The Tip of the Iceberg

Written by: Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, CEO of Green For All

We learned over the weekend that Chevron is under criminal investigation for air violations that have put thousands of Bay Area residents at risk for at least four years. 

New reports show that the company skirted rules designed to protect our air—in one case using a pipe to circumvent a required air-monitoring device. The Environmental Protection Agency is now investigating whether or not this was an intentional attempt by the company to keep local air district officials and community members in the dark about potentially harmful hydrocarbons that residents and their children were breathing.

This latest discovery is just the tip of the iceberg. How many other safety rules has Chevron been breaking at its Richmond refinery? How many rules is it breaking at other facilities across America? How many communities, right this moment, are unwittingly breathing in dangerous chemicals while Chevron works to keep them in the dark?

And how many safety rules was Chevron breaking when its Richmond refinery exploded into flames on August 6, sending 15,000 of its neighbors to seek medical treatment? We already know that the company failed to replace a corroded pipe that led to the accident. The fire was terrifying to the people living near the refinery, who watched a massive plume of black smoke rise over their community. It was a wakeup call that should result in full transparency and accountability from Chevron moving forward. It certainly shouldn’t take another life-threatening disaster to get the company to clean up its act.

If nothing else, this latest development underscores just how important the Environmental Protection Agency is. It’s clear that Chevron cannot be counted on to monitor itself, or to be transparent and honest about safety failures and pollution levels. In Richmond, and in too many other places around the country, the EPA has become one of the only things standing between polluting companies like Chevron and our safety, our health, and our kids’ lungs.

Richmond residents—and all Americans, everywhere—have a right to breathe clean air and drink clean water. They have a right to know if their children are inhaling chemicals that cause asthma, cancer, and other diseases. That’s the whole purpose of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. That’s the whole purpose of the EPA.

We hope that as EPA’s investigation unfolds, it leads to more transparency and tighter regulation and monitoring of Chevron’s refinery—so that residents and families in Richmond can have some peace of mind.

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