In Richmond, California, a major problem is developing between activists and workers at the Chevron oil refinery. The refinery, which employs 3,000 union workers, is a major source of pollution and a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions on the West Coast. Activists, advocating for a fossil fuel-free community, believe closing the refinery is a necessary step. However, it will eliminate the jobs that workers have been fighting for.
Marisol Cantú, a labor activist and English as a Second Language instructor, finds herself in a challenging situation. As a vocal opponent of the fossil fuel industry, he felt the need to support striking workers. Cantú comes from a union background and has been involved in the labor movement for many years. He understands the importance of jobs for workers, but also recognizes the environmental concerns associated with the refinery.
The city of Richmond has a history of activism against Chevron because of the environmental injustices caused by the refinery. Pollution from the refinery, along with emissions from diesel trucks and the nearby port, has led to health problems such as respiratory disorders and high rates of childhood asthma. Despite these health risks, it is unusual for political leaders to call for the closure of a refinery, especially if it is a major industry in the area.
However, if the United States wants to seriously tackle climate change, communities that depend on the oil industry must have difficult conversations about the future of refineries. A detailed analysis by the environmental justice organization Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) concluded that California cannot meet its climate goals without reducing oil processing at refineries. Activists oppose alternative measures such as carbon capture and storage or converting refineries to produce alternative fuels, as they believe they still endanger communities.
In the case of the Chevron refinery in Richmond, local activists are considering planning to shut it down. They believe the city has enough legal and political authority to decide when and how to close. This bold idea could have major implications for the state and oil communities across the country.