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Challenging Chevron: From the Bay to Iraq
by Puck Lo
Monday Mar 17th, 2008 3:13 PM
Chevron is the third largest company in the US…seventh largest in the world. Last year, Chevron Phillips Chemical Company- also known as Conoco Phillips- made over $18 billion in profits – the highest amount ever made in it's nearly 130 year history. According to the Dept of Energy, Chevron has been refining oil from Iraq at its Richmond refinery since the war began. On Saturday, activists blockaded a Chevron refinery in Northern California, the first MOVE in a week of actions designed to "bring the war home." Puck Lo files this report From Richmond, CA.
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Chevron is the third largest company in the US…seventh largest in the world. Last year, Chevron Phillips Chemical Company- also known as Conoco Phillips- made over $18 billion in profits – the highest amount ever made in it's nearly 130 year history. Activists say that Chevron profits from domestic environmental racism and US imperialism. The group "Direct Action to Stop the War" alleges that Chevron supported the Bush administration's attempts to force the Iraqi government to open its nationalized oil industry to foreign investment and control. According to the Dept of Energy, Chevron has been refining oil from Iraq at its Richmond refinery since the war began. On Saturday, activists blockaded a Chevron refinery in Northern California, the first MOVE in a week of actions designed to "bring the war home." Puck Lo files this report From Richmond, CA.

A brass band accompanied more than three hundred antiwar activists who marched to the refinery, where dozens sat with their arms "locked down" in PVC tubes, blocking the street. Eventually, police arrested 24 of the protesters, who formed a human barricade outside the massive Chevron oil refinery…

Chevron's Richmond refinery has long been contentious to many local residents who say the corporation is polluting low-income communities of color in the Bay Area. Richmond is directly across the San Francisco Bay from wealthy Marin County, but it is one of the most impoverished cities in the area... known for its depressed, post-industrial economy and high rates of violence.

And it has a long history of racist segregation. That's according to Mary "Peace" Head, a Richmond resident of 65 years:

"After the war they didn't want Black people around, so they built this community special for us…"

That community is located downwind from the Chevron oil refinery.

Head says that Chevron subsidizes many of Richmond's festivals and even social programs:

"It's not a whole lot of rich people who live in Richmond. It's a whole lot of donations that they give…It's very few things that go on in Richmond that Chevron doesn't support."

But others argue that Richmond shouldn't have to rely on corporate donations to fund services.

"All the money spent on the war could have been spent on education and our community here…"

Torm Nompraseurt is a Laotian immigrant who works with the Asian Pacific Environmental Network. He says Southeast Asians make up 10 percent of Richmond's population. Many of them –including himself- are refugees of US military invasions. Now most of them suffer from adverse health conditions they think are caused by pollution from the refinery.

"Every time our community here die, the result is always they have cancer. This cancer, that cancer. And also our young kids- and our elders- have a lot of asthma in our community."

It's a critical moment in the protracted battle between Chevron and its Bay Area opponents. At issue is a controversial proposal from Chevron. They want to replace several of its Richmond facilities and upgrade existing processing equipment. Local residents fear that the upgrades will allow Chevron to process dirtier, more polluting, crude oils because they are cheaper.

Jessica Tovar is with the environmental justice group, Communities for a Better Environment. She says:

"They're laying down the infrastructure to be able to process thicker crude oil. But they've disguised it as "upgrades" to the refinery."

Chevron officials – who have not returned phone calls at the time of this report- say that the proposed change would not increase pollution.

But Richmond's Mayor, Gail McLaughlin, calls the environmental assessment submitted by Chevron incomplete.

"Chevron, through this proposed project, wants to increase yearly greenhouse gas emissions 898,000 metric tons. This is not what our environment needs. And the sulfur- and all the other volatile organic compounds, the flaring… All this is something the Environmental Impact Report needs to fully reveal, needs to tell us what that impact is…"


Aileen Suzara is a Board member of Filipino/American Coalition for Environmental Solidarity. They work to build support for people in the Philippines who suffer from Chevron's toxic pollution there.

Suzara says that environmental justice becomes "transnational" when US residents pressure US corporations to stop polluting in communities overseas, as well as in their home countries.

"Right now everyone is marching, going to the Chevron refineries here, and just over in San Ramon, there's the international headquarters for Chevron. So that's been an active site, saying that, you know, even though we are overseas, what's being decided by people who live here- the Board of Directors who lives here, shareholders who live here… are intimately connected with the lives of people overseas."

The city will hold a public hearing on Chevron's application for the refinery upgrade this Thursday.

In Richmond, CA, this is Puck Lo, Free Speech Radio News.