ISSUES | Chevron and the Environment
Flames Four Stories Tall
July 16th: Another Fire at Chevron
The Contra Costa Times story called the fire "small," yet the first line described "flames as high as four stories tall," and included the claim of a company spokeswoman that the fire "was sparked by materials leaked from a specialized hose and not the result of a pipe leak." Further down, the paper said the leak came from a hose used by maintenance workers in a part of the refinery not in use, per Chevron spokeswoman Melissa Ritchie.
Richmond Fire Chief Michael Banks reported to the City Manager: "This morning at 2:10 am, five Richmond Fire units and two Battalion Chiefs were dispatched to a reported structure fire at the Chevron Refinery. Upon arrival, our personnel were assigned to begin a fire attack on the Fluid Catalytic Cracker (FCC) unit. There were visible flames and smoke showing on the second and third levels of this exterior structure. The fire was brought under control by 3:00 am. It was initially reported to us by Chevron personnel that a ¾" processing line had ruptured and was leaking a heavy oil distillate (petroleum product). It was later clarified that a specialized hose failed which contained a partially refined hydrocarbon product. Either way, due to the high temperature of this oily substance, it ignited and created a fire hazard. The fire and subsequent leaking product were contained to the FCC unit. Shut down of the product was eventually completely by fire personnel. Air monitoring was conducted throughout the incident and there were no readings to indicate that smoke or vapors were escaping outside the FCC unit perimeter. A Level One notification was made to Contra Costa Health Services and Cal-OSHA arrived early into the incident. Overall, our Richmond Fire crews did an outstanding job extinguishing the fire and preventing it from spreading into adjoining areas."
We do not know yet the cost to the City of Richmond for responding to this incident.
ABC 7 News had a brief story with 2-3 minutes of video reporting on the most recent fire.
Is it their Skills, Values, or Money
Is Chevron Branding Our Schools?
Has everybody noticed how Chevron is all over Richmond? It used to be just at the corner gas station. Chevron today is partnered with Safeway, stares from billboards, fills our mail boxes, pops up on our computers, and has a finger in almost every NGO and business in the city.
And now Chevron is flexing its Human Energy into yet another part of our life.
A vibrant school system is the backbone of any community's economic and social prosperity. If Chevron ("your neighbor for 104 years") had really cared, Richmond wouldn't need a "revitalization" initiative, we would have been vitalized a long time ago, and our school system would be the envy of the nation.
Because I taught elementary school for twenty-five years, I know a thing or two and disagree with the way Chevron is skewing our educational establishment, the West Contra Costa Unified School District.
Actually, Chevron never had qualms about using our school children for its own ends. For example, the school district for several years has held an annual conference "Parents as Partners and Leaders" at DeJean Middle School. Mostly Latino parents attend workshops to become more skilled at helping their children.
The district's department of Community Engagement organizes the event, but sure enough there is Chevron's logo on the program, and Chevron staff handing out tote bags. It's the Chevron Way of grabbing the spotlight in somebody else's event.
As the CEO of a worthy NGO once confided, "For every dollar that Chevron gives, they get three dollars of publicity."
But like its other incursions, this year saw a quantum leap in Chevron's influence over our schools. The West Contra Costa Unified School District needed to replace the outdated Five Year Plan. Warm-hearted Chevron stepped in to bankroll the process and with its cash, the district hired a firm of facilitators to lead the process and write the final report.
My problem is not just in that paternalistic capitalist way Chevron is becoming our boss, my problem is that, if it can't even run its refinery properly, what business does it have determining our children's education?
"If You Only Have a Hammer, You See Every Problem as a Nail"
I attended two "Community Forums" and could see that the emphasis was on getting more high school students to graduate and into colleges.Because the Chevron Corporation is a high-tech industry it views the world through that lens. Therefore, Chevron prefers to give its charity to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs; another case of Chevron wanting to shape our lives in its own image.
From everything in my experience, by the time students reach high school, they are already turned off to school. Emphasizing efforts to increase graduation is nice, but misplaced. The area to make change is at the opposite end, at the pre-school level. This is where children's brains are growing most rapidly.
