Still Stinky: West County Landfill

Remember that huge problem with Republic Services’ West County landfill and composting facility? In early 2017 Republic got a cease and desist order from Contra Costa County health officials after the City and County received some 400 calls in 2016 about foul smells emanating from the site. People reported nausea, headaches and throat irritations, and when county health officials visited the site, they saw seven fires burning. It turned out that Republic Services was not only grossly mishandling the waste, but they were handling 350,000 tons of materials when they were only permitted for 1/10 that amount.

The facility has been under intense scrutiny by various agencies, including the California Water Board (which found the facility was endangering water quality) and the CCC Solid Waste Authority. The latest development is that a new report commissioned by the Solid Waste Authority found that the problems are continuing into 2018. The facility continues to process far too much waste than their permits allow, which contributes to dangerously elevated temperatures in the compost piles and ponded water. To date, the composting facility has been noticed 103 times for standard violations and noticed with 7 areas of concern.

Richmond deserves better!

Richmond Sues Chevron Over Climate Change

Last month Richmond became the ninth city to sue fossil fuel companies such as Chevron for the costs of adapting to climate change impacts. Such impacts include droughts, heatwaves and sea level rise. For example, the complaint asserts:

"Sea level rise endangers City property and infrastructure, causing coastal flooding of low-lying areas, erosion, salinity intrusion, higher risk of liquefaction during seismic events, and storm surges. Several critical City facilities, existing roadways, wastewater treatment facilities, residential neighborhoods, industrial areas including the Port of Richmond and the Chevron Refinery, highways, rail lines, emergency response facilities, and parks have suffered and/or will suffer injuries due to sea level rise expected by the end of this century …"

According to the complaint, the city “has already spent significant funds to study, mitigate, and adapt to the effects of global warming.”

Richmond’s suit is similar one filed earlier by Santz Cruz, Oakland and San Francisco. It suit does not seek a particular sum of money, but seeks to shift the cost of future damages away from taxpayers and onto the fossil fuel companies. These climate lawsuits follow the same legal strategies that were used to hold tobacco companies accountable for the effects of smoking.

Richmond is Covered in Coal

In case you missed it, the East Bay Express recently ran an article about the local public health impacts of the Levin-Richmond terminal in Richmond.

An excerpt:

In October 2014, Sylvia Hopkins first noticed the line of coal cars sitting on tracks close to her home in Richmond's Atchison Village. Shortly thereafter, she began to discover black, greasy deposits on her windowsills. "I went on the 'Toxic Tour' of Richmond in 2015," she said. "I saw the uncovered coal piles directly in the line of winds blowing from the bay."

Her lungs, she said, "are not what they were," and she lays blame directly on the coal and petcoke shipments going through the Levin-Richmond Terminal, a privately owned marine terminal that began exporting coal in 2013 and has been exporting petroleum coke, the byproduct of oil refining known as "petcoke," for decades. Records show the terminal has ramped up its coal and petcoke shipments during the last three years.

Hopkins was not the only one who noticed. Andres Soto, a longtime community activist who now is with Communities for a Better Environment, began seeing multi-car coal trains sitting on the tracks next to the BART station in Richmond four years ago. "And the Phillips 66 refinery in Rodeo is producing huge amounts of petcoke for export to Asia and Latin America," he said.

To read more, click here.

A Toxic Tour with Tales of Resistance

The following is an excerpt from a recent article from BeyondChron.org, authored by Steve Early:

Every several months, [Andres Soto] conducts what’s now called a “Toxics and Resilience Tour” of Richmond.” Soto’s tours, by bus and on foot, began as a mobile history lesson for students from the RYSE Youth Center. Then a member of the RYSE board, Soto discovered that many young people in Richmond “don’t know which came first—World War II or the Vietnam War” and know even less about their own hometown history…

As a boy growing up in a Mexican-American immigrant family, Soto had early exposure to the industrial hazards he campaigns against today.  He recalls seeing Richmond refinery flaring, off in the distance, for the first time at age ten. He thought the pulsating glow “was so cool—like a fire-breathing dragon.” On weekends, he would go with his father, as many Richmond families once did, to deposit trash at the city dump, located in North Richmond.

At that stop on his toxic tours today, Soto describes those long ago outings as a foul-smelling but exciting “male adventure.” The dump “contained 100 years worth of garbage, a mountain of it, 185 feet tall, piled up like a modern-day midden” or the  “shell-mounds” left behind more discreetly, on the shores of San Francisco Bay, by Native-Americans who were, Soto points out, far better stewards of the land.

