March 4, 2015

Richmond residents to Chevron: Get your dirty money out of politics


Bay Chapter Conservation Manager Jess Dervin-Ackerman at the announcement of the resolution.

On Thursday, February 12th, Richmond residents, social justice advocates, elected officials, and Chevron shareholders announced a resolution being put forward at Chevron’s upcoming shareholders meeting that would prevent the company from dumping money into the political cycle. The resolution comes after Chevron spent more than $3 million to influence elections in Richmond — a small portion of the millions spent to influence elections at all levels across California and the country.

Despite being outspent 20-1, community leaders in Richmond defeated Chevron-backed candidates. Now the community is backing the resolution as part of ongoing efforts to reclaim their neighborhoods and put an end to Chevron’s pollution of their air, water, and democracy.

The events in Richmond and the Chevron shareholder resolution are part of a growing movement to beat back polluter-backed candidates and interests as communities work to clean up their environments and our democracy.

“Chevron flooded our democracy with millions of dollars in 2014, but Richmond voters saw through their attempt to buy our elections and the progressives candidates triumphed.  Chevron should refrain from its oversized influence on our local democracy if it has any desire to repair its profoundly damaged reputation among our community,” said city councilmember and former Richmond Mayor Gayle Mclaughlin.

In Richmond, a lot of us are living in poverty and therefore we tend to gravitate towards money. But with this last election we proved that like our health, our elections are not for sale! Chevron’s money is no longer good in Richmond. We choose to live, and vote for leaders who care for our health and shared wealth,said Sandy Saeteurn of the Asian Pacific Environmental Network.


Richmond residents, social justice advocates, elected officials, and Chevron shareholders at the announcement of the resolution outside the Richmond Chevron headquarters.

The Chevron refinery in Richmond has a history of health, safety, and environmental problems, including an explosion in 2012 that sent 15,000 community members to the hospital. Yet instead of abiding by safeguards, the company has abused the political system to change the laws.

For a refinery that is under probation until the end of 2015 after pleading ‘no contest’ to six counts of criminal negligence for the fire of 2012, Chevron has proceeded as if money could help the community forget while it tried to buy a city council. Moving to clean energy is vital and Chevron should be finding ways to transition instead of processing dirtier crude.  The bottom line should be human health and safety, not profits.  If their disregard for the community did not outweigh their good works, we would be finding solutions to global warming together,” said Eduardo Martinez, recently elected city councilmember.

“Chevron has resisted the will of the people for too long and has demonstrated a perverse willingness to spend escalating obscene amounts of money to try and impose their will. Fortunately the people of Richmond are strong and we have shown that we will not back down in the face of their corporate bullying. History has shown us in Richmond that when the people organize they can demand accountability. Shareholders should be ashamed and demand an end to this kind of behavior,” said Andrés Soto, Richmond resident and social justice advocate.

Representatives from the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN).

Representatives from the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN).

“Chevron continues to try to throw its weight around like a bully on the playground as it drowns local elections with a flood of shareholder dollars in an attempt to influence local decision making and democracy,” stated Leslie Samuelrich, President of Green Century Capital Management. “Shareholders don’t want to keep footing the bill for Chevron’s failed gambles in politics, and are calling on the company to put an end to political contributions.”

“Chevron has spent millions of dollars to try and roll back state and federal regulations to the detriment of our climate, our environment, our communities, and even the safety of their own workers,” said Sierra Club San Francisco Bay Chapter Director Michelle Myers. “We support the community of Richmond and Chevron shareholders in calling for Chevron to stop corrupting our democracy.”

Raising climate awareness at the pump

A working concept of Berkeley’s gas pump warning label. Credit: 350 Bay Area.

A working concept of Berkeley’s gas pump warning label. Credit: 350 Bay Area.

The Sierra Club supports two local proposals currently working through the Berkeley City Council and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to mandate labels at gas stations informing consumers of the link between driving, carbon dioxide emissions, and climate disruption.

In San Francisco, Supervisor John Avalos introduced the ordinance “Greenhouse Gas Information Labels for Gas Pumps,” which will be debated at the Land Use Committee in early 2015—likely as soon as mid-February. As for Berkeley, in November the City Council voted to direct the City Manager to draft an ordinance requiring the posting of the gas station warning labels. Once a draft is finalized, it will go back to the Environmental and Energy Commissions for approval before returning to the Council for adoption later in the spring.

