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Goliath defeated: A community coalition defends public health and environmental justice against big oil and city hall

Juan Reardon, MD, MPH, Contra Costa County Health Services Department, 597 Center Ave., Suite 200, Martinez, CA 94553, 925-313-6794, jreardon@igc.org, Kay Wallis, MPH, National TB Center, Univ. of California, San Francisco, 3180-18th Street, Suite 101, San Francisco, CA 94110, Henry Clark, PhD, West County Toxics Coalition, 1019 MacDonald Ave, Richmond, CA 94801, and Bradley Angel, Green Action for Health & Environmental Justice, One Hallidie Plaza, Suite 760, San Francisco, CA 94102.

Struck by an industry-engineered “energy crisis” in 2001, the State of California reeled from rolling blackouts, skyrocketing utility rates, and economic fallout. With the federal government refusing to enforce price regulation of the energy industry, the State promoted construction of new fossil fuel power plants by fast-tracking the permit approval process. In the San Francisco Bay Area, officials in the city of Richmond announced a plan to collaborate with Chevron-Texaco and PG&E to build a 500-megawatt oil-burning power plant on Chevron’s massive refinery property in North Richmond -- the largest of many refineries and chemical plants that dominate the North Richmond landscape. For decades, illegal chemical releases, industrial accidents, and tons of toxic pollutants have impacted the well being of Richmond residents, including disproportionately high rates of cancer and respiratory illness. Local public health activists hurriedly assembled a coalition comprised of environmental justice groups, members of the faith community, labor unions, and neighborhood councils to oppose the construction of the power plant, and to pursue clean, renewable energy and municipal ownership. In six short weeks, the “Richmond Alliance for Green Public Power and Environmental Justice” used grassroots organizing and media advocacy to successfully pressure city officials to cancel plans for the power plant. This paper presents the strategies used by the Alliance to prevent an environmental injustice, and describes how relationships formed in 2001 have given rise in 2004 to a growing social justice movement in Richmond working on many issues of community concern.

Learning Objectives:

  • At the conclusion of this session, participants will be able to

    Keywords: Environmental Justice, Coalition

    Presenting author's disclosure statement:
    I do not have any significant financial interest/arrangement or affiliation with any organization/institution whose products or services are being discussed in this session.

    Environmental Justice and Community-Based Public Health

    The 132nd Annual Meeting (November 6-10, 2004) of APHA