Another Victory Over the Fossil Fuel Industry in Richmond

Another Victory Over the Fossil Fuel Industry in Richmond

Train tracks richmond

Photo Credit: Tony Tamayo

On Friday, November 12, the City of Richmond announced it had finally reached a settlement agreement with the Levin-Richmond Terminal Corporation. After 18 months of litigation, the parties agreed to end the storage of coal and petroleum coke (“petcoke”) in Richmond by 2027. The settlement ends a legal battle between Richmond, three fossil fuel companies, and the state of Utah that was fought in both state and federal court. The outcome is being hailed as a major win for environmental justice organizations and Richmond residents alike. 

The litigation began when, in early 2020, the former City Council approved an ordinance prohibiting the storage and handling of coal and petcoke within Richmond. The ordinance was the result of ongoing community efforts to address the coal dust produced at the Levin Terminal and traveling into the surrounding Richmond neighborhoods.

The Levin-Richmond Terminal, which is privately owned by the Levin Richmond Terminal Corporation, is one of only three coal terminals in operation on the West Coast. According to No Coal in Richmond, an alliance of organizations and concerned residents, “toxic dust from coal and petroleum coke (pet coke) is polluting our neighborhoods. Richmond CA residents living and working near the Levin-Richmond Terminal see this dust outside on our cars and window sills. What we don't see are the microscopic harmful substances going deep into our lungs. They're in the air we breathe, in our homes, and where we work and play.”  

The Environmental Protection Agency has classified numerous Richmond neighborhoods as “disadvantaged,” and with good reason. Coal storage and transport at Levin contribute to a multitude of environmental health risks faced by Richmond residents, which also include pollution from the Chevron refinery and two major freeways. Fine particulate pollution has been linked to increased deaths and illnesses due to cardiovascular and respiratory conditions. 

In addition, a 2017 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research has estimated that storage and handling creates pollution that generates additional local health costs of about $183 per ton of coal stored. 2019 data from the U.S. Census Bureau,which tracks trade, shows that coal exports through the Levin Richmond terminal reached 738,000 tons. These two data points indicate that the health costs of coal storage at the 2019 tonnage rate could amount to $135,054,000 in health costs for the community. 

In response to the 2020 ordinance, three lawsuits were filed against the City of Richmond. The first came from Levin Richmond Terminal Corporation, as the port owner and terminal operator; another from Utah mining company Wolverine Fuels, which exports coal through the terminal; and a third from Phillips66, a fossil fuel company using Levin for petcoke export. Levin alleged that the ordinance violated its constitutional rights to due process, equal protection and contractual relations. Utah joined Wolverine Fuels’ lawsuit at the beginning of 2021, further alleging that the ban would arbitrarily impact a significant component of the state’s economy

Originally, the ordinance that inspired the lawsuit provided a three-year phase-out period, with the coal ban to be in full effect by the end of 2023. The settlement sets the phase-out period to five years from the time of the agreement, meaning the coal ban will be in full effect by the beginning of 2027. The settlement also stipulates that, in the meantime, Levin must address the presence of coal dust in the surrounding community via ten additional mitigation procedures.