It is important that consumers be given the tools they need to make informed decisions. Educating consumers at the point of purchase raises awareness of the connection between their action and its effects; in this case, that burning fossil fuels contributes to global warming. The strategy of warning drivers of the global consequences of filling up the tank is comparable to printing graphic images of diseased lungs on cigarette cartons; in both cases, the goal is to encourage consumers to think twice about their purchase, and ultimately cut down on their purchases.

Although the final gas pump label language has not been determined for either city, proposed designs inform the consumer about how much tailpipe carbon dioxide is produced by burning one gallon of fuel, and explain that carbon dioxide emissions are a significant factor in recent climate change. One proposed design for San Francisco’s label provides a resource for people wishing to make changes; directing people to the website gives the city the opportunity to highlight numerous ways to reduce gasoline use — from improving mileage to avoiding solo driving altogether, by car-pooling, taking public transit, biking, or walking.

Gas pump warning labels have the potential to be part of the larger strategy for the cities of Berkeley and San Francisco to seriously address climate change.

S.F. Board of Supervisors passes new support for local clean power

Photo of Hetch Hetchy by Cowgirl Jules on Flickr Creative Commons.

Photo of Hetch Hetchy by Cowgirl Jules on Flickr Creative Commons.

In a move that will help San Francisco reach its carbon-reduction goals, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously passed an ordinance that will increase the amount of clean and renewable energy flowing to the city. The legislation, sponsored by Supervisors Scott Wiener and London Breed, authorizes the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (the SFPUC) to sell much more excess hydroelectric power from the Hetch Hetchy dam system to local development projects. This policy will enable the SFPUC to reduce the City’s greenhouse-gas emissions, sell the hydro power at rates that reflect its real value, and support the City’s developing Community Choice energy program, CleanPowerSF.

Currently, the SFPUC sells most of its excess hydro power at under-market wholesale rates to municipalities outside of San Francisco. The Supervisors’ action authorizes the SFPUC to  sell the greenhouse-gas-free power at higher retail rates to large new developments here in the City (such as the new Transbay Transit Terminal project) and also to the CleanPowerSF program. PG&E is currently the default power provider in the city.

By authorizing the sale of surplus power at higher rates, the new policy will boost the SFPUC’s budget by tens of millions of dollars per year, which it can use to cover current budget shortfalls and pay for clean energy and streetlight projects that are badly in need of funds.

The legislation will also help spur the creation of new renewable energy projects in California. Cities that formerly purchased greenhouse-gas-free power from Hetch Hetchy at bargain-basement prices will now have to buy and build new clean energy sources of their own to meet climate action goals.

When it was originally introduced in July 2014, the legislation did not contain any support for CleanPowerSF. The Sierra Club and other clean energy advocates successfully pushed for an amendment that makes CleanPowerSF—once launched—a priority customer for the surplus hydro power. This amendment will help ensure that CleanPowerSF will be more cost-competitive and reliable.

The San Francisco Department of the Environment has stated that the City cannot meet its aggressive climate action goals without implementing a strong CleanPowerSF program, which would provide the City with at least 50% of its electricity from clean, local sources within the next decade. By contrast, PG&E’s power mix is only 20% renewable. CleanPowerSF will help San Francisco reduce its reliance on dirty and dangerous fossil fuels and transition to a 100% clean-energy economy. By strengthening CleanPowerSF and giving the city first right to excess hydro power, this new ordinance facilitates San Francisco’s energy transition and helps achieve climate goals.

—Eric Brooks

Read more about CleanPowerSF in “Clean-energy advocates demand mayor restore CleanpowerSF language to San Francisco Climate Action Strategy” and “CleanPowerSF deleted from San Francisco Climate Action Strategy“.


Taking down Goliath in Richmond—progressive Team Richmond defies Chevron’s millions to sweep elections

IMG_5198With checks on political spending falling away left and right, the strength of our democracy was tested this election cycle. But voters proved that democracy is alive and well in Richmond. Chevron—whose 3,000-acre refinery in the town is the state’s largest greenhouse-gas emitter—spent close to 4 million dollars on political ads with the goal of packing the city council and mayor’s office with industry-friendly candidates. Avalanches of mailers, television spots, web ads, billboards, and canvassers targeted local progressive candidates who promised to hold Chevron accountable, and forced Richmond residents to endure one of the nastiest political smear campaigns in history. Despite negative reactions from the community, Chevron kept the lies flowing all the way to the end of Election Day.