At the Five Year Plan community forums, parents were given colored dots to put on their priorities, but somehow what really needs to happen was not among the choices. In an email to the Board of Education and Superintendent, I suggested the following list as priorities. I never received a reply from any of them, but I know that what West Contra Costa schools need are:
- Smaller class sizes
- An aide in every classroom
- A longer school day and school year
- A citywide in-house vibrant after-school program
- A well-trained pre-school program in every school
- More counselors, psychologists
- Alternative education for students who cannot sit in a chair
- Bilingual education
- Well-funded adult education
- Higher pay for teachers
- An evaluation procedure for administrators
- A return to vocational education with the addition of agricultural education
None of these priorities came up during the "community forums", despite the many parents and teachers who want their kids to really learn. Encouraging individual students to go to college is fine, but high college fees and slashed programs make it harder than ever to get a degree. Also, many college students will struggle for years to pay back student loans. Many graduates cannot even find jobs. In addition, many thinkers suggest that in the future, it's not specific skills that need to be mastered for they will become outmoded. What needs to be nurtured are attitudes like curiosity and values like critical thinking.
I volunteered for two years at the primary level in an Iron Triangle school. Young children are most talented at making up stories and making art, yet both of these subjects were absent from the curriculum. The arts and humanities are as vital as math and language arts, and it's about how they are taught not about how much. And with high-stakes testing, the teacher stress is palpable. In other words students are being rendered passive, inured to boredom, and tracked to becoming dropouts beginning in kindergarten.
Also, the teacher's union, UTR, seemed strangely absent from any of the discussions I attended although everyone knows that talented and dedicated teachers are the heart of an excellent school system, not ipads for every student.
At this point, Chevron creation, "ForRichmond" has become so enmeshed with the school district that it's a "Quick Link" on the WCCUSD website.
If "ForRichmond" is Chevron's Trojan Horse, the progressive community needs to quickly put forward a school plan something like the one I have proposed. This is especially urgent given the supposed failure of public schools to the benefit of EMOs (educational management organizations) and charter schools.
The only way to get that rich and program of humane energy is with more money at the state level. That means higher corporate taxes and an oil depletion allowance, something the oil lobby and San Ramon-based Chevron Corporation has fought for years.
Maybe I'm just a cynical guy. Maybe "ForRichmond" is our savior and will lead us into prosperity. Maybe Chevron has turned over a new leaf and become part of our community. Or maybe this is all shuck and jive and the Chevron Way of keeping control --"Richmond Today" (and Tomorrow the World), and Chevron as Benevolent Dictator.
Well here's my good neighbor test. Will Chevron respect us and our democracy? Will General Manager Kory Judd make a pledge not to give any corporate money to any candidate in any over or underhanded way? Will "ForRichmond"'s leadership take a pledge not to endorse any candidates?
Email me the minute you get those pledges, and in the words of the old spiritual I'll gladly sing, "Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, we're free at last."
US Chemical Safety Board Hearing in Richmond
Why CSB Postponed Vote on Report
To the surprise of many, the US Chemical Safety Board voted to postpone approving the Staff's report and proposals for up to 120 days. The US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) is the nation's preeminent chemical disaster investigative agency. Its members are all Presidential appointees and confirmed by the US Senate.
The report had two major findings:
- The explosion and fire was due to a pipe rupture, but the pipe ruptured due to a Chevron management culture of neglect and a pattern of failing to adhere to regulatory agency safety standards or its own safety standards.
- The solution to prevent future catastrophic disasters is to have Richmond, Contra Costa County and the State of California adopt the "Safety Case" regime for regulating refineries.
There was no spoken disagreement about the findings of Chevron's negligence and, had it been voted on separately, that part of the report would have certainly passed.
There were two forces for delaying the report. The first included the industry agents who were seeking to delay the report to kill it. But others, including the two commissioners who voted for the delay, stated that they wished to strengthen the recommendations. In particular they wanted more recommendations for immediate action and ways to deal with the power imbalance that allows oil companies to dominate no matter what regulations are in effect.
In the Newsletter #130 we will print a piece co-written by Mayor McLaughlin and CSB Chairperson Rafael Moure-Eraso that explains why the Board's proposal for "Safety Case Management" is so important and why we can not wait before we take steps to implement its principles.
For more information about the report: www.csb.gov
Pleads "No Contest"
Chevron Guilty on Criminal Charges
You probably already know, but in case you missed it, check out Robert Rogers story in the Contra Costa Times. The Court documents are attached and viewable in the story.
