A decade after the Richmond refinery exploded, protesters marched to end dependence on fossil fuels

Ten years ago, an explosion and fire at a Richmond Chevron refinery sent black smoke and rain of sharp chemicals across the East Bay City, sending thousands to hospitals gasping for air. At that time, tragedy dominated the airwaves.

Today, the event is a footnote to the history of the Bay Area. But on Saturday a group of community members and activists marched through Richmond to the refinery to commemorate the event, demanding an end to fossil fuels and the refinery’s dominance of the city for more than 100 years.

About 60 protesters gathered at Richmond Bart Station on Saturday morning, carrying banners decorated with sunflowers and slogans such as “Stop Climate Chaos,” “Chevron Kills,” and “Chevrons Burn in Action,” a reference to the pillars of fire that continue to burn near refinery stacks. .

Some families brought in young children, including a woman with two children on the back of her bike who had a cardboard sign with a child’s hand on it that read, “We need clean air to breathe. We need clean water for our marine animals too. Chevron must go!”

Richmond resident Kat Lee, an activist with the Asia Pacific Environmental Network, said she remembers watching news of the 2012 explosion from her aunt’s home in San Leandro, and worrying about the effects the black plume of smoke could have on her mother and sister. , then a two-year-old with asthma.

Lee said she hopes the rally will help “hold Chevron accountable,” and highlight the need to move to clean energy sources like solar.

A protester walks to the Chevron refinery in Richmond, California on Saturday, to mark the tenth anniversary of the refinery explosion. Sunflowers were in sight everywhere because they are a symbol of the climate justice movement.

Amaya Edwards / Exclusive to The Chronicle

As the march made its way westward down the lanes of MacDonald Street, protesters on bikes blocked cars from entering intersections and sang upbeat hip-hop and afrobeat tunes, complemented by the occasional chirping of a sympathetic car horn.

“We are all united in the need to get rid of fossil fuels,” said Jack Lucero Flick, a retired traffic engineer in San Francisco walking with a sign depicting a sunflower logo for the march. Flick said the march was a commemoration, but also a call to action to use available technology to move away from dirty energy sources like fossil fuels.

He acknowledged that the city of Richmond is filling its coffers with tax revenue from the refinery, but he wants to see public dollars spent in alternatives so the jobs the refinery creates can be transferred to the clean energy industries.

As the motorcade winds down the Richmond Parkway past a train yard crammed with shipping containers, Doria Robinson of Richmond, part of the Richmond Alliance Our Strength and CEO of Urban Tilth, a nonprofit organization dedicated to cultivating a more sustainable and equitable diet, signaled an explosion.

“From my front porch on 12th Street, I could see the fire,” Robinson said. The smoke then blackened the sky, covering the Urban Tilth garden where local youths had been growing food all summer with “sticky black soot.”

The Richmond Alliance for Our Strength is leading a rally in Richmond, California, on Saturday to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Chevron refinery explosion.
The Richmond Alliance for Our Strength is leading a rally in Richmond, California, on Saturday to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Chevron refinery explosion.

Amaya Edwards / Exclusive to The Chronicle

Robinson said that while it was important to set the date, her group is looking to Richmond without a refinery. She said an affiliate group, Societies for a Better Environment, was working on a plan to decommission the plant to be proposed to elected officials.

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