The Bay Chapter endorsed a slate of progressive city council candidates who banded together as “Team Richmond”: termed-out mayor Gayle McLaughlin, Vice Mayor Jovanka Beckles, and Planning Commissioner Eduardo Martinez. Martinez is a member of the Bay Chapter’s West Contra Costa County Executive Committee. The Club also endorsed Jael Myrick for a two-year term city council seat and Tom Butt for mayor.

Sierra Club members and supporters joined in the grassroots efforts to help Team Richmond defeat the corporate-backed candidates. We made phone calls, walked precincts, passed out slate cards, and put in as many hours as we could. And the hard work paid off: all five Sierra Club-endorsed candidates won, with McLaughlin, Beckles, and Martinez coming in first, second, and third place respectively; Myrick receiving 52% of the vote, with his closest competitor (Corky Booze) garnering only 31%; and Mayor-elect Butt taking 51% of the vote, with Chevron-backed Nat Bates coming a distant second with 35% of the vote.

Sierra Club volunteers, including Deputy Executive Director Bruce Hamilton (center) at Team Richmond headquarters on Election Day.

Sierra Club volunteers, including Deputy Executive Director Bruce Hamilton (center), at Team Richmond headquarters on Election Day.

Chevron’s campaign of lies only made Team Richmond stronger, helping to attract a loyal volunteer base that wanted a local government that would provide responsible oversight for the refinery’s 1-billion-dollar modernization project; aggressively pursue a lawsuit against the oil giant over the 2012 refinery fire; and generally provide strong oversight. Sierra Club member Victoria Stewart exemplified the passion of Team Richmond supporters, volunteering to knock on doors despite being in chemotherapy.

Richmond’s neighborhoods are disproportionately affected by the fossil fuel industry. The entire city lies in the blast zone of a potential oil-train explosion; our children breathe in the toxic emissions from the refinery; and our neighbors suffer the consequences when lax safety standards cause fires and other refinery accidents. Our newly-elected city government understands these threats and will work to correct them. Just a few weeks before the election, Mayor McLaughlin brought a resolution to the city council to formally denounce crude by rail and call upon the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to revoke Kinder Morgan’s permit for shipping highly explosive and toxic Bakken Shale oil into Richmond—a permit that was issued in secrecy. That same night, the candidates made stopping bomb trains and all fossil fuels by rail a priority cause. On election night, Richmond’s voters delivered five strong allies in the fight to turn away from our dependence on fossil fuels, and toward a safe and secure clean-energy future.

—Ratha Lai

Your help needed to protect California from the next oil-by-rail disaster

An interactive mapping tool created by ForestEthics shows the oil-train blast zone. Find out whether you live in the blast zone by visiting

An interactive mapping tool created by ForestEthics shows the oil-train blast zone. Find out whether you live in the blast zone by visiting

Right now, Phillips 66 (part of the ConocoPhillips fossil-fuel-based energy empire—the third-largest energy company in the U.S. and the fifth largest refiner in the world) is fighting to upgrade its Santa Maria refinery, located just south of San Luis Obispo, so it can begin receiving one-mile-long trains carrying explosive “extreme oil” (for more information on extreme oil, see “Bay Area Air District moves to reduce oil refinery emissions 20 percent by 2020”). If approved, these dangerous “bomb trains” will roll through thousands of California communities each day, traversing the northern and western shorelines of Contra Costa County and traveling straight through the hearts of East Bay cities in Alameda County. This project will put the communities of Antioch, Pittsburg, Bay Point, Martinez, Crockett, Rodeo, San Pablo, Richmond, El Cerrito, Albany, Berkeley, Emeryville, Oakland, San Leandro, Hayward, Union City, Fremont, and thousands more at risk for accidents and spills, threatening our air, water, and health, and contributing to climate disruption.

The many hazards

Our rail system was designed to connect population centers, not move hazardous crude oil. Emergency responders are not prepared for these heavy, dangerous trains, and current safety standards do not adequately protect the public. As the oil industry moves more crude oil across the U.S. and Canada by rail, oil-train derailments, spills, and fires are on the rise. Anyone within a mile of a rail line is within the dangerous blast zone if there is a derailment, spill, and fire. On July 6, 2013, one such accident occurred in Lac- Mégantic, Quebec, leveling the downtown area and killing 47 people.