Do you think they use plastic zip-ties or handcuffs for Chevron?
Kory Judd the General Manager of the Richmond refinery sent a letter to the Council saying:
The Company pled no contest and agreed to the terms of probation because it was the quickest way to bring closure to this issue allowing us to focus on actions that will make our refinery processes better.
Under the terms of the agreement, the Company has been placed on probation for a period of three years and six months. We have agreed to do the following as part of our probation:
- Complete a 100% component inspection of all carbon steel piping systems identified as susceptible to sulfidation corrosion by August 6, 2014;
- Identify and create a process to consider potential damage mechanisms and consequences of failure by January 1, 2014;
- The Refinery will maintain a list of fixed equipment inspection recommendations submitted for each turnaround and document all recommendations that are not accepted by September 30, 2013;
- By May 6, 2014, develop and implement new training materials concerning specific issues (i.e., leak response, emergency response, and fitness for service determinations);
- Submit reports to the Contra Costa County DA's office, the CA Attorney General's Office, BAAQMD and Cal/OSHA every 90 days reporting progress in implementing these conditions for the 1st year of probation and every 6 months thereafter until the period of probation ends.
And finally, we are agreeing to pay approximately $2M in restitution and fines to local agencies, including BAAQMD, Cal/OSHA, and the California Attorney General's Office.
The City has Filed Suit against Chevron
Here is what the Lawsuit asks for:
WHEREFORE, Plaintiff prays judgment against Defendants, and each of them, as hereinafter set forth below.
1. For compensatory and general damages according to proof;
2. For economic damages due to emergency response, fire suppression, and permitting costs according to proof;
3. For past and future damages related to environmental remediation and incidental costs according to proof;
4. For diminution in property value according to proof;
5. For damages related to harm to public health, obstruction of the free passage and use of property of public property, and/or the interference with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property according to proof;
6. For pre- and post-judgment interest on all damages as allowed by the law;
7. For attorneys and expert/consultant fees under existing law;
8. For punitive damages in an amount according to proof or taking some measure to ensure that an example is made of Defendant to deter similar future conduct;
9. For costs of suit incurred herein; and
10. For such other and further relief as the Court may deem just and proper.
Click here to read full filing (includes pictures)
Molly Raynor (from Facebook)
Check out this poem (calling out Chevron) that the Bay Area Slam team performed at the BNV National Poetry slam in Chicago last week! 3 of our RAW poets represented Richmond in front of thousands and connected with poets from around the world (including England, Bermuda, Guam, Capetown and beyond)!!!
Mayor asks for Costs to City of Chevron Fire
Richmond has suffered a lot of losses from the Chevron Refinery fire last August. The City Government of Richmond has suffered direct losses including costs of emergency services provided, disruption of city services, dedicated staff time to numerous meetings with community and regulatory and investigative agencies, and the loss of property tax income to the city to name a few.
In addition the city as a whole has suffered great damages and costs. Examples include the health impact on residents and loss of property values of businesses and residences. (People's homes are their savings.) The City needs to increase services to restore the property values throughout Richmond. In addition, the fire has discouraged businesses from coming to Richmond.
The fire also made clear that we need to be better prepared for such incidents with emergency preparedness and warning systems which require considerable costs. It is important to put additional warning systems in place (phone systems, transportation alternatives, and other systematic preparation) and expand our emergency preparedness. Getting such systems and preparations in place has a cost attached to it as well.
It is essential that the total costs of the fire be gathered and submitted to public scrutiny. I have put a resolution on Tuesday's agenda (see below) that calls for an expert study and public discussion. It directs staff to coordinate with experts in the field (urban economists, academicians, etc.) to come up with the figures and present them to the public.
Such an analysis is necessary before any settlement or agreement through any proposed legal strategy with Chevron is made.
For Resolution and more click here
|Richmond Progressive Alliance Statement on Chevron Explosions and Fire
Community Compensation is What We Need
People must get compensated for individual medical conditions and damages caused by the Chevron fire. People have a right to get this compensation easily, without red tape, and without having to sign away their rights for future compensation if new problems develop later.
Compensation is also a community issue. It should be solved at the community level. It is the opportunity to establish a new relationship between the community and energy company that provides for safe operation, shared prosperity, and increasingly sustainable and less polluting energy.
