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Neighbors Win One in Struggle Against Bullying Oil Refinery

Update:This month, Chevron quietly let pass its final opportunity to appeal a California Court of Appeal decision that rejected the Environmental Impact Report for its expansion project at the Richmond Refinery.

Most of us know what it's like to have a bad neighbor—but imagine one so bad that you're forced to regularly hide indoors from it.

Such a bully has long stalked the communities of Richmond, CA, but this week they got help—from the California State Court of Appeals. The court sided with residents against their nightmare neighbor, a Chevron Corporation oil refinery that's been pouring toxic pollution upon them for years, that would like to make things even worse by refining thicker, dirtier oil.

The court stopped Chevron dead in its tracks because its expansion plan relied on an Environmental Impact Report so deficient that the court ruled it illegal. It's not likely the end of this fight, but for Earthjustice and the folks it's standing up for, this is the best news they've had in years of struggle with Chevron.

"The court agrees that the people of Richmond have a right to know just how dirty the crude oil processed in this refinery will be," said Earthjustice attorney Will Rostov.

Harm at the hands of Chevron's refinery is something these neighbors have been facing—and trying to duck—for decades. Aside from the routine exposure they endure from refinery pollution, they often are forced to shelter inside their homes or businesses when the facility has accidents, fires and even explosions that significantly increase pollutant output.

"African American, Latino, and Asian communities near the refinery have borne a disproportionate burden of exposure to pollution from the refinery for decades. And the community has been fighting back for decades—this victory is huge," said Dr. Henry Clark, executive director of West County Toxics Coalition.

The Coalition is one of several environmental justice groups represented by Earthjustice, including Communities for a Better Environment and the Asian Pacific Environmental Network. On their behalf, Earthjustice sued Richmond over its approval of the refinery expansion in 2008, saying the EIR violated the California Environmental Quality Act. Last year, a state court tossed out that EIR and halted further work on the refinery expansion.

The groups charge that the refinery would likely emit significantly more toxic pollution if it begins refining dirtier crude oil. This pollution would include chemicals linked to cancer and respiratory ailments.

The impacts of the expansion are global as well as local. The Chevron Richmond refinery is the single largest source of greenhouse gas pollution in the state, according to data released by the California Air Resources Board in 2009.

Tags:  oil

About the Earthjustice Blog

unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders. Learn more about Earthjustice.