Environmental Justice Upheld in California

A coalition of Bay Area environmental justice activists is celebrating a huge victory today, as a California State Court of Appeals rejected Chevron’s attempts to overturn a lower court’s decision that will block expansion of its Richmond, CA, refinery.

At issue was the Environmental Impact Report prepared by Chevron for its plans to expand the refinery and begin processing heavier, dirtier crude oil. Why does it want to process dirtier crude? The company has  been less than forthcoming on that subject. But Chevron has invested heavily in the egregiously destructive tar sands of Alberta, Canada, which produce crude heavier and dirtier than the regular stuff.

The city of Richmond approved the plans in 2008, which led the coalition — comprised of EJ groups Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN), and West County Toxics Coalition (WCTC), among others, and represented by Earthjustice — to sue the city on the grounds that Chevron’s EIR did not meet legal requirements under California environmental law.

A California Superior Court in Contra Costa County ruled in favor of the coalition and the Richmond community in July of last year, throwing out the EIR prepared by Chevron and ordering the company to stop construction. It was that decision that Chevron had appealed, which the First District Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld yesterday.

The chief shortcoming of the company’s EIR, according to reports, was that it did not adequately answer the crucial question of whether pollution would increase as a result of the expansion. Were it to start processing the heavier crude oil from the tar sands, the Richmond refinery — already the single largest polluter in the state of California — could emit as much as 900,000 additional tons of climate pollution every year, according to experts hired by the coalition who brought the suit against the company.

But its contributions to global warming aren’t the only impacts the refinery is having, of course: It also emitted 100,000 pounds of toxic waste in 2007, according to the EPA. That total includes more than 4,000 pounds of benzene, a known carciongen, and 455,000 pounds of ammonia, which can lead to respiratory ailments and lung damage — all of which have led Richmond to an asthma rate twice as high as the national average.

No wonder, then, that Richmond residents overwhelmingly oppose expansion of the refinery and are rejoicing at the court’s decision today.

“This decision is a significant victory for environmental justice in the city of Richmond and beyond,” said Dr. Henry Clark, executive director of West County Toxics Coalition. “African American, Latino and Asian communities near the refinery have borne a disproportionate burden of exposure to pollution from the refinery for decades. And the community has been fighting back for decades – this victory is huge.”

On a side note: Ever wondered what pollutants might be plaguing your community? I discovered a really interesting site today that makes it absurdly easy to find out. Check out ThisWeKnow.org, where all you have to do is plug in your city or zip code, etc. and it spits out all sorts of interesting data. For instance, I live in 94115, and got this when I plugged that in:

  • 28,608 pounds of 7 pollutants were released (within 7 mi.)

Click on those links and you can really dig in to the data. For instance, turns out Bae Systems San Francisco Ship Repair is the top polluter in our fair city. The second biggest polluter in San Francisco, is, it turns out, none other than Chevron. Obviously, there’s a long way to go before a company like Chevron truly cleans up its act. But we’ll fight that one another day. For now, we celebrate with the people of Richmond!

Image credit: Eric Drooker, Drooker.com

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