Remember this? Because I sure do.
That was an Aug. 6 fire at a 110-year-old Chevron refinery in Richmond, Calif. Those outrageous, toxic plumes sent more than 15,000 people to area hospitals complaining of eye and respiratory issues. In the aftermath, it was revealed that Chevron hadn’t installed air monitoring stations it had agreed to set up in 2010 and that it was bypassing existing monitoring equipment.
A month ago, the Richmond City Council unanimously adopted a resolution asking that Chevron adopt “the highest standards and best technology” to prevent future disasters and cut standard pollution in an area where residents are plagued by chronic asthma thanks to particulate pollutants. But the city’s Planning Department told Chevron it could do whatever it wants, which is exactly what the oil giant is doing: replacing broken parts, but not upgrading anything. From The San Francisco Chronicle:
Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said that city staff had no legal grounds for doing otherwise. But she added, “I expected our staff to hold back on permits until we had an understanding of what was being permitted and whether it was the best technology available at reducing emissions.
“Chevron should be offering a whole lot better than the minimum – it seems that is what they are offering,” McLaughlin said. “They should be using this opportunity to build much further along in terms of reducing emissions.
“We will take whatever we can get — a minor decrease is still something,” McLaughlin added.
They’ll take whatever they can get because Chevron, the city’s biggest employer, has troubled Richmond quite literally in a choke-hold. The local government has risen up against the refinery, and once even won millions in back taxes from Chevron in court, though populist efforts from the community of low-income people of color have been less successful.
So McLaughlin’s optimism at that “minor decrease” is basically the saddest reaction to this news. It’s not just minor — it’s pathetic. A scientist with Communities for a Better Environment said Chevron’s new filtering system “would cut only 3.5 pounds from a total of 1,240 pounds of particulates the refinery sends into the air each day.”
Chevron’s announcement came the day after two of the three candidates the corporation backed for city council won. From The Chronicle:
For decades, the council and Chevron were mostly in agreement on issues such as taxes, pollution, expansion and jobs. But a few years ago the city, and its elected representatives, began shifting to the left, electing a Green Party mayor in 2006 and several progressive council members who routinely question Chevron.
“Chevron pretty much always had its way, but when (Mayor) Gayle McLaughlin won, the relationship with the city at times became an adversarial one,” Smith said. “Then the refinery fire happened (in August), which energized people on both sides.”
Richmond voters received glossy mailers and billboards, accusing non-Chevron-backed candidates of not paying their taxes, not showing up for work and in one case, not being tough enough on terrorists.
McLaughlin might be right to be happy with what Richmond can get these days.