The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously denied an appeal from more than a dozen environmental groups and individuals, paving the way for the Marathon Martinez Refinery to convert its operation into a biofuel facility.
Later in the same afternoon, the board signed off on a second biofuels conversion project on Tuesday, denying an appeal filed regarding the county planning commission's approval of the Phillips 66 Rodeo refinery becoming a renewable fuel plant.
Both refineries will produce renewable diesel fuel, renewable components for blending with other transportation fuels, and renewable fuel gas.
The Martinez refinery was shut down during the summer of 2020, as demand for gasoline dwindled during the pandemic and the company decided to convert to producing more environmentally friendly fuels.
Opponents -- which include the Center for Biological Diversity; Communities for a Better Environment; Richmond city councilmembers Claudia Jimenez, Eduardo Martinez and Gayle McLaughlin; Friends of the Earth; Natural Resources Defense Council; and San Francisco Baykeeper -- say the project's environmental impacts reports are faulty.
They also say the county isn't mitigating significant environmental problems the project could cause, as well as the ones left over by more than 100 years of oil refining at the site.
Supervisors acknowledged their concerns, but said Marathon planned their proposal carefully. They also said helping California convert from fossil fuel consumption to that of renewable diesel fuel, renewable components for blending with other transportation fuels, and renewable fuel gas, takes priority -- at least to bridge the coming years until all vehicles can run on electricity.
"For these two refineries to step up to the plate, at a time they could've continued to operate in the same way, they have moved to get us where we want to be," said Supervisor Federal Glover, in whose District 5 the Martinez facility will operate. "And that is to all electric in our future. This is a first step in moving in that direction, with renewables. It didn't have to happen, but we, the county, have been suggesting it for quite some time. And it's great to see that, on their own, they have presented these projects before us."
District 1 Supervisor John Gioia said the goal is to get to zero emissions as soon as possible.
"The fact of the matter is that whether we approve these projects in Contra Costa or not, these fuels are going to be manufactured somewhere," Gioia said. "Our action here, approving or denying it, isn't going to stop it."
County staff recommended the board deny the appeal, based on the project being consistent with the county's general plan and both areas' zoning, and that the project would improve air quality and reduce hazardous materials in the area.
As for the Phillips 66 Rodeo refinery, environmental and community groups also appealed the project, saying its environmental impact report was faulty. They also said the county isn't mitigating significant environmental problems the projects could cause, as well as ones left over by decades of oil refining at the site.
Supervisors again acknowledged their concerns but praised county staff for its detailed analysis of the Rodeo project and said it's time for the county to get busy battling climate change.
"The great news is that we're in transition right now," said Supervisor Diane Burgis. "We are working towards a more environmentally friendly transportation system. But it is a transition and, as people have pointed out, there is a time where we're still going to be needing to use fuels before we can get to electrification."
"We all need to get to electric; we need to get to it as soon as possible," Gioia said. "The reality is that's not going to happen until later in the 2040s. There will be a need for these types of liquid fuels that have lower carbon intensity."
County staff recommended the project, based on its consistency with the county's general plan and area zoning, and that the project would improve air quality and reduce hazardous materials in the area.