Televangelist’s effort to reopen oil refinery under fire

The Associated Press
Friday August 03, 2001

SANTA FE SPRINGS — Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson’s effort to reopen a defunct oil refinery and build a power plant faced scrutiny Thursday by some who questioned the safety of such an operation. 

It was the latest round in a battle between the televangelist’s company, Robertson Charitable Remainder Unitrust, which claims the concerns have been chiefly raised by environmental activists, and the opposition group Communities for a Better Environment. 

While Communities for a Better Environment held a town hall meeting to discuss possible health risks posed by opening the Cenco Refining Inc. plant, refinery officials were offering residents tours to allay any fears. 

Caught in the middle were residents who want the suburban Los Angeles community to prosper but worry about a repeat of the plant’s previous problems, such as ammonia and sulfur leaks. 

“I want to know why, why don’t they put it somewhere else. Why can’t they put it in Beverly Hills or Westwood or Santa Monica,” said Francis Fuentes, who moved to the South Fulton Village senior citizen residential complex just blocks from the refinery in 1998. “I want them to tell me they won’t open it.” 

Fuentes was one of 75 people who attended the public meeting to discuss possible health risks posed by opening the Cenco Refining Inc. plant. 

But Robertson’s company liaison, Don Brown, said the company has addressed any potential health risks the plant might pose to the community. 

“This is a small plant. It really doesn’t take up any space. It isn’t going to be noticed by the public,” Brown said, adding if opened the operation would refine 50,000 barrels of oil a day and include a plant to power refinery equipment. 

Activists and some residents have accused Robertson’s company of trying to push the plant on a vulnerable community, which is predominantly working class and Hispanic. 

“These are people already fighting pollution problems,” said Scott Kuhn, a CBE attorney. 

Brown said the allegations were untrue. 

“How do you fight something like that? This plant was already here,” he said. 

CBE sued Robertson’s company last year, claiming the plant should go through the same permitting process as other plants.  

The group contends reopening the plant would expose residents to increased pollution and the threat of toxic gases. 

Brown said the company plans to spend $170 million to install state-of-the-art pollution controls and monitoring equipment.  

He also said the state’s conditional use permit makes clear gas leaks or other problems could shutter the plant. 

“This is not going to be like the old plant. If anything happens like that, the state will close us down,” he said. 

Robertson’s family trust purchased the closed Powerine Refinery Inc. in 1998 using money from the sale of some of his family’s broadcasting interest. He said he’s been seeking bank financing to reopen it ever since, renaming it Cenco Refining Co.