It should not be solved by Chevron picking some non-profits it finds worthy (and friendly to it) but by the City Council with genuine community input that democratically represents the community surrounding Chevron
Chevron should pay its full property taxes and stop the appeals that hold the county and city hostage and cost funds for defending against the appeal. But taxes are just the starting point-the obligation of all citizens. Chevron should be funding substantially more.
It is clear from the recent accident that the community bears considerable costs by having Chevron as a neighbor. The costs come in both short term and long term health problems, pollution in our air, soil, and water and even the loss of property values and attractiveness to new jobs and industry in Richmond. Years of work improving the image of Richmond were wiped away by the fire.
A Chevron Community Benefits settlement should include the following:
- Establish and fully fund community hospitals and clinics that continually provide access in normal times and are equipped for emergencies. Supply all people subjected to possible pollution by Chevron access regardless of financial situation.
- Fund an effective warning system, under community control.
- Enlist community involvement in monitoring effectively both internal plant processes and outputs to insure maximum reasonable safety. Include enhanced emergency safety procedures with immediate and precautionary shut-down of production equipment at first sign of gas leak or breach of hydrocarbon containment.
- Supply mitigation funds for community centers and community projects.
- Hire locally and provide preference to people living in immediate plant vicinity; supply upgrade training to provide those hired access to better jobs.
- A statement by Chevron that once and for all ends the suggestions that environmentalist objections to its expansion plans in some way prevented modernization of the refinery and would have prevented the fire. The section of the refinery was not involved in the previous expansion plans and decisions about replacing the faulty piping were solely within Chevron's control.
RPA Steering Committee
|Richmond Progressive Alliance Statement
Chevron Explosions and Fire
We are glad that there were no direct serious injuries from the blast and the fire. The long term damage to people is yet to be determined and likely to be serious. We thank the emergency personnel for the job they did in containing what might have been an even more serious disaster.
Some questions require immediate answers:
- When will we have a complete list of toxic chemicals that were in the smoke from the fire and flares that blanketed our community for many hours?
- What symptoms should be looked for besides respiratory problems?
- If people have respiratory problems or other symptoms, where can they get immediate medical attention?
- How will medical bills be paid?
- What about compensation for lost work or damage to property?
Safety must come first. We do not have to accept that these things just happen, "like tornadoes and floods." There are serious questions about whether Chevron makes safety its highest priority. During the last contract negotiations Chevron opposed union proposals for more trained people devoted to safety tasks. In fact Chevron made plans to use workers inexperienced with the Richmond refinery to keep operating if negotiations broke down.
The warning system needs much improvement. The cost of improvements and maintenance must be borne by Chevron.
Our property tax system pays for county medical and emergency services. Chevron's efforts to get a massive refund on their property tax threatens these services and shows that Chevron does not recognize the costs its operation imposes on us. Chevron must drop these appeals immediately as a first step to becoming a good neighbor.
If BART and buses cannot run, then there must be alternative housing or transportation for people left stranded. Chevron must absorb costs for these preparations.
Heavier crude oil contains more known and unknown toxic pollutants which are released in accidents like this. The cracking of heavier crude requires more energy and higher temperatures increasing the probability of explosions. Chevron's plans to use dirtier, heavier crude was the issue in the last Chevron expansion plans and continues to be an issue in the current expansion plans. We want jobs with safety first at the Refinery.
It is up to the City Council to protect its residents. As long as we must refine fossil fuels, Richmond should take the lead in making sure that refining in Richmond leads in safety procedures. Should we have Councilmembers like Nat Bates who take campaign money and assistance from Chevron and its political front groups in charge of protecting us in this vital area? Candidates Eduardo Martinez and Marilyn Langlois take no contributions from Chevron or any other corporation. They are loyal only to Richmond.
While it is step forward for Chevron to call a community meeting, we think the timing shows a lack of understanding of the Richmond community. It's unfortunate that Chevron chose to hold its town hall meeting at 6pm, during our National Night Out event that neighborhood groups have been planning for months. It could have been scheduled for 4pm or 9pm (or both to accommodate more people) out of respect for the community members who are working together to reduce crime. National Night Out is important in Richmond.
We hope this is not another Chevron scripted PR event but that community questions are answered directly and fully.
