The Appeals Court Judge at the Chevron Tarsands expansion hearing had a burning question for the oil giant’s ideologue conservative attorney. Did the $62 million ‘community benefits’ package that Chevron offered the City of Richmond influence its approval and fast tracking of the $800 million expansion of the aging refinery?
Justice Patricia Sepulveda questioned Chevron’s attorney Van Buskirk about whether the Benefits Agreement gave the city “bias to approve the project.” Van Buskirk said, “It wasn’t a quid pro quo, if that’s what you’re suggesting.” But his lack of transparency caused the Justice to hammer away at the point until he ultimately conceded that it was fair suggest to that the gift had played a role in the approval.
Why is the potential for bias so important in what has become a technical scientific wrangling over exactly what kind of crude oil Chevron plans to refine at the facility? Because Chevron’s attorneys, when questioned on the topic, told the judges to rely on the decisions made by the City of Richmond — which the attorney conceded may have been influenced by the money.
The Appeals court was right on the money, so to speak, to question the decision making of City leaders. We’ll know within 90 days if Chevron can proceed with their expansion without resolving the truth about what they plan to do.
In the meantime, City of Richmond leaders are already planning for the possibility of the refinery scaling back or even packing up and selling of their old Cat Crackers and refinery scrap to China. Three thousand acres of prime Bay front land with a view of the Golden Gate, Mount Tam and the City? What would you bid for that? Now that could put Richmond on the map in a real positive way, instead of enduring the eternal flames, smoke, and odors that Chevron now gives the city.
Don’t think so? Just ask City of Hercules folks up the road how they benefited when the Pacific refinery closed in the late 90’s and all that shoreline property set off a bidding war.