On top of the threats to public health and safety, trains carrying extreme oil also create dangerous air pollution and threaten California’s water supplies. Volatile toxic chemicals leak out of tank cars and into the air, poisoning communities along rail lines. In its latest environmental review, Phillips 66 admitted that its proposed oil-train facility will create “significant and unavoidable” levels of air pollution, including toxic sulfur dioxide and cancer-causing chemicals. The report cites increased health risks— particularly for children and the elderly—of cancer, heart disease, respiratory disease, and premature death.

In addition, the proposed route for transporting extreme oil to the refinery in San Louis Obisbo carries trains through the San Francisco Bay-Delta watershed and along California’s treasured central coast. Each oil train carries more than three million gallons of explosive, toxic crude oil. A derailment near a river, stream, reservoir, or above a groundwater aquifer could contaminate drinking water for millions of Californians.

A double threat

The proposed oil-train terminal in Santa Maria is linked by pipeline to the Phillips 66 refinery in Rodeo, located along the San Pablo Bay in west Contra Costa County. In addition to upgrading its Santa Maria facility, Phillips 66 proposes to modify its Rodeo refinery so that it can refine the most toxic crude oil on earth: Canadian tar sands. Transporting and refining tar sands will create more toxic air and water pollution for families living along the rail line and near the refinery. At every stage of the mining, transportation, and refining process, Canadian tar sands are more carbon intensive than other sources of oil. These crudes also have a higher content of sulfur and nitrogen, meaning they are more corrosive and more highly polluting.

The Bay Area would be doubly impacted by this project if Phillips 66 gets its way: the imminent threat of crude by rail to the Santa Maria facility—on top of increased pollution and risk of accident at the Rodeo refinery. Moreover, bringing tar sands to California will drastically undermine the state’s efforts to be a global leader in addressing climate disruption.

Our opportunity

The San Luis Obispo Board of Supervisors is scheduled to make a decision on the crude-by-rail proposal in early 2015. However the Environmental Impact Review (EIR) process required under the California Environmental Quality Act is ongoing and could delay that action. Due to the submission of over 800 public comments questioning the thoroughness of the first version of the EIR, the report is being re-circulated. The San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission will hold a hearing to consider the second round of comments in Jan., 2015.


This is our best chance to stop this dangerous project. We need everyone—whether you live along the rail lines or not—to write an email to the decision makers and let them know why California must reject this reckless and highly-polluting project. Please send comments  to the San Luis Obispo Planning Commission at or by mail to:

Murry Wilson
SLO County Dept. of Planning and Building
976 Osos St., Room 200

San Luis Obispo, CA 93408.

—Jess Dervin-Ackerman

Air District moves to reduce refinery emissions 20% by 2020

Me TemplateOn October 15th, the 22-member Board of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District defied the wishes of Chevron, Shell, Tesoro, Valero, Phillips 66, and the Western States Petroleum Association by unanimously passing a resolution that blatantly prioritizes community health and safety and climate protection over corporate profits. The resolution is a victory for the Bay Chapter and a coalition of sympathetic community groups who, since 2012, have lobbied the Air District to issue stricter refinery regulations.

This important resolution directs Air District staff to craft “rules” to govern the levels, contents, and tracking of refinery emissions. The regulation requires staff to present the following regulations:

  1. A rule that inventories emissions and improves fence-line monitoring of pollutants that could harm surrounding communities.
  2. A companion rule that sets caps for each of the pollutants emitted by the refineries, ranging from carbon pollution to cancer-causing benzene.
  3. A required 20% reduction of refinery emissions by 2020—or, alternatively, require proof that refineries are using the “Best Available Control Technologies” throughout their facilities (in other words, trying as hard as possible to reach a 20% reduction). Most of the Bay Area’s refineries are nearly 100 years old, and much of the most polluting equipment is so old it was installed before air-pollution controls were implemented in 1955. Currently, these so-called “grandfathered sources” are not required to adhere to present-day regulations because they existed before the regulations began. In some cases, replacing just one of these large grandfathered sources could achieve the required 20% reduction.

