Richmond progressive leaders held a press conference on Thursday to discuss the findings of a damning report on Chevron’s pollution and political spending in the working class city.
The report, titled “The Chevron Way: Polluting California and Degrading Democracy,” concludes that Chevron “systematically sought to control public opinion in Richmond” through donating millions to local elections. It also ridicules the company for its greenhouse gas emissions, which the report says double Shell and Exxon Mobile-branded facilities combined. In the city of Richmond, the local refinery released more than four million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions.
The study was funded by the International Transport Workers’ Federation and in collaboration with Greenpeace, Courage Campaign and ConsumerWatchdog.org, Its full findings can be found here.
About a dozen protesters stood outside the refinery’s main gates on Thursday to bring awareness to the report, including city council member Gayle McLaughlin and city council member-elect Melvin Willis, both members of the Richmond Progressive Alliance.
The group held signs that said “Chevron Hire Locally” – a critique about the company’s habit of hiring out-of-state contractors, “Stop Polluting Our Politics” and “Pay Your Fair Share,” a comment on the report’s findings that Chevron has tried to dodge paying appropriate property taxes.
In a statement, Chevron told NBC Bay Area it was working toward increasing local hiring and is “managing our greenhouse gas emissions by reducing flaring and venting.”
“We are working with the City of Richmond to get interested residents ready for the approximately 1,000 union construction jobs that will be coming to construct the Modernization project,” the statement read.
McLaughlin dismissed reports that hostility toward Chevron is preventing development in the city, a claim that was thrown around by pro-Chevron candidates, including former city council member Corky Booze, during the 2016 election.
“It is definitely not the case that other businesses don’t want to come here because of the progressive leadership,” she said. “Other businesses may not want to come here because of Chevron. Chevron blew up with a major of fire in 2012, when other businesses think of coming to a city with an exploding refinery, they think twice about it.”
Chevron’s spending in Richmond elections is well document but has been arguably unsuccessful: In 2014, the company faced backlash for spending over $3.1 million in local elections to defeat Richmond Progressive Alliance. A news site operated by Chevron — the Richmond Standard — has also been critiqued for trying to sway public opinion by publishing negative stories about some of the company’s most ardent critics.
"What's important here in Richmond is that we have stood up to this (corporation) by organizing at the local level — not just demonstrations or protests or showing up to city council meetings, but organizing politically to bring people out of the community to run for office and represent community interests," said Andres Soto, a co-founder of the Richmond Progressive Alliance. "when people get together and organize locally on their own behalf, they can defeat those corporate powers.
During the small protest, Willis said that the new city council — which will include a 5-person majority of Richmond Progressive Alliance members — is committed to bringing sustainable and community-minded business to Richmond, while also keeping a close eye on Chevron.
“We want Chevron to be accountable to the people of Richmond,” he said.
Gillian Edevane covers Contra Costa County for NBC Bay Area. Contact her at Gillian.Edevane@NBCuni.com.