.

There are legitimate security concerns at a large oil refinery, which could be a potential target for a terrorist attack. Then again, details about the facility are already laid out in the company's environmental impact report on its development plans.

UPDATE, 4:08 P.M.: We talked to Tippen. He says the community tour "has nothing to do" with the controversy over proposed rebuilding at the Richmond refinery, and that none of the complaints Butt mentioned from people who want to take the tour have reached Chevron officials. Tippen says the tour has been in the works since last year, and was announced on the company's website about a month ago.

"This tour has been being planned for quite some time as an effort to communicate with the surrounding community," Tippen says, adding that Chevron hopes it will help "clarify some of the misunderstandings of what happens within this facility." As for the limitations on the extent of the tour, Tippen says they are intended for visiting neighbors' safety, as well as the security of the refinery.

Photo   |   Shayan

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