Chevron Could 'Divorce' Richmond

Company contemplating refinery's exit from California community

RICHMOND, Calif. -- Chevron Corp. is considering leaving the Bay Area town of Richmond, Calif., just east of San Francisco, reported National Public Radio (NPR). The biggest producer of greenhouse gases in California, Chevron's Richmond refinerywhich makes jet fuel, gasoline and dieselopened more than a century ago, and Richmond has always been a loyal company town, said the report.

The city's "green" mayor, Gayle McLaughlin, however, has been trying to raise Chevron's local taxes. "Richmond has suffered, especially in the neighborhoods near the refinery," she told NPR, [image-nocss] pointing to high rates of asthma, cancer and heart disease in the neighborhoods affected by the refinery's pollution.

McLaughlin also backed a voter effort to raise Chevron's business license fees, a measure a judge later overturned, said the report. Tensions over this and other tax disputes cause company officials to hint that it may be time to leave Richmond.

"The Richmond refinery has been here well over a hundred years, and we have had good times and bad times," Mike Coyle, the refinery's general manager, told NPR. "Nobody likes divorce."

McLaughlin said she thinks Chevron's talk of moving is a bluff. But the company said it needs to stay competitive, and to do that, it wants some major technical upgrades to the refinery. So far, however, a local judge has temporarily blocked the upgrades, pending more environmental review.

Meanwhile, the situation has emboldened Chevron's local critics, the report added. At a recent demonstration, activists protested the refinery, calling it a corporate polluter and accusing it of ignoring the needs of the community.

In reaction to rising tensions, Chevron is trying to boost its local image, said the report. The company said that it will spend more than $3 million this year helping Richmond's nonprofit groups and economic development projects.

One of those groups is Solar Richmond, an organization that trains workers to install solar panels on homes. The company just received a small grant from Chevron to train another 45 workers.

Kandea Mosley, director of sales and marketing at the organization, said her group did not hesitate to take Chevron's money. "Chevron is grappling with what it means to be a 21st century corporate citizen," she told NPR. "And to the extent that we can work together and accelerate renewable energy adoption and create employment opportunities right here at home in Richmond, we want to be part of that work."

Winning new friends could forestall talk of the refinery leaving, the report said. Still, many are wondering how the marriage between Chevron and the city of Richmond can be saved.