Drawing a line in the toxic triangle - Page 2

Advocates mount a regional push for environmental justice


The refinery expansion could have meant an air-quality situation going from bad to worse. Public health problems such as asthma and cancer have spurred campaigns led by the West County Toxics Coalition, CBE, and other environmental justice groups. Tovar explained how CBE orchestrated an air-monitoring program in 2006, collecting samples from 40 homes in Richmond and 10 in Bolinas as a point of comparison.

While trace amounts of chemicals from household cleaners were present in both, samples from the Richmond residences also contained the same toxic compounds that spew from Chevron's refinery. "We found pollution known to come from the oil refinery settling inside people's homes," Tovar explained. "Once it's trapped in your home, it starts to accumulate."

Chevron won its expansion permit by a slim margin in 2008 with a city council dominated by officials who had reputations for being friendly to the oil giant. Yet environmental organizations filed suit, saying the environmental impact report (EIR) approval was based on was illegal because it failed to analyze the company's likely plans for heavier crude processing. A Contra Costa County judge ruled in favor of the environmentalists, halting the expansion project in 2009. Chevron appealed, but the decision was upheld in 2010.

Stopping the expansion was a substantial victory, but environmental justice advocates remain wary of Chevron — particularly after the company attempted to blame job losses on the green coalition that filed suit. "Chevron pit workers against us," Tovar noted. "And also started saying, 'This is why environmental laws are bad for the economy.'"



Each day, the Port of Oakland fills with trucks waiting to load up on goods shipped in from around the globe on massive cargo vessels. It's a local symbol of a globalized economy. But for the West Oakland neighborhoods surrounding the port, the daily gathering of diesel rigs means an unhealthy infusion of particulate matter into the air.

A report issued by the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE), the Pacific Institute, and the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports found that West Oakland residents are exposed to particulate matter concentrations nearly three times higher than the regional average. Health studies have shown that asthma rates in West Oakland are five times higher than that of people living in the Oakland hills, and cancer risks are threefold compared to other Bay Area cities. For the truck drivers, the risk of cancer is significantly higher than average.

A state air-quality law that went into effect in early 2010 banned pre-1994, heavily polluting diesel trucks from the port, thanks in part to years of environmental campaigning that has publicized public-health impacts associated with the diesel pollution. Yet the new regulation brought an unintended consequence: for truck drivers who must purchase their own gas and pay for their own upgrades, the new rule was ruinous. A survey by the Public Welfare Foundation found that since the new environmental regulation went into effect, 25 percent of Oakland truck drivers had declared bankruptcy, been evicted, or faced foreclosure.

Retrofitting the trucks with new air filters is a five-figure prospect, while the cost of a new truck can clear $100,000. "At the end of the day ... a lot of them will only take home about $25,000 a year," explained EBASE spokesperson Nikki Bas. "It's an immigrant workforce who are living in poverty."


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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