Why is the Board’s action significant? Conventional crude oil, sourced from “traditional” drilling practices in California, Alaska, the Gulf, and various sites abroad, is running out. In response, oil companies are turning to what are called “extreme fuels”: crudes that are extracted through unconventional and often unsafe practices. These practices include fracking, well stimulation, and clear cutting forests to mine for tar sands. More energy, more toxic chemicals, and more dangerous practices are required to get these fuels out of the ground and processed. Bay Area refineries want to bring in two types of extreme crude: toxic Canadian Tar Sands and explosive, fracked Bakken Shale Oil (read about what you can do to stop a current proposal to bring extreme oil by rail through Bay Area communities in “Your help needed to protect California from the next oil-by-rail disaster“). Such extreme fuels are appealing to oil companies because they are cheaper to produce than importing dwindling supplies of conventional fuels. Unfortunately, they are also more dangerous, more highly polluting, and have higher costs to society.

In the past two years, multiple Bay Area refineries have filed requests to “upgrade” and “modernize” (their words)—or “retool” and “expand” (our words)—their facilities in order to keep up with the changing crude markets. These refineries want to be able to transport, receive, and process extreme fuels so that they can continue to make record profits at the expense of the health and safety of communities located near the refineries. Also at risk are those communities located along the transport routes from the extraction site to the refinery.

If proposed refinery expansions are approved and acted on before the Air District implements new rules regulating refinery emissions, the baseline emissions levels upon which regulations will be set will be much higher. A 20% reduction of emissions would thus be less significant. In that case, the Air District’s power to curb climate change and protect the health and safety of local residents and refinery workers would be severely constrained. Therefore, the Sierra Club and its partners are urging the Air District Board to implement the new rules before any new projects are approved.

The oil industry has thrown its full weight behind trying to stop, or at least weaken, the Air District’s proposed new regulations. Throughout the process, industry has continually threatened the Board with legal action over the “taking of their vested rights,” meaning the threat to the money they’ve already invested in the process of switching over to these extreme fuels. While the Board’s resolution was a step in the right direction, we can be sure that the oil industry is not giving up the fight. We need you to join us as we continue to push for new refinery regulations!


Join us at the next Air District Board meeting to defend this important action to prioritize people over corporate profits.
Wednesday, December 17th, 9:30am
939 Ellis Street, 7th Floor

—Jess Dervin-Ackerman

Green Fridays welcomes the Climate Reality Project

Friday, November 14
Doors open at 7 pm; the program runs from 7:30 to 9:30 pm
Bay Chapter office, 2530 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley

climaterealityThis month, Raines Cohen of the Climate Reality Project will present an overview of his organization, a non-profit focused on climate-change education and countering climate-change denial campaigns worldwide.

The Climate Reality Project believes that the solutions to climate change are right in front of us: we can create a healthy, sustainable, and prosperous future by making a global shift from dirty fossil fuels to clean, renewable energies. The Project works to raise awareness and bring people together to demand change.

Green Fridays is a monthly series featuring informative speakers and discussions about the important environmental issues of our time. Refreshments are served. There is a $3 suggested donation.

East Bay, along with California, moves forward with Community Choice energy

10440739_10152020396947723_3945628812076948721_nMomentum for Community Choice energy has only been building during the months-long fight against Assembly Bill 2145—nicknamed the “Utility Monopoly Protection Act”—that which would have put up major roadblocks to the implementation of Community Choice programs in California (see “AB 2145, renewable energy wrecking ball: down but not out”). AB 2145 failed to make it to the Senate floor for a vote before the state legislature adjourned on August 31st, and is now dead. With that hurdle cleared, clean-energy advocates throughout the state are energized and re-focusing on local initiatives to create or improve Community Choice energy programs from Sonoma to San Diego and everywhere in between.

In the Bay Area in particular, there has been a groundswell of movement on Community Choice. The cities of Benicia, El Cerrito, and San Pablo, as well as Napa County, have all expressed interest in joining Marin Clean Energy. Officials from Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties, along with the cities within those counties, are exploring options for creating their own Community Choice programs. Alameda County has taken a leadership role in creating an East Bay clean power program—and officials in Contra Costa County are warming up to the idea. The Bay Chapter has been actively engaged in the East Bay efforts to develop a Community Choice program, convening monthly organizing meetings with likeminded organizations and activists who want to democratize and transition our energy system to 100% renewable electricity.

