Environment

Phillips 66 Tar Sands and the Bay

Richmond has been battling Chevron’s refinery emissions for decades. But did you know that just north of us in Rodeo the Phillips 66 refinery is planning a huge expansion that would double the number of tankers bringing crude oil into the Bay? To make matters worse, according to Baykeeper:

“The oil arriving at the Phillips refinery will likely be dirty, heavy tar sands oil. This type of oil is difficult, if not impossible, to remove after a spill. In 2010, when tar sands oil spilled into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River, response crews were unable to completely remove the oil from the riverbed, even after five years of cleanup efforts. If tar sands oil spilled in San Francisco Bay, it could irreparably smother bottom-dwelling life forms that are critical to the Bay’s food chain.

“The Phillips refinery also has a poor track record of oil spills. [In September 2016,] oil was spilled during the unloading of a tanker ship, causing large oil slicks in northern San Francisco Bay. Over 100 nearby residents sought treatment at hospital emergency rooms for exposure to unidentified fumes, and Vallejo officials urged community members to stay indoors with their windows closed. Until recently, the refinery denied any responsibility for the oil spill that is now linked to the nearby air quality complaints.

“More than doubling the number of oil tankers on their way to Phillips 66 via the Bay would increase the risk of spills. What’s more, the oil tankers will need to navigate through a San Francisco Bay shipping channel that is scheduled for less frequent dredging than in the past, due to new budget concerns raised by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. While the exact effects of reduced dredging on tanker traffic are unclear, it is possible that the risk of tankers running aground will increase."

Phillips is pushing this proposal because San Luis Obispo, concerned about oil spills and health impacts, recently quashed the company's efforts to bring more oil into their SLO refinery via train.

Bring Pt. Molate Out from Behind Closed Doors

What happens with Pt. Molate may well determine what kind of city Richmond becomes. It is a remarkable shoreline property owned by all the people of Richmond. We are entitled to have the major say in what it becomes, and any decision about the destiny of Pt. Molate should go through the established public planning process, not be quietly decided behind closed doors.

Therefore, the RPA steering committee unanimously supports the city council proceeding with the promised community meetings on the future of Pt. Molate before further settlement negotiations with Jim Levine/Upstream, LLC. After the community meetings, if there are further settlement negotiations between the city and former Pt Molate casino developer, they will be in line with what the people of Richmond want for Pt Molate.

A City has a right to decide how it wants to develop, especially with an important public asset like Pt. Molate. Land use decisions should be determined publicly because they are critical to how a city develops, and for whom. In April, 2012, the City Council approved the 2030 General Plan under resolution 52-12 that included the provision that Pt. Molate’s future land uses be put to a public planning process so residents have the primary say in what happens there.

In September 2016, the city council voted to hold community meetings to fulfill this promise. They asked the Pt Molate Community Advisory Committee to work on the design of the community meetings with Planning Dept Director, Richard Mitchell, but Mayor Butt subsequently dissolved the citizen’s advisory committee.

To ensure that comprehensive and inclusive community meetings on Pt. Molate would occur, Council members Willis and Choi received a unanimous vote in November of last year to pursue the public meetings through another citizen’s advisory body, the Planning Commission. Willis and Choi’s agenda item directed the Commission to work with Mr. Mitchell to offer the scheduled community meetings to Richmond residents late this spring.

At the start of 2018, the Planning Commission took up the charge and held a public hearing to how to do effective community outreach and organize comprehensive and accessible public planning meetings for Pt. Molate. However, not long afterwards Mayor Butt announced in his email posting that the city had reached a settlement agreement “in principle” with Jim Levine/Upstream, LLC, the proposed Pt Molate casino developer.

Now, city council members are under intense pressure to approve a rushed settlement deal with Jim Levine, even though the strength of Levine’s lawsuit appears to be overblown. While there are various past studies on Pt. Molate to draw from, a publicly-vetted plan to fulfill the 2012 Council resolution has yet to be done.

Let the City Council members know that any further settlement negotiations with Jim Levine/Upstream, or any other private developer, must be guided by an open public planning process that involves the people of Richmond. The future of this magnificent 400-acre public land on the SF Bay should not be decided by any backroom deal. Pt. Molate deserves to be looked at within Richmond’s overall future direction, including the kinds of development and community benefits Richmond residents need now and in the decades ahead.

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.