Troubled California refinery overhaul up for vote


RICHMOND, Calif. (AP) — Chevron's five-year quest to carry out a $1 billion upgrade of its troubled 1960s-era oil refinery, the largest in Northern California, was facing a decisive vote Tuesday by leaders of a San Francisco suburb.

Richmond, an industrial working-class suburb, plans to hold its City Council vote Tuesday evening in a large amphitheater to handle what is expected to be a big, heated public turnout on the refinery's future.

The refinery complex has weathered a series of toxic releases and other accidents over the years, environmental officials say, including a pollutant-laced 2012 fire that forced 15,000 Bay Area residents to seek treatment for breathing problems.

Chevron Corp. seeks the Richmond City Council's approval for technological upgrades that would allow the refinery to process higher-sulfur crude oil, among other changes. Oil company officials earlier this month agreed to a plan backed by state Attorney General Kamala Harris that would cap the plant's greenhouse-gas emissions and reduce levels of sulfur processing as part of the overhaul.

Chevron officials hope those concessions will be enough to persuade the Richmond council to reject still-tougher health and safety requirements that city planning officials have recommended.

Council members appeared split going into the vote, expected late Tuesday or early Wednesday. Swing voters on the council were pushing for Chevron to increase pledges of $60 million in community investments over 10 years.

The Chevron refinery was built before the pollution-curbing requirements of the federal government's 1970s Clean Air Act. Richmond has poverty levels nearly twice those of the U.S. and California as a whole, and Chevron's taxes make up about a third of the city's budget. Environmental groups and some residents say Richmond bears the brunt of toxic releases by the refinery complex.

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