Richmond: Looking to a New, Greener Future
Photo Credit: Solar Richmond
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Editor's Note: This is part of series, Facing the Climate Gap, which looks at grassroots efforts in California low-income communities of color to address climate change and promote climate justice.
This article was published in collaboration with GlobalPossibilities.org.
The Chevron Corporation is among the oldest “residents” of Richmond, California, but Reverend Kenneth Davis is looking forward to a day when the community is not dependent upon the oil giant.
“Chevron’s been here for over 100 years, but if I lived in a perfect world I would have a world where we didn’t have to be so dependent upon as we are on petroleum. I would have a green world; one that we could use solar and wind and all the other technologies; we’d be able to exist without filling up our gas tank,” says Davis.
In Richmond, community members like Davis are attempting to curb the negative effects of the petrochemical industry in their city by striving for a just transition. This policy framework addresses environmental, social and economic inequalities by using community-based planning to create long-term, sustainable alternatives to environmentally-damaging industries. Ultimately, community members would like to see the city turn away from its dependence on the fossil fuel industry and its deleterious health effects while providing improved living and working environments.
The just transition goal gained momentum in 2007 when the neighborhoods surrounding Chevron’s oil refinery organized to oppose the company’s proposal to expand its oil refining capacity. Because of increased energy demand, increased costs and anxiety about oil supply, oil companies are turning to “unconventional,” heavier crude oil with higher sulfur content which also generates more pollution during refining.
Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN), Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) and West County Toxics Coalition collaborated to oppose Chevron’s expansion in the belief that it would make the community’s survival dependent on the production of this dirtier crude oil without having the technology to reduce pollution levels.
Despite the opposition, the city council approved the Chevron expansion proposal. So the coalition of environmental justice advocates responded with a lawsuit in 2008 and argued that Chevron failed to disclose its true intentions to refine higher-sulfur crude oil and thus, did not provide proper assessment and mitigation of health impacts under the Environmental Impact Report. In 2010, the California Court of Appeals deemed Chevron’s Environmental Review Report inadequate, stopping the expansion in its tracks.
APEN executive director, Roger Kim says the Chevron victory marked the beginning of a new future for Richmond.
“The expansion of Chevron and the infrastructure that they were trying to put into the ground would have kept Richmond locked into dirty oil for generations to come. We needed to head that off in order to even have the semblance of a future where Richmond could be cleaner and more environmentally just," says Kim.
There is no clear formula for a just transition, but Richmond’s strategy has four basic tenets: first, a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by major industrial polluters; second, community-led city planning that creates modes of sustainable and equitable economic development; third, political structures that are committed to the plight of local residents; and fourth, developing alternative modes of energy generation and consumption – all of which help to redistribute power and build a more sustainable community.
The community’s relationship with Chevron is complicated. The Chevron Oil Refinery in Richmond was established in 1902 and is the oldest and third largest refinery in California, producing nearly 250,000 barrels per day. The refinery also provides between 1,950 and 2,460 jobs, making it the largest employer and property tax payer in the city.