Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Major Climate and Environmental Justice Victory in Richmond!

On Monday, April 26, the California State Court of Appeals rejected Chevron’s appeal on the refinery expansion in Richmond. The court ruled that the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the project violated state environmental law. The court ruled that the EIR was “far from informative,” that the project description was inconsistent and vague, and that it was entirely unclear whether Chevron was going to use this project to process dirtier crude oil. The Court also held that the "EIR completely fails to properly establish, analyze, and consider an environmental baseline." The court also cites CBE's recent, March 2010, groundbreaking Supreme Court victory against ConocoPhillips involving CEQA, as direction as to how this baseline must be established.

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This is a major victory for our communities and it would not have been possible without the coalition support of our co-plaintiffs Asian Pacific Environmental Network, West County Toxics Coalition and our legal co-counsel Earthjustice and CBE’s Senior Staff Attorney. Together, we showed that we can hold Chevron—the largest greenhouse gas emitter in the state of California—accountable to environmental health and justice standards. The court made it loud and clear that oil giants and major corporations are not above the law.

For the past year, Chevron has blamed community groups for lost jobs; the accusation is unjustified since it is clear from the court decision that this project was in violation of the law. Chevron could have resolved these issues during the EIR process, or after the trial court decision, but it chose not to. Throughout this legal process, Chevron has used jobs to hold our communities hostage and threat of leaving Richmond to force us to choose between our family’s health and having jobs when the reality is, we need both.

CBE and allies have consistently throughout this lawsuit called on Chevron to negotiate an agreement that protects community health and gets people back to work. We all know times are tough but we need good jobs and clean air to sustain our families, communities, our youth and the next generation. We continue to support Chevron to expand and/or upgrade its refinery in a way that's legal and won't harm the health of residents living near the refinery.

For decades, Chevron has pumped toxics into backyards of Richmond’s residents and our children’s air every day. Black, Latino, and Asian communities already have more than their fair share of cancer, asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Richmond’s poor air quality is financially affecting our community. Children in Richmond are already hospitalized for asthma at almost twice the rate of children in the rest of Contra Costa County.

If this current project were to go forward and Chevron processed lower quality crude, the refinery would likely emit significantly more toxic pollution. This pollution would include chemicals linked to cancer and respiratory ailments, according to the groups’ expert. The EPA reported nearly 100,000 pounds of toxic waste from the site in 2007, including more than 4,000 pounds of benzene (a known human carcinogen) and 455,000 pounds of ammonia, repeated exposure to which can cause an asthma-like illness and lead to lung damage. This project also would create an additional 900,000 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions, not taking into account a switch to dirtier crude.

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The implications of this community victory reach far beyond the City of Richmond. Chevron is using its expansion project to also attack the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The law requires companies to disclose greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts of proposed projects. The state goes even further, requiring companies to reduce significant environmental impacts. We have a right to know what toxics are being pumped into our bodies. Communities across California will suffer from weakened health and environmental standards.

Thank you to our community members, Richmond residents, Bay Area and international allies who have been supportive throughout the campaign and this lawsuit. Among many others, we thank City of Richmond workers’ SEIU union local 1021 for its unwavering support. We thank Mayor Gayle McLaughlin for her leadership on this issue, and Richmond City Councilmembers and staff who have supported finding a resolution to the case. We thank State Attorney General Jerry Brown and his staff for their attempt to craft an alternative proposal for resolution of the lawsuit. We thank Nancy Skinner, Loni Hancock, George Miller and Mark Desaulnier of the state and federal legislatures for their letters, time and commitment in working with us to seek such a resolution. We thank Speaker of the Assembly Karen Bass, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, and Assemblymember John Perez for meeting with us toward that end.

For more information and become a volunteer, contact Ana Orozco at aorozco@cbecal.org, 510-302-0430x12.

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