On June 3rd, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to allocate $1.3 million for the study and formation of a Community Choice energy program. The county’s Community Development Agency put forward a timeline of 18 months for a feasibility study for the program, followed by another 18-month period for prepping for program launch and implementation.

One of the largest components of the feasibility study is an analysis of the energy-load data from 1.55 million county residents and establishing a plan for serving the county’s energy needs. The Alameda County Board of Supervisors has jurisdiction over the unincorporated portions of the county, which represents only 10 percent of the county’s energy load. In order for the feasibility study to be as robust and accurate as possible, individual cities within the county will also have to proactively opt-in for their load data to be included in the study; the Sierra Club and its partners are advocating for these cities to do so.

Other important components of the first 18-month period include setting up a community advisory board for the program and engaging in community outreach so that residents throughout Alameda County are informed and involved in the transformation and localization of our energy system. The extent of Contra Costa County’s participation in this program or in a separate Community Choice effort remains to be seen.


If you live in Alameda County, contact your city manager to ensure your city is included in the Community Choice feasibility study.

If you live in Contra Costa County, call your supervisors and let them know you are supportive of Community Choice! Find your supervisor’s contact information here.

Assessing the fallout: partial victories, opportunities lost with Chevron refinery project

checronThe Chevron refinery expansion project approved by the City Council this summer is a partial victory for Richmond residents concerned with clean air, climate disruption, safety, and jobs. At the same time, however, the deal represented critical missed opportunities including a reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions and additional safety upgrades.

It was a long and difficult fight. Chevron spent millions on mailers, billboards, and “citizen” rallies to promote what it claimed was simply a “modernization” project. They continually repeated the mantra “Modern equals cleaner.” How many times did we hear the comparison of a new car to an old car? Chevron spread money freely to sway public opinion and win endorsements.

Contrary to the rhetoric, Chevron’s real goal was to retool the refinery to enable it to process higher-sulfur crude oil—a process that results in more greenhouse gases and more toxic contaminants. The approval guaranteed Chevron that ability.

What We Won

Environmental and community-based groups fought hard to use the  approval process as an opportunity to reduce locally-produced greenhouse gasses, reduce toxic contaminants in the air, and make progress toward sustainable energy production. The Sierra Club worked with our allies—the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Communities for a Better Environment, Richmond Progressive Alliance, California Nurses Association, 350 Bay Area, and the Sunflower Alliance—to mobilize Richmond residents to countless trainings, community meetings, and hearings to weigh in on the project throughout the environmental review process.

With environmental groups forcing attention to the project and the August 2012 Chevron refinery fire still fresh in the community’s collective memory, the city council’s approval included important concessions. Ultimately, Chevron was required to accept greater limitations on the sulfur content of its crude, and agreed that the expanded facility would produce no increase in greenhouse gases. Since toxic emissions are generally co-pollutants with greenhouse gasses, toxic emissions will likely also be reduced. Chevron will also have to replace more piping than originally proposed and reduce diesel particulate matter. Even at the last minute, Chevron was forced to make further concessions, including $90 million in community investments over the next decade (with $8 million for green-energy programs), up from a previous pledge of $60 million.

These significant victories were the result of a mobilized community that was aware of the issues from years of organizing and education; a coalition of organizations that came together to counter the massive Chevron misinformation campaign with its own materials and outreach; and a Planning Commission (appointed by the progressive mayor and councilmembers) that was willing and able to stand up to Chevron’s intense pressure.

Opportunities Lost

Unfortunately, the city council was unwilling to stand up to Chevron and endorse all of the Planning Commission’s forward-thinking recommendations, which, if adopted, would have resulted in an even safer, more environmentally friendly project. Recommendations that were left on the table would have required: the retrofitting of tug boats; ships docked at the refinery to turn off their engines; and the facility to develop a plan to continue to reduce toxic emissions. Furthermore, the $90 million Community Benefit Agreement did not include funds to save Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo, which treated most of the patients who sought medical help after the 2012 refinery fire.

The Battle Continues

Local environmental groups are considering a legal challenge to the city council’s decision, based on the fact that some final details of the agreement were introduced without an appropriate and legal review period. The Sierra Club will report on any developments with regard to the potential lawsuit.

