Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Environmental and Climate 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.

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 very own Senior 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.

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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 the 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.

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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.

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 pollution is going to impact us. Communities across California will continue to 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/or become a volunteer, contact Ana Orozco at aorozco@cbecal.org, 510-302-0430x12.

In the news:

Appeals Court Upholds Environmental Justice in Richmond

For Immediate Release Monday, April 26, 2010

Environmental Impact Report for refinery expansion ruled inadequate

Richmond, April 26, 2010 — In an unprecedented victory for the community, the California State Court of Appeals has upheld the majority of findings in a lower court decision that the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the expansion of the Chevron Corporation's refinery in Richmond California violated state environmental law. The Community members have been campaigning to fight the proposed switch to refining dirtier, heavier oil for several years.

"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.”

"The court agrees that the people of Richmond have a right to know just how dirty the crude oil processed in this refinery will be," said Earthjustice attorney Will Rostov. "The court pointed out the legal deficiencies in Chevron's refinery expansion plan and tells Chevron the simple steps it needs to expand their refinery in a legal way that won't harm the neighbors."

Environmental justice groups Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN), and West County Toxics Coalition (WCTC), represented by Earthjustice, had sued the City of Richmond over its approval of the refinery expansion in 2008, on the basis that the inadequacies in the EIR rendered approval illegal under the California Environmental Quality Act. Last year, a California Superior Court in Contra Costa County agreed, tossing out that EIR and issuing an injunction preventing further work on the refinery expansion.

“In this difficult economic climate, Chevron has used jobs to hold our communities hostage,” said James Walker, member of Service Employees International Union Local 1021 and local city equipment services worker. “As a Richmond resident and union worker, I shouldn’t have to choose between jobs and my family’s health. Times are tough. We’re all struggling to pay bills and put food on the table. It’s time for Chevron to come to the table and negotiate an agreement that protects community health and gets people back to work.”

The appellate court found today that the EIR should have addressed changes in the grade of crude oil the refinery would process after the expansion. The expansion project would increase the refinery's ability to process dirtier grades of crude oil according to experts hired by the community, the State Attorney General’s office and the trade unions, all of whom independently reviewed Chevron’s proposed plans.
The groups charge that the refinery would likely emit significantly more toxic pollution if it begins refining dirtier crude. 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 is a good decision," said Socorro Garcia, a ten-year Richmond resident and neighbor of the refinery. "There are people like me living very close to the refinery. The refinery has damaged our health and our community. Our health is our future."

In a precedent-setting decision on one issue, the Court also found fault with the EIR for failing to include specific and proven plans to mitigate a projected increase in greenhouse gas emissions from the expansion and for allowing Chevron itself (not the City) to come up with a mitigation plan later, outside the publicly involved CEQA process. The Chevron Richmond refinery is the single largest source of greenhouse gas pollution in the state, according to data released by the California Air Resources Board in 2009. The EIR indicated that the expansion could generate almost 900,000 tons of additional greenhouse gases.

“It’s a double whammy," said Sandy Saeteurn, Lead Organizer with APEN and a Richmond resident. "Chevron is hurting Richmond residents like my family with its toxic pollution and hurting the planet with its greenhouse gases. I grew up in Richmond doing Chevron refinery accident drills instead of fire drills. I don’t want my 9-yr old son Nicky to keep doing the same. Accurate public information about the proposed refinery expansion will allow better decisions for protecting our environmental and economic health.”
Chevron’s plan to expand the Richmond refinery — allowing the facility to refine heavier crude oil than it can now process — could significantly increase the facility's greenhouse gas emissions, according to CBE scientist Greg Karras. "Refineries that have begun the switch to heavier, dirtier crude oil emit up to 58 percent more greenhouse gases per barrel refined as compared with the average U.S. refinery," said Karras.

"Asthma rates in Richmond are already twice the national average," said Richmond resident Kay Wallis, a health educator with the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at UCSF. "For decades, Richmond families have paid a steep price for living near Chevron's refinery. Now there's evidence that the impact of Chevron's pollution extends well beyond our beleaguered local neighborhoods – the damage is worldwide."

"Richmond doesn't need dirtier crude," said Greg Karras. "Now we can move onto the task of creating healthy, green jobs that put people to work weatherizing buildings, expanding public transit, and moving Richmond toward economic and climate sustainability. Chevron could be a leader in this change. It can't continue with business as usual — not for long."