By Tim Hill
On Feb. 9, residents of Richmond witnessed a familiar sight that, once again, sparked outrage. Looming over the city like a cruel despot, the Chevron refinery unleashed its deadly product into the bay when approximately 600 gallons of the dirtiest crude oil possible spilled into its waters.The spill generated fear in residents, since the leaked oil creates threats to their health, quality of life, and the environment around them.
“The whole area smells like a gas station,” San Francisco Baykeeper Alliance Executive Director Sejal Choksi-Chugh said in an interview, “And there’s the possibility of long-term, unknown damage to the Bay itself and to all the wildlife that depend on it.”
That wildlife includes herring and other fish species, whose spawning grounds include the sensitive eelgrass habitat around Point Molate.
According to KQED, over the last 14 years, Chevron has donated over a million dollars to Republicans that continue to bow to their whims and peddle their lies and misinformation over climate change. Among those receiving the donations are Reps. Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield and Devin Nunes of Visalia. They received $106,000 and $58,000 and both continue to be staunch allies of former president Donald Trump.
This type of pollution is a daily reality for the people of Richmond, not to mention the wildlife. Between the explosion from last month and the presence of toxic smoke in the air from their refinery plant that was documented back in November. The environmental injustices that plague Richmond never seem to end.
On Feb. 16, a Richmond City Council meeting was held to discuss the spill. Baykeeper Staff Attorney Ben Eichenberg said, “Chevron’s detection system failed to warn of a problem as soon as the leak started, and it’s only by luck and notification by local residents that more oil wasn’t spilled and that it wasn’t a heavier fuel, which Chevron is known to transport through their pipes.”
In an interview with KQED’s senior editor Ted Goldberg, a veteran of climate change coverage with a speciality in pipelines and refineries, stated, “There was a proposal last year to try to create more space between oil drilling sites and communities. And it wasn’t just Republicans that stopped that bill from moving forward. There were several moderate Democrats who reporters later revealed had gotten contributions from the oil industry who voted no on that. So, you know, while California has very big goals and has invested a significant amount of resources to move away from fossil fuels, you know, it is not an easy task to be done, you know, when the oil industry needs to flex its muscles to protect itself.”
Despite Richmond being across the bay and in a different county, the effects of this oil spill, and the many days with harmful air quality created by it will undoubtedly affect San Francisco residents, since it is on the other side of the water. The number of air advisory days will continue to increase, and we have only Chevron and its birth mother of capitalism to blame for it.
Thankfully due to the work of groups like San Francisco Baykeepers Alliance, Idle No More, 350 Bay Area, the Sierra Club, and many other climate and labor groups, Chevron’s power and greed will continue to be resisted by activists who will hopefully inspire fellow citizens to engage in the grassroots organizing needed to attain tangible grassroots victories. Former Richmond mayor and City Council member Gayle McGlaughlin and Indigenous organizer Pennie Opal Plant are also among the many organizers who are fighting for these changes via legal and grassroots routes. Both are effective and have their place of importance, and both are needed NOW.