Drawing a line in the toxic triangle

Advocates mount a regional push for environmental justice



GREEN ISSUE California is often viewed as being among the brightest shades of green. The Golden State's landmark climate-change legislation has proven magnetic for green-tech startups, while Northern California is defined in part by its longstanding love affair with natural foods and solar power. San Francisco boasts a well-used network of bike routes, a ban on plastic bags, mandated composting of kitchen scraps, and a host of urban agriculture projects.

While much of the Bay Area's environmental reputation is well-deserved, things look different from poor neighborhoods where homes are clustered beside hulking industrial facilities and public health suffers. For years, grassroots organizations working in Richmond, Oakland, and Bayview-Hunters Point have sought to improve air quality and promote environmental justice in neighborhoods plagued by higher-than-average rates of respiratory disease, cancer, and other preventable illnesses.

The Rev. Daniel Buford of Oakland's Allen Temple Baptist Church told the Guardian that he began talking about the polluted areas of Richmond, Oakland, and San Francisco as a "toxic triangle" two decades ago. It was an analogy, he explained, that plays off the mysterious deaths that the Bermuda Triangle is famous for. Yet the label also served a purpose — to unite three communities of color that were fighting separate yet similar battles against health hazards associated with their surroundings.

"There were a lot of things that weren't in place with public consciousness that are in place now," Buford said.

Today, he isn't the only one uttering the catch phrase. A host of community organizations banded together as the Toxic Triangle Coalition last year to organize three forums on environmental justice in the three cities. Advocates cast the neighborhood-specific problems as three parts of a regionwide phenomenon, highlighting how pollution from shipping, crude oil processing, freeway transportation, abandoned manufacturing sites, hazardous waste handlers, and other industrial facilities disproportionately affect communities of color, where poverty and unemployment rates are already high.

Buford views the Toxic Triangle Coalition as a strategy to mount pressure for stronger enforcement of environmental laws in disproportionately affected areas. "We live in the whole Bay Area — we don't live in one little part of the Bay Area," he noted. "Our coalition strongly urges our state representatives in each of the counties to call for a hearing at the state level."



In Richmond, California's top greenhouse-gas emitter looms as an expansive backdrop of the city, a tangled network of smokestacks and machinery near a hillside cluster of large, cylindrical oil storage containers. Chevron Corporation's Richmond Refinery was built more than a century ago. A few years ago, the oil company began making noise about how it was in need of an upgrade.

Weaving through a blue-collar residential area of Richmond in her sedan, Jessica Guadalupe Tovar recounted how Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), the nonprofit she works for, revealed that Chevron hadn't told the whole story when it was petitioning for a permit to expand the refinery. The oil company's long-term goals, CBE learned from a financial report, included gaining capability to process thicker crude that tends to be sourced from places like Canada's Alberta tar sands.

"We call it dirty crude," she said. "But it's really dirtier crude."

Converting thicker crude to fuel requires higher temperatures and pressures — and that translates to higher greenhouse-gas emissions and a heightened risk of flaring and fires.


This is insane. You are targeting the only decent blue collar jobs left in the Bay Area with your ridiculous "environmental justice" claptrap.

Chevron alone employs thousands of people in decent jobs and pays tens of millions in taxes, not to mention the millions more it pays in shakedown money to "organizers" and other miscreants.

Go ahead. Shut it all down. Close the Port of Oakland. Shut down the refineries in Contra Costa. Send those thousands into unemployment and financial ruin.

Brilliant plan. Idiots.

Posted by Scott on Apr. 06, 2011 @ 5:20 pm

Since humans are very curious and always look for improvements in how tasks are accomplished, we know productivity will increase every year as those improvements are incorporated by other adopters who find them useful. Increased productivity is simply getting more done with the same resources or getting the same done with fewer resources (ie, workers).

Many times these improvements are on such a scale that 1% or 5% of the population is no longer needed for the work they were performing before the efficiency improvements were adopted. Thus, temporary unemployment results.

Compounding this issue here is that most of the US has been built out. Its major ports are in place; the transportation system is mostly constructed; every major city has an major airport. But outside the US there are many, many places that are yearning for these same type of infrastructure improvements so their economy can benefit like our economy has benefited over the past 50 years from these infrastructure investments.