Click here to continue reading.

Something stinks: Richmond compost facility

As environmentally conscious folks, many of us gladly fill up our green bin every week, and giddily anticipate free compost giveaways at Richmond's Earth Day celebrations. But what if our city’s compost facility is not that green?

At the beginning of this year, Contra Costa County health officials issued a cease and desist letter to Republic Services’ Richmond composting facility. City and County agencies had received some 400 calls about foul smells emanating from the site, including some people reporting nausea, headaches and throat irritations. When county health officials visited the site, they saw seven fires burning – not a good sign. Also, it turned out that Republic Services was handling 350,000 tons of materials when they were only permitted for 1/10 that amount.

A few months later, the California Water Board found that the facility was in violation of other regulations; one of the slopes on the landfill had failed, threatening local water resources. Then in September, Cal Recycle (the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery) notified the City Council that because of the fire problems at the facility, the landfill had been put on a list of facilities that chronically violate state minimum standards for solid waste handling. And as a result, the CCC Health Services Department was going to put the facility under a strict compliance schedule.

The landfill’s Land Use permit is apparently expiring soon, and needs to be re-permitted; the City should take this opportunity to ensure that Republic addresses these issues, for the sake of our environment, residents and facility workers.

BAAQMD Opening Up Their Permitting Process

This is a big deal! For the first time in many years, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) will be considering revisions to their permitting process.  The Air District’s permitting track record is littered with examples of them rubber stamping projects that endanger community health and destabilize the climate.  Can that behavior be reformed?

With enough public pressure it can! Unfortunately, the Air District is claiming that AB 398—the recently passed cap and trade extension bill— prohibits them from directly regulating CO2 emissions.  Although the bill specifically restricts Air Districts from taking actions that produce CO2 reductions, BAAQMD legal staff insists that this also prohibits them from preventing future emission increases.  

As a result, staff’s proposed improvements to current permitting rules, Rules 2-X,  intentionally do nothing to control future CO2 emissions.  The result is that dangerous projects—like the proposed expansion of crude-by-ship into the Phillips 66 marina at the Rodeo refinery—will continue to be rubber stamped.  The “improvements” fail to prevent the increased emissions that inevitably follow from changes to dirtier, more GHG- and toxics- emitting crude sources.

Staff is using the same interpretation of AB 398 to argue that Rule 12-16, the proposed refinery emissions cap, can no longer be considered.

Gov. Brown: Not as Green as Meets the Eye

Brown_oil.pngGovernor Brown jetted to Bonn, Germany last month in an attempt to showcase California’s leadership on climate change. While there are indeed inspiring things happening in this state, savvy enviros and grassroots activists are not buying the Brown’s greenwash. When he was confronted with climate justice and indigenous peoples organizations chanting “Keep it in the ground!,” Brown retorted in Trumpian style, “Let’s put you in the ground.” (Ouch!)

A recent oped by Bill McKibben in The New Yorker, titled “Why Governor Jerry Brown was booed at the climate summit,” sums it up:

Brown has so far declined to curtail even fracking and urban drilling, the dirtiest and most dangerous kinds. In his Bonn speech, he offered the most tired of explanations: “If I could turn off the oil today, thirty-two million vehicles would stop, and ten million jobs would be destroyed overnight.” But, of course, no one is talking about turning off the flow of oil overnight. That’s the point of “managed decline”—an orderly retreat from the fossil-fuel precipice. And, in truth, no one is better situated than Brown to lead it. California doesn’t depend on oil and gas the way that, say, Russia or Saudi Arabia or Oklahoma does; the state is full of the world’s most vigorous entrepreneurs, many of them making fortunes on the energy transition.

And then there’s the fact that Brown is on the way out, term-limited and hence insulated from the political power of the fossil-fuel industry. He could do his successor—and the rest of the world—a huge favor by, for instance, announcing that California will no longer grant new permits for exploration or major infrastructure development. Such a commitment would shut down nothing except the petroleum industry’s scientifically and economically flawed assumption that it can maintain its business model indefinitely.

Brown may be captured by corporations like Chevron, which contribute millions to his campaigns, but real leadership is coming from the grassroots across California. Five counties have banned fracking (something that Brown is loathe to do). The most closely-watched ban is Monterey County’s Measure Z, which voters approved in a 2016 countywide ballot initiative. It calls for an end to fracking, new oil wells and a phaseout of wastewater injection in the county; and is being challenged in the courts by Chevron and other oil companies. A Monterey Superior Court judge is expected to rule soon on it.

