Chevron Corporation reaped $26.9 billion in profits last year. That's right: $26.9 billion. Yet for reasons still to be explained, the San Ramon-based company declined to spend any of that cash on replacing a small, aging section of pipe at its Richmond refinery during an inspection last fall. Last week, that eight-inch pipe began to leak oil profusely before igniting a fireball that could be seen throughout the Bay Area and unleashing a giant plume of smoke that sickened hundreds of nearby residents.
But Chevron's greed, and its accompanying cavalier attitude toward environmental health, is not relegated to ignoring old leaky pipes. For years, the oil giant has been trying to stiff East Bay taxpayers. The company has repeatedly filed claims with Contra Costa County officials, contending that tax assessors had overvalued its Richmond property, and that, as a result, its local property tax bill should be much smaller.
In 2009, Chevron won one such claim — thanks in part to a county appeals board member who did not disclose that he also had financial ties to the oil company (see "A Friend of Chevron Gives It a Costly Gift," 10/9/2009). That appeals-board decision forced Contra Costa County to pay Chevron a $12.6 million refund, and resulted in county officials having to drastically cut public services even more than they already had done.
Yet even with that windfall, Chevron was unsatisfied. So the company pressed forward with demands for more multimillion-dollar refunds. However, the appeals board, thanks to new members who have no ties to Chevron, ruled against the oil giant earlier this year. Chevron, however, has yet to pay all the taxes it owes.
As such, Chevron exemplifies what is wrong with modern America. Most of us must pay our taxes, and thus do our fair share for the public good, while large corporations and wealthy individuals don't have to. For them, all that matters is accumulating more riches — even if it comes at the expense of the environment and public health.
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