For its part, Chevron is continuing to campaign. It has already given $1.6 million to a Political Action Committee to elect Nat Bates as mayor and Charles Ramsey, Donna Powers, and Al Martinez to the city council. If elected, these individuals would carry out Chevron’s political agenda and squelch the progressives on the council who demanded a cleaner and safer refinery. The Sierra Club has endorsed the Team Richmond candidates: Gayle McLaughlin, Jovanka Beckles, Eduardo Martinez, and Jael Myrick for Richmond city council and Tom Butt for Mayor.

The eight-year fight surrounding the Chevron expansion project demonstrates two important points. First, when a community organizes, it can force concessions—even from powerful multinational corporations. And second, in these situations there are rarely complete victories.

—Mike Parker, Eduardo Martinez, and Jess Dervin-Ackerman

A Sierra Club intern joins the fight for refinery regulation

toon oil 2It was only the second time I had been to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District office in San Francisco… and I was already boycotting a meeting. Fifteen or so organizers from local environmental and community groups had come from all over the Bay Area to comment on the Refinery Emissions Tracking Rule, a new regulation that would institute improved monitoring standards for oil refinery emissions and potentially require refineries to reduce their emissions over time.

In anticipation of our presence, however, Air District staff had moved the Refinery Emissions Tracking Rule to the end of the agenda at the last minute, presumably in the hope that most of us would have to get back to jobs, doctors appointments, or kids long before the item would be heard before the Air District Board. So, we gathered as a group, and after some deliberation decided to walk out on the meeting, with two representatives volunteering to stay behind and voice our complaint to the Board.

The group’s frustration was not just about one wasted morning. Rather, the consensus was that the agenda switch was just the latest example in the Air District staff’s long-standing pattern of undermining and ignoring community input on this rule and other community protections we and our allies have sought. The rule—originally proposed to address the issue of refineries switching over to lower-quality crude such as the infamous Bakken and Canadian Tar Sands—has been repeatedly delayed and weakened by Air District staff since its initiation in June of 2012. A proposal put forward last year by the local steelworkers’ union and a coalition of local environmental groups for 20% emissions reductions by 2020 was seemingly ignored by Air District staff, and no other method for reducing refinery emissions and quelling community health and safety concerns has been offered since. Instead, in April of this year, Air District staff removed the proposed cap on emissions from the Rule entirely, stating that the intention was never to reduce emissions, just to monitor them.

Community members from the Sierra Club, the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, the National Resource Defense Council, Communities for a Better Environment, Global Community Monitor, the California Nurses Association, and Crockett-Rodeo United to Defend the Environment, and more have been present at full Board and subcommittee meetings for two years now, seeking an answer to the question: are we going to clean up our air or just study ourselves to death?

For too long, the Bay Area’s five oil refineries have been polluting our air and water and pouring money into local politics to ensure they can continue their dirty, harmful practices. In the Bay Area alone, air pollution kills nearly 2,000 people each year. The Sierra Club believes that it’s well past time for the Air District to take strong and bold action to protect our communities from the toxic air pollution spewing from these facilities.

For the most recent Board meeting on September 3, each group mobilized to turn out community members and draw attention to the Refinery Rule. The Sierra Club’s email alert resulted in over 760 emails to the Air District. This finally had an effect: many Board members spoke up, calling publicly for a rule with teeth that includes the emission reductions that are needed to safeguard community health. Air District staff acknowledged the comments from the community and board, and stated its plans to present on the Rule at the next Stationary Source Committee meeting on October 1. Among the supportive Board members was Director John Gioia, the chair of the Stationary Source Committee. The Sierra Club and partners hope that with Director Gioia’s support, the committee will officially recommend that the full board ask for emission reductions as a part of the Refinery Emissions Tracking Rule slated to move forward by the end of 2014.

The Bay Chapter will continue to closely follow the Air District’s actions over the coming weeks and months. With continued community input and Board support, there is still hope for stronger regulations that prevent toxic polluters from poisoning Bay Area families.

Add your voice to the growing movement in the Bay Area calling for strong and bold action to reduce dangerous emissions and carbon pollution from the refineries along the Bay. Write a letter to the Air District here.

—John Ribeiro-Broomhead is a sophomore at Stanford  University. He just completed a summer internship with the Bay Chapter’s conservation program.