We know some questions may take more time to get answers: We support Mayor McLaughlin's call for full independent investigation and transparency to determine both causes and what can be done to make this refinery as safe as possible. When we live with a potential bomb in our community, we cannot accept that information is protected by "proprietary interests" and "trade secrets." There also must be discussion about what Chevron can do to repay the community.
--RPA Steering Committee
Chevron takes some first steps
What It Takes to be a Good Neighbor
Since the fire, Chevron has taken some steps to repair its image in the community. They have upped their contributions to non-profits and West County Education, they have taken some serious steps toward making it possible for Richmond residents to get some of the good jobs at Chevron, they have started directing more of their contracting business to Richmond firms like DP Security and Catahoulla. You may have seen their recent mailer promoting their Richmond connections.
We welcome these steps, but they should not hide the fact that there is a lot more that Richmond must demand and Chevron needs to do (and not do) in order for the Corporation to be a genuinely good neighbor.
Mayor McLaughlin and others have put together a list that would protect our safety and health, promote our democracy and make Richmond a better place."
For Our Safety
- Chevron shall create and publish a Five Year Plan for Plant & Equipment Maintenance and Safe Operations
- With an adequate number of shut down weeks & adequate funding for the implementation of industry best practices & inherently safer systems
- With an adequate system for tracking & reporting inspection results and planned repairs
- With safety performance targets based on the guidelines of the US Chemical Safety Board
- Chevron shall support and fund more inspections and new regulatory processes
- To help create a culture of safety where workers have a real vote in the planning & scheduling of maintenance and the right to shut down unsafe operations
- To balance the power of management and to make sure the right things are being done
- Chevron shall maximize full-time union jobs at the refinery
- Career union employees understand the whole operation better than contract employees
- Contractors should be used only for the spike in work associated with major repair & construction projects
- With a goal of at least doubling the number of full-time employees who live in Richmond
For Our Health
- Chevron shall create and publish a Ten Year Emissions Reduction Plan
- With increased investments in emissions monitoring, emissions control equipment, advanced refining processes and solar energy
- With limits on the amount of sulfur (known to be corrosive) in the crude oil that is refined
- With a goal of driving total emissions down 40% by the end of the decade
- With yearly progress reports presented publicly
For Our Democracy
- Chevron shall stop making unfair political contributions to influence Richmond municipal elections
- Chevron's deep pockets create an unfair playing field for local candidates and ballot measures
- Effective and balanced oversight of Chevron requires an independent City Council
- Chevron shall pay its fair share in property taxes
- With a simple, understandable method of tracking the value of its plant & equipment
- With a recognition of the extra costs the refinery places on our community
- Without wasting tax payer money on constant appeals
Refinery Fire Findings & Discoveries Meeting Explains Need for Big Changes
On Friday April 5th, Senator Loni Hancock and Assembly Member Nancy Skinner presided over a three and a half hour public meeting at the Richmond Civic Center. Over 200 people heard updates on the status of all of the investigations into the causes of and responses to the August 6th fire. There were over two hours of reports from the US Chemical Safety Board, Cal OSHA, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, Contra Costa County Department of Environmental Health, the Governor’s Taskforce on Refinery Safety, Supervisor John Gioia, and City Manager Bill Lindsay which were then followed by Q&A and public comments.
The picture that was painted was more than just sobering. Multiple problems were clearly identified and discussed:
- Chevron placed short term profits over adequate preventive maintenance and safety best practices. The pipe that failed was identified as needing replacement in 2002 and wasn’t replaced in either the 2007 or 2011 Turnarounds. Management ignored the recommendations of their own inspectors and their own refinery operations personnel. The Richmond refinery produces around $500 mil/week in revenue – Chevron simply doesn’t want to lose any production. Chevron says “There is always time to do it right” and “Do it safely or not at all,” but in practice, they like to “run it until it fails.” According to Cal OSHA, similar problems exist in El Segundo. There is a huge backlog of necessary preventive maintenance work.
- Nothing in our current regulatory system made Chevron do the right thing. None of the regulators knew the pipe was corroded until after the fire. None of the regulators know in any depth how the Chevron Richmond Refinery compares to the other refineries in California. What is the value of regulation like this? The US Chemical Safety Board’s Western Region Director stated that the US was far behind Europe and the developing world in having a “continuous improvement safety culture” and made two main points:
- The entire approach to industry regulation should be changed. CSB will be recommending a shift to a “Safety Case” method of regulation in which the company is responsible for creating a comprehensive safety plan with public operating performance targets, maintenance goals and data about component age, inspection history & scheduled repair or replacement. The job of the regulator should be to license a refinery or plant to operate when the plan is adequate and to inspect and monitor compliance with the plan.
