Five years after a judge halted work on Chevron's modernization project at its Richmond refinery because of inadequate environmental review, a divided City Council is poised to vote Tuesday night on a scaled-back alternative.

More work has gone into preparation of this plan and the analysis of its effects. But the gap between environmentalists and the oil company remains.

The council, Chevron and environmentalists would be wise to step back and try to reach a compromise -- even if that means delay. Otherwise, no matter who wins or loses, this dispute is likely to linger in court, tying up resumption of the job-producing construction.

Before voting, the council will consider a core set of conditions on which most parties agree and additional requirements recommended by the Planning Commission. The debate centers on those additional requirements.

Environmentalists consider them essential to protect the community's health and safety, especially after a ruptured refinery pipe in 2012 nearly killed 19 workers, spewed tons of pollutant-laced black smoke into the air for hours, sent 15,000 seeking medical attention and hospitalized about 20.

Chevron regards the additional requirements as unnecessary and burdensome, arguing that the core conditions adequately protect the region's residents. Our take: While some of the Planning Commission recommendations go way too far, two merit serious discussion, for they aim squarely at protecting the public.


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One would require monitoring of, and limits on, emissions of particulates. The community deserves assurances that all reasonable steps have been taken in a city already heavily burdened by pollution and with high levels of emergency room visits for asthma.

Chevron argues that because the refinery unit that produces most of those emissions would not be altered by the project, the requirement is unreasonable.

We disagree. Chevron should take a holistic approach: Production through that unit could increase because of project changes elsewhere in the plant. Furthermore, the company should look for opportunities to reduce pollution locally before mitigating environmental effects with improvements elsewhere.

The Planning Commission also recommends replacement of older, corrosion-prone pipe that carries high-sulfur material. Chevron, instead, wants to monitor and replace only as deemed necessary.

We've already seen how well that works. In 2002, significant corrosion was found in the pipe that eventually failed. In 2005 and 2011, upgrading of the pipe to a more corrosion-resistant metal was recommended. In 2003, 2006 and 2009, thorough testing was recommended. In 2006, 2007 and 2011, other parts of the line were upgraded. But the pipe that failed was not tested or replaced.

When Chevron officials say "trust us," they forget that we once did.