Richmond councilman: residents should demand clean air

By Eduardo Martinez | The San Francisco Chronicle

As host to one of the biggest petroleum refineries in California, Richmond needs its residents to remain vigilant. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District is considering new refinery regulations that would require Chevron to disclose and measure the toxic emissions of its Richmond refinery and reduce them if they rise above stipulated limits, as has often occurred in the past. The air district held public workshops last week in Richmond, Martinez, Benicia and San Francisco. I urge concerned citizens to submit additional comments to the district before its March 27 deadline.

We need citizens to stand up because Big Oil doesn’t give up. The oil industry is spending tens of millions of dollars to derail our state’s landmark climate-change law, AB32. And it’s using some of the same sneaky tactics that Chevron deployed against me when I ran for Richmond City Council. Telling the truth is too risky, I guess: The vast majority of Californians want clean air and a livable climate.

Chevron, the oil giant that ranks by assets as the 18th biggest company in the worldaccording to Forbes, spent some $3 million on advertising against me and other candidates when we ran in November’s election.

Despite being outspent by 20 to 1, my team and I fought back with a grassroots campaign that showed how people power still can triumph over big money. And I can tell you, standing up to a bully feels good, especially when you win.

The industry’s battle plan was revealed in a slide deck prepared by its lobbying arm, the Western States Petroleum Association, which was leaked to Bloomberg Businessweek. Instead of engaging in open public debate about clean energy and climate progress, the association has created and funded front groups that appear to consist of ordinary people — who just happen to share the industry’s point of view.

Oil companies also invoked the bogeyman of higher taxes. “Stop the Hidden Gas Tax” proclaimed countless billboards, TV and radio ads for weeks before Jan. 1, 2015, the day transportation fuels came under the AB32 emissions cap.

There was no hidden tax. Nor has the industry’s broader claim — that AB32 would weaken California’s economy and drive away businesses — proved true. In fact, California’s economy has grown since AB32 began. We have the largest advanced energy industry in the United States, employing more than 430,000 workers, and the Golden State’s manufacturing sector leads the nation in total output. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that California vaulted over Texas as the state with the largest job growth during the past year. All this growth — and our per capita carbon emissions have dropped 17 percent since 1990.

To be sure, this increased prosperity still hasn’t reached all Californians. But the solution is not to gut our clean air laws; it is to accelerate our development of renewable energy sources and improved energy efficiency — labor-intensive activities that employ more people than drilling for oil and gas.

We need to keep shining a light on the activities of opponents to clean energy.

As a resident and public official in Richmond, I care about petroleum use for another reason as well. In 2012, an explosion at Chevron’s Richmond refinery led some 15,000 people to seek hospital treatment. The refinery’s typical emissions also take a terrible toll, as I witnessed during my 18 years as an elementary school teacher. So many students were afflicted with asthma that our school founded an Asthma Club to help kids, teachers and parents cope. That should not be.

Californians deserve clean air, a stable climate and public policy that prioritizes those goals. We should strengthen, not weaken, AB32. Tell the air district that.

Eduardo Martinez serves on the Richmond City Council.