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Chevron to Pay $2 Million for 2012 Refinery Fire in Richmond, CA after 200 Arrested at Protest

"The thought of Chevron thinking that $2 million is going to be sufficient in terms of addressing the ongoing threat that they cause to my community, is really outrageous."

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com


The following transcript originally appeared on  Democracy Now! on August 6, 2013.

AMY GOODMAN: It was a year ago today when a massive fire at a Chevron refinery in Richmond, California, sent toxic smoke billowing into the air about 10 miles northeast of San Fransisco. In the aftermath, more than 15,000 people were hospitalized with respiratory problems. On Monday, Chevron pleaded no contest to six criminal charges related to the fire and agreed to submit to additional oversight over the next few years and pay $2 million in fines and restitution as part of a plea deal with state and county prosecutors.

On Saturday, thousands of people marched to condemn safety issues at Chevron’s plant and to call for renewable alternatives to fossil fuels. The protest was part of a wave of "Summer Heat" actions led by the environmental group  350.org. It included a march to Chevron’s refinery, where 210 people were arrested. This is 350.org founder Bill McKibben, who was among those arrested.

BILL McKIBBEN: The reason that we’re here is because Chevron is a really bad actor. OK? In the places where they get their oil, they’re a bad actor. Ask the people in Canada fighting their fracking. Ask the people in Ecuador who have had to live with their waste. When they get it here to refine it, they’re a bad actor. They sent 15,000 of their neighbors to the hospital. And they are bad, bad actors on this planet. They have nine billion barrels of oil in their reserves. OK? If they burn most of those, then we cannot deal with climate change.

AMY GOODMAN: Just before the protest, the city of Richmond filed a lawsuit against Chevron over the fire, claiming it followed more than a dozen similar incidents. This is longtime environmental organizer Andrés Soto of Communities for a Better Environment.

ANDRÉS SOTO: We know that we’re the little guys and that they’re the big and powerful multinational corporation—in fact, an international criminal cartel. But given all that, what we know is we have people power. They have the money power; we have the people power. And that’s what we’re demonstrating today. And as long as we can continue to organize, continue to bring people out, we know that Chevron ultimately is going to have to deal with us, because we can’t allow them to control our lives here in Richmond. We’re going to run our local politics, and we’re going to drive Chevron’s people out of government and return the power to the people here in Richmond.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by the mayor of Richmond, California, Gayle McLaughlin. She is a member of the Green Party and among the thousands who protested Saturday. In 2011, she skipped a Veterans Day observance that was sponsored by Chevron, and later wrote an  open letter to Occupy Wall Street that noted, quote, "Chevron recently doubled its quarterly profits and is brazen enough to simultaneously be seeking a property tax refund ... This is a reflection of an obscene economic inequity that threatens to get far worse."

Mayor McLaughlin, we welcome you back to Democracy Now! So, Chevron has agreed to pay $2 million. Your thoughts? Though they’ve pled no contest.

MAYOR GAYLE McLAUGHLIN: Thank you, Amy, for having me here today.

It’s the—the thought of Chevron thinking that $2 million is going to be sufficient in terms of addressing the problems, the ongoing threat that they cause to my community, is really outrageous. The city of Richmond chose to move forward with this lawsuit. I chose to move forward as mayor, because I owe it to the residents of Richmond. Our city council owes it to the residents of Richmond to pursue this lawsuit, demanding accountability from Chevron to ensure the safety of our community. Their approach to our community has been totally and willfully neglectful. We owe it to our community to totally ensure their safety and to bring forward and safeguard the rights of our community to live, play and work without the threat of injury because of Chevron and with the threat of Chevron bringing forward yet another incident that—you know, due to the lack of safety in their facilities. We really feel strongly. This is serious in Richmond, and we’re not backing down. This lawsuit is a reflection of that.

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