3:25pm

Thu August 1, 2013
Health, Science, Environment

East Bay Express: Activists to protest tar sands oil refinery

One year ago, an explosion at the Chevron refinery in Richmond sent a plume of black smoke into the air and more than 15,000 people to local hospitals. Now, as the city still tries to assess the total damages from the incident, new concerns have erupted that the refinery and others in the Bay Area may start processing significant amounts of tar sands oil.

To bring attention to these concerns, a major march and rally is scheduled for August 3, beginning at Richmond BART and ending at the Chevron refinery. The mobilization not only marks the one-year anniversary of the fire but will also serve as California's main event in the national Summer Heat campaign, which is being organized by 350.org to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline. 350.org is a grassroots movement — founded by respected environmentalist Bill McKibben, who will speak at the August 3 protest — that aims to fight climate change. The Keystone XL pipeline, which will bring large amounts of oil from Canadian tar sands, will impact global warming by worsening carbon pollution. "Summer Heat" calls on participants to "stand up to the [fossil fuel] industry that is wrecking our future."

The protest is being staged by a broad coalition of environmental and environmental-justice organizations, unions, social-justice groups, urban gardeners, and others, and organizers say one of the goals is to bridge these diverse communities. "Historically, there has been an environmental movement that was mostly white and an environmental-justice movement in disadvantaged communities of color, who didn't feel the environmental movement was paying attention to them," said Reverend Earl Koteen, a Unitarian Universalist minister who's on the steering committee of 350 Bay Area, the local chapter of 350.org.

"We feel everything is connected," said Sandy Saeteurn of the Richmond branch of the Asian Pacific Environmental Network. "Coalition-building is needed to win systemic change." Other groups involved include the Richmond Progressive Alliance, Communities for a Better Environment, Gathering Tribes, and Urban Tilth, among others.

Activists fear that the Bay Area will soon become a major processor of tar sands oil. Industry analysts at the Natural Resources Defense Council believe that several proposed projects, including a rail terminal at the Valero refinery in Benicia and an upgrade at Chevron, will lead to the processing of "significant amounts of tar sands oil," according to Diane Bailey, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

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