October 5, 2012
by Bill Gallegos, Executive Director
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has begun a criminal investigation of Chevron for deliberately trying to avoid monitoring of emissions from flaring excess gases at its refinery in Richmond, California.
The EPA has discovered that for fours years Chevron has emitted pollutants that avoided air quality monitors. That means Chevron emitted pollution without the knowledge of the environmental agencies that issue Chevron’s permits, and potentially harming the health of Richmond residents, many of whom are African American, Latino, and Laotian. Since the August 6th explosion and fire at the refinery, Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) has played a leading role in organizing Richmond community members to demand transparency, accountability, justice, and equity from Chevron.
At the urging of CBE and its allies, the City of Richmond and Contra Costa County officials have established a commission to investigate the causes and impacts of the fire. CBE is a member of this commission, and has insisted that “the community are the real experts” and should have a prominent voice in commission proceedings (Click here to watch the KTVU Channel 2 interview with CBE Senior Scientist, Greg Karras, regarding one of the possible causes of the August 6th fire). The criminal investigation of Chevron adds a new twist to a tragedy that has already sent more than 15,000 Richmond residents to seek medical care.
“We believe that the federal criminal investigation will prove what community residents have suspected for years – that Chevron was gaming the system by by-passing the monitors because they know that their emissions are doing harm to the health of the people who live nearby,” Said CBE organizer Andres Soto.
The investigation is trying to determine if Chevron violated a 2005 federal court order in which it agreed to limit flaring of dangerous gases. The monitoring equipment at the refinery is intended to verify compliance with this order by requiring Chevron to provide data on each flaring incident. The emissions from flaring are extremely toxic and can increase the risk of cancer and other illnesses.
Inspectors from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District suspected flare irregularities when they found that air monitors were not recording data. What they soon discovered was a long pipe that enabled Chevron to “re-route” its emissions to avoid the air monitors.
For more than a decade, CBE has been organizing Richmond residents to achieve clean air, and to build healthy and sustainable communities. Chevron has long dominated the political and economic life of Richmond, with a long and infamous record of toxic emissions, failure to pay its fair share of taxes, and political bullying. But this is a new day, and CBE is determined to help the people of Richmond –especially those on the refinery fenceline, and hold Chevron accountable for its toxic practices.
Ultimately, the people of Richmond want a city with a healthy, sustainable, diversified, and locally-owned economy–one based on clean energy, that meets the needs of local residents, and creates green careers for the communities of color that have suffered the most from the fossil fuel energy system.
Toward that end the residents of Richmond are demanding not only a full accounting of the causes and impacts of the refinery fire, but also that Chevron compensate all residents for losses caused by that tragedy, replace its old and potentially unsafe equipment, and to begin to install solar for their energy system, creating good jobs for local folks. Si Se Puede!