- Regulatory Agencies need more inspectors with better technical skills. He noted that Cal OSHA conducted only 3 inspections of the Richmond Refinery over the six years prior to the fire and that only one of their seven inspectors is a chemical engineer. Senator Hancock added that Great Britain has ten times as many inspectors for the same number of refineries as California.
- The refining of higher sulfur oil is not only causing increased toxic emissions; it is also causing increased corrosion and safety risks. Chevron has increased the sulfur content of the oil it is refining in Richmond by close to 50% over the last decade and now there are over 2,000 clamps in use at the refinery. Some of this is due to deferred maintenance, but much is due to increased corrosion. Now they are interested in “modernizing” the refinery to be able to double the sulfur content of the crude they process. If they are allowed any increase in sulfur content, it clearly must be contingent on more spending on both preventive maintenance & emissions reduction.
- Our emissions monitoring, emergency response and public warning systems were inadequate last August. Some of these systems have been fixed, some are in the middle of being improved and some still need to be addressed. City Manager Lindsay and the report developed for the Governor’s Taskforce on Refinery Safety both made the point that the costs of preparedness and response incurred by Richmond and Contra Costa County are not adequately funded and that none of the fines and penalties assessed on Chevron ever go to Richmond
Upcoming Meetings & Developments
- The US Chemical Safety Board will be issuing its draft report next week with a public meeting to walk people through their recommendations on April 19th.
- The Bay Area Air Quality Management District will be holding a community meeting on the status of the new emissions monitoring system on April 24th at the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts. There may be an update on the penalties they will assess on Chevron for the 5 violations they found. (This is separate from Cal OSHA’s 25 violations and $1 mil in fines)
- Supervisor Gioia announced that the County Health Services department will be conducting a full safety audit of the refinery with an oversight committee made up of representatives from USW Local 5, the Building Trades, the City of Richmond and Contra Costa County. Independent consulting inspectors will be hired by the oversight committee and the costs will be covered by Chevron.
- Initial results from the new emissions monitoring system can now be seen at www.fenceline.org/Richmond. Feedback on how the information is presented is desired
- Recommendations of the report commissioned by the Governor’s Interagency Taskforce on Refinery Safety can be found at the University of California’s Center for Occupational & Environmental Health - Labor Occupational Health Program web site www.lohp.org . Recommendations address emergency response systems and procedures, safe operations, and sustainable practices.
So What Can We Do?
- Make sure our state legislators and county/city officials adopt the CSB's recommendations and change the way we regulate our refineries & chemical plants
- Support USW Local 5 in their efforts to have a bigger role in plant safety and curtail Chevron's use of contract workers in the maintenance workforce
- Be ready to review the "revised" Refinery Modernization Project's Environmental Impact Report - it may be out as early as this summer
- Insist that our new emissions monitoring system is giving us the information we need to protect our health
- Insist that Chevron pay its fair share of property taxes in order to cover all of the public services it requires
Chevron Tries End-Run Around the Community
Chevron is trying to use Sacramento lobbying to bypass environmental protections for Richmond.
Negotiations are still going on between environmental groups, the city of Richmond and Chevron about protections for restarting the Chevron expansion project. But Chevron is now lobbying the state legislature to sneak through a special exemption which allows the giant oil company to do its project without having to file an Environmental Impact Report and reach agreement with the city about environmental protections.
In July 2009 a court ruled that Chevron's Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for its expansion project was flawed because it did not reveal its true plans for the expansion, Chevron stopped the project instead of submitting a revised EIR or negotiating with the environmental groups. Chevron then appealed and again the Courts ruled that its EIR was seriously flawed noting that Chevron told one thing to its stockholder but another to the community.
In the last few months a Democratic assemblyman has been serving as a mediator to find a way to restart the project. The city delegation for the mediation includes Mayor McLaughlin, Vice Mayor Ritterman, Council Member Viramontes, the City Manager and City Attorney (see Appeals Court Rules against Chevron on Environmental Impact Report). In previous mediation attempts the environmental groups demonstrated a willingness to try other approaches to protect the community. Chevron has refused to seriously address concerns about community health.