Activists Protect Community from Toxic Coal Dust

Trains heaped with coal pass through Richmond every week on their way to the city’s port.
In Parchester Village, a largely black and Latino neighborhood in northwestern Richmond, residents say coal dust blows off the open mounds, covering the grass and coating their screen doors.
“This little neighborhood, nobody seems to care about,” says Paul Marquis, who moved to Parchester Village three years ago.
Marquis says in the last year, he’s seen more trains go by, and more black dust on his property.
“It’s everywhere,” he says. “If your truck sits here for two, three days without moving you can write your name on the front.”
To demonstrate, Marquis pours a bucket of water down his screen door.
It runs off dark.

--“Coal dust worries Richmond Residents,” KQED Science, June 22, 2015

coa_l.pngAt the Levin-Richmond Terminal, which at its peak moved more than a million tons of coal per year, the wind blows over massive uncovered piles of dirty coal, carrying toxic dust into nearby neighborhoods and into the Bay. Coal dust is laced with toxins such as arsenic, lead, and mercury; and prolonged inhalation is linked to chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and cancer. According to the Sierra Club, “each open-top rail car can lose up to 600 pounds of coal dust on the journey from the mine to the port; this translates to 60,000 pounds of toxic fine particulate matter entering our air and water for every trip made by a coal train.”

Activists have worked for years to curb exports of coal and petroleum coke (petcoke), which not only create local health impacts but also spell climate disaster. A Clean Water Act lawsuit filed by Baykeeper introduced some improvements: in 2014 the company agreed to enclose the conveyor system it used to load the ships and to pause operations on very windy days. This helped prevent coal from dropping and blowing into the Bay, but unfortunately did nothing to address the coal dust problem.

Shortly thereafter, the Richmond City Council passed two resolutions: one calls on the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to ensure that all piles of coal and petcoke to be stored in enclosed facilities. The other opposes the transport of coal and petcoke along waterways and through densely populated areas, and prohibits exports from city land. Those were important signals, but much more needs to be done to protect our community’s health.

Environmental activists vowed to redouble their efforts on the Levinson-Richmond terminal at a campaign meeting at the Bobby Bowens Progressive Center.

More To Do With BAAQMD

Sure, it feels like Groundhog Day in September, déjà vu all over again. But, hey, climate justice activists are used to beating our heads against the wall. So when Jack Broadbent, Chief Executive Officer/Air Pollution Control Officer for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, tells us to abandon hope for capping refinery emissions because, well, the latest cap and trade bill -- we’re supposed to roll over and fade politely into the polluted Technicolor sunset, right?

Well, wrong.

For purposes of BAAQMD, the 2017-18 season opens on September 20th. Despite the questionable assertion Broadbent made at the August Board meeting—that everyone in Sacramento knows the general consensus was to remove “duplicative regulation” of greenhouse gases via the cap-and-trade extension bill (AB 398) -- we’ve been hearing the exact opposite. Highly placed friends in Sacramento wanted to make sure that BAAQMD’s cap on refinery emissions was protected under the new legislation.

Caps on refinery emissions prevent increases of emissions. They don’t actually reduce emissions. Therefore, they are not preempted by AB 398.  The RPA will be working to get caps on criteria pollutants and carbon dioxide back on the BAAQMD agenda where they belong. The original version of Rule 12-16 addressed both criteria pollutants and greenhouse gases and is now more relevant than ever.

Contribute to Defense of Richmond Pipeline Protesters

In the early morning of July 31, for the second Monday in a row, protesters locked themselves in front of the gates of Kinder Morgan’s Richmond facility, leaving tanker trucks stranded for hours while police and firefighters figured out how to detach the blockaders.

Kinder Morgan, one of North America’s largest oil infrastructure companies, is now attempting to triple the size of its pipeline that runs from the Alberta Tar Sands to the Pacific Ocean. The planned pipeline runs through the land of several First Nations, who are fighting to stop it. If completed, the project would deliver tar sands crude oil to ships for transport to refineries in Asia and the US West Coast, including the Bay Area. Increasing the refining of tar sands crude oil would not only further endanger the climate, but increase health and safety dangers to already polluted communities.

The action for two consecutive Mondays, organized by Diablo Rising Tide, was a show of solidarity with the First Nations fighting the pipeline. It was also part of the Bay Area’s fight against an influx of tar sands oil to local refineries.

Diablo Rising Tide is raising money to bail out those arrested. Contribute here. See a video of the July 31 action  and find out more info.