Susie Cagle, THE GUARDIAN
The Chevron refinery that looms over Richmond, California, its muted orange tanks nestled into the scrubby low-slung hills above San Francisco Bay, is older than the city itself.
The refinery processes nearly 250,000 barrels of crude oil each day. When it “flares”, as it did more often in 2018 than in any other year over the past decade, dark smoke spirals up and across town in the bay breeze.
When it explodes, like it did in 1989, 1999 and 2012, the thick cloud is visible across the bay and beyond, a blot against the sky that ascends before falling and settling on everything within a multi-mile vicinity that is not covered, closed or sealed up.
A fire on 6 August 2012 sent more than 15,000 people to seek treatment for respiratory distress at local hospitals.
Richmond has long been known for the three Cs: crime, corruption and Chevron. You could also add coal to that list, which the Levin-Richmond terminal began exporting out of the city in 2013, along with coke, the petroleum-refining byproduct.
Despite its proximity to San Francisco and Silicon Valley’s wealth, Richmond’s median household income is below the California state average, with more than 15% of residents living in poverty. More than 80% of residents are people of colour. And Richmond children have roughly twice the rate of asthma as their neighbours countywide.
“It’s a textbook example of an environmental justice community,” said Matt Holmes, the executive director of the nonprofit Groundwork Richmond. “I think the whole country owes Richmond a debt.”
And the city is here to collect. Richmond may be a company city, but it is in open and sustained conflict with the industries that sustain it. Environmental justice activists here are fighting a multi-front war against the fossil fuels that gave the city life, but which, they argue, are also slowly killing it.