But now, the US is so far in debt that it doesn't have too much money to spend anymore, even if some of those previous investments could use some updating. Moreover, there are far better investment opportunities overseas and those countries have currency reserves instead of massive overdebt, so they have money to spend to get these projects completed. For an investor, a rapidly depreciating dollar from the US Fed's quantitative easing programs increases these positive overseas investment returns when the profits are converted back to US dollars in the years down the road.

But the unemplyment rate shouldn't be dependent on any of these marco eceonomic factors. If we adopted a 4-day work week we'd be back to full employment immediately, wages would increase since there would be a better employment supply/demand balance, and we would all be able to improve our job skills marginally as we performed a few hours of other people's work since they are working 20% less, and other people are broadening their skills by doing some of my current work since I'm also working 20% less.

When you add the milions of free hours now available to people by adopting a 4-day work week, people will have more time to devote to their families, or to their local schools, or to work on a community project, or to finish up a personal project. It's self-evident the economic gains from ths free time would also be tremendous for the community and society. Better yet, government transfer payments for unemployment and underemployment would plumment as well, reducing the tax burden to some extent.

So Scott, I don't know where you were taught econ, but the unemployment rate they told you was the truth, is in fact fiction. We just need a better government that will enact laws to divide the work more equitably, like a maximum 4-day work week. Poof. Unemployment and under-employment disappear.

Next problem. Oh, too much government debt? How about a 10% surtax on any interest and rent income earned on amounts over $50,000 and use the proceeds to only pay down government debt? The markets wil love it since the deficits will finally be reduced. We'll have more budget money that can be used on real government programs and services rather than on crushing debt repayments. And when the debt is paid off in a few years, interest rates will be much lower since the government won't be crowding out private borrowers.

We may decide we like the surcharge so much that after the debt is paid off we'l just reduce taxes on working people instead of eliminating the 10% surtax on interest and rent income. That will allow more spending by working people, which will create more jobs and more government tax receipts.

Econ should be called the "Happy Science" for all of the wonderful things it can accomplish, rather than the "Dismal Science" that the wealthy and government would like like us to believe to cover up their fleecing of the public.

Posted by Robert on Apr. 06, 2011 @ 6:36 pm

I think you might have missed the point. This article is not about job loss or refinery shutdowns and frankly your hastily assumption comes across as highly insensitive to the communities in Richmond, W. Oakland & Bayview Hunter's Point, actual 'target' here.

The reality is that we can have both jobs & safe environments. To say that that's an impossibility is just a divide and conquer technique used to weaken any potential solutions between workers and environmentalists.

There's a perfect example in West Oakland-

Along with the diesel pollution from the Port & Freeways, there is also an industrial scrap metal recycler located in amongst the neighborhood. It's just not a good fit for the neighbors or the industry. Recycling is a growing industry however, at the current location the business is very limited by space. Relocation of this business is a win-win solution for both business and the community's environmental health. A new location would allow them to expand and create more jobs while allowing the community to breathe a little easier.

The site the recyclers want to move to is also in Oakland, about a 5 minute drive away, and is highly industrialized already. It's a much better location for the business, the community, Oakland job growth and the Oakland economy.

The point is, there are real solutions here that can be achieved without job loss but until we broaden the conversation we're going to continue to miss the point and fail to address the problem.

Posted by Jessica on Apr. 07, 2011 @ 11:23 am

Who the Hell's 'Robert'?

And, why did the principal send him to our retard corral? Amazing piece, guy. You know, Bertrand Russell said about the same thing a hundred or so years back. He said that when we reached a point where people could work 4 day weeks due to increases in productivity that the governments of the world would fight against it because a well educated citizenry with time on their hands would quickly throw the bums out.

Seriously, Robert ... what did you do to get sent to Marke's detention class?

Giants win 8-4 ... Posey drives in 4 and Timmy strikes out 13

And, h. get's high.


Posted by Guest h. brown on Apr. 06, 2011 @ 7:15 pm

What about the fine communities of Manhattan Beach, El Segundo and Hawthorn? These are wealthy communities with very high home values and good schools adjacent to the Chevron refinery in Southern California. Both refineries must meet exactly the same regulations on air quality emissions. I don’t see the same claims on health effects coming from these cities. These parts of the bay area have health effects because they are poor, probably don’t have enough money to properly heat their homes and go to the doctor for regular checkups. I may go as far to say they are poor communities because all the jobs have been driven out by activist groups producing “abandoned manufacturing sites” which according to the article apparently cause pollution problems as well.

Posted by Jason on Apr. 26, 2011 @ 9:43 am

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