Chevron asks CEQA exemption
Apparently Chevron is trying to bypass these negotiations by asking the legislature for a special exemption from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). This act requires that projects must file and get local community approval of an Environmental Impact Report. This is the main tool which allows communities to protect their air and water and other environmental conditions. An exemption for any project should be questionable under any circumstance. But to give an exemption to a company after judges have ruled that it mislead the public with its report would be a scandal and is only possible because Chevron has such deep pockets for politicians.
A number of mainstream environmental organizations like the Planning and Conservation League have drafted letters to send to the leadership of the State legislature asking them to refuse an exemption to Chevron.
Write your legislator and ask that they too refuse to give a free pass to Chevron. Our air and water and our lives are too important to trade for Chevron campaign contributions. We don't want a further weakening of the California Environmental Quality Act. Demand that Chevron come to the negotiating table prepared to negotiate real protections of our air and water and to file a truthful and accurate Environmental Impact Report.
See the LA Times blog on this.
Appeals Court Rules against Chevron on Environmental Impact Report
On April 26 the Appeals Court rejected Chevron's main claims.
The court found that the Environmental Impact Report was indeed flawed on the issues of heavier crude and greenhouse gasses. The judges did side with Chevron on the issue of the hydrogen pipeline.
This leaves the injunction standing, the project stopped and 1200 workers not working. The environmental groups, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Communities for a Better Environment, and West County Toxics Coalition, have demonstrated a willingness to negotiate a way to restart the project and provide for the health of the community and environmental concerns, including taking some major steps at the request of Attorney General Brown's office. Thus far Chevron has refused to budge.
For more detail see:
Press release issued by groups participating in the suit
Environmental Groups accept offer to mediate
Contra Costa Times article
Chevron’s Move to Dirtier Oil:
One Richmond Worker’s Perspective
The California State Court of Appeals ruled against Chevron’s switch to refining dirtier, heavier oil at its Richmond refinery, citing violations of state environmental laws. This is a tremendous victory for Bay Area communities.
My name is James Walker. I live in Richmond and work for a local city agency. My mother immigrated here from Sweden in 1968 and our family has been here ever since. Fortunately, we don’t live next door to the refinery, but I can still see the smokestacks from my house.
Over the course of my life, I have seen far too many children and families suffering unnecessarily from the toxics in our air. Richmond children are hospitalized for asthma at twice the rate of children in the rest of the county. All of us are suffering the consequences of Chevron’s pollution, even those of us on the outskirts.
Is it any wonder that we suffer from these health problems? Chevron is in our backyards, pumping thousands of tons of toxics into the air each year. Chevron’s refinery alone is already responsible for 90% of industrial emissions in Richmond.
That’s why several years ago, when Chevron announced its plans to expand the refinery to process dirtier, heavier crude, workers and community members joined together in protest. The proposed expansion would likely have exposed our communities to even higher levels of toxic pollution. So we made our voices heard by packing city council meetings and courtrooms, putting our stories front and center.
It’s Richmond’s working class and communities of color that are hardest hit by Chevron’s toxic emissions. Nearly 80% of people living within one mile of the Chevron refinery are people of color and the majority are working class. So it comes as no surprise that Chevron’s strategy has been to divide these communities – pitting workers against communities of color, prospective jobs against community health.
These are false choices.
How dare Chevron ask us to choose between our health and the health of future generations, a clean environment, and much-needed jobs? Which among these would Chevron executives choose?
We have the right to breathe clean air.
We have the right to raise our children in a clean, healthy environment. And we commend the California State Court of Appeals for recognizing this.
Our victory yesterday shows what’s possible when workers and communities stand together and demand more of our politicians and the corporations that operate in our backyards. Together, we sent a message that Chevron cannot continue profiting at the expense of our health. It’s time for all of us to embrace a cleaner, greener future.
This victory is just the beginning. In coming weeks, I will continue to work in coalition with the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Communities for a Better Environment, and West County Toxics Coalition toward building healthy, green communities for all.
I hope you will join us.
James Walker is a local city equipment services worker and member of Service Employees International Union Local 1021’s Richmond Chapter. He was born and raised in Richmond and is currently raising his children in Richmond.