Refinery fire blazed through the Richmond community

 “If Chevron violated the law,” spouted EPA Assistant Director Dan Meer at a recent public meeting,  “we will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law.”  After the refinery explosion and fire that rocked the entire Bay Areaif Chevron did NOT violate the law, maybe there is something wrong with the law.

Chevron reps announced it would pay medical expenses and reimburse property damage resulting from the heavy smoke that billowed for miles throughout the night. Not surprisingly these big statements offer no large comfort to angry and frightened residents—14,600 of whom were sent to the hospital in the aftermath of the August 6 blaze.

And while a total of 5 investigations have been launched, those living on the refinery fenceline have heard it all before—and more critically live with it everyday—not just on days Chevron’s negligence makes headlines. “In North Richmond, we are on the front lines of chemical exposure on a daily basis,” Henry Clark, founder of the West County Toxics Coalition told demonstrators on Labor Day.

What would it really take to make Chev-wrong truly responsible to the community and to the ecosystem—more hearings? A fatter fine? Up-to-date first warning systems? How about another task force made up of city officials, regulators and members of Chevron’s slick PR machine? While ideas like these have popped up at Town Hall meetings and other public forums, they all seem right out of the Chevron public-backlash playbook.

But what if we actually believed we could get what we WANTED, not just what we thought we could get? We could ask real questions such as:

  • What would  it look like if the residents of Richmond were truly in charge—would Chevron operate differently (or would it be there at all)?
  • What if the local ecosystem had legal rights and could sue Chevron … to make the local environment whole, the way it was before the refinery was ever built?

Shannon Biggs

Weekend Seminar in Richmond CA September 7-8th

These are questions Global Exchange and Women’s Earth and Climate Caucus (WECC) will be asking at a weekend seminar taking place in Richmond, CA September 7th-8th.  I’ll be there on behalf of Global Exchange, and Osprey Orielle Lake will represent WECC.

Osprey Orielle Lake, founder WECC

We are thrilled that joining the discussion will be local activist and Native American gallery owner, Pennie Opal Plant, who said, “Chevron has been destroying nature and poisoning people for over 100 years. Humanity is part of the web of life known as Nature. If Nature doesn’t have rights, then a viable future for the next seven generations is doubtful.

Pennie Opal Plant and Michael Horse from Gathering Tribes

Please join us for a rich discussion of just what rights of nature could mean for residents in Richmond, CA—and across the country. Learn what over 100 other communities across the US are doing differently to put the rights of residents and nature before corporate profits.

In this dynamic seminar we will discuss whether or not rights of nature would be a good campaign for residents of Richmond, and look at the historic 2008 event when Ecuador became the first country to include Rights of Nature in its national constitution and then cover movements since then in Bolivia and here in the U.S. as Rights of Nature takes hold as an idea whose time has come.

Rights of Nature laws create a right to legal standing, offering citizens, communities, Indigenous peoples, and others a revolutionary new way to protect the vitality of the ecosystems we live in and depend upon.

Seminar Details: The seminar will run from 7:00-9:30pm on Friday, September 7th and 10am-5pm on Saturday, September 8th. The cost for both days is $50 and includes all materials. (If you are a resident of the Richmond fenceline community, we may have a scholarship for you.   To register, please contact Jordan Vilchez (