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Chevron smokestacks in the distance with the city and highway in the foreground.

Richmond ballot measure calls for special tax on Chevron to counter pollution

on May 24, 2024

Richmond voters will be asked in November to decide whether the city should impose a refinery tax on Chevron as a way to address pollution. 

City Council unanimously approved the ballot measure Tuesday, citing concerns about the city’s budget deficit, poor air quality and worsening health conditions. Council member Doria Robinson was absent. 

“What we need is that they pay their fair share so we have the means and resources,” council member Claudia Jiménez said before the vote. 

The proposed tax would help the $34 million budget shortage for the next fiscal year, said Mayor Eduardo Martinez. 

The excise tax would be based on feedstock — raw materials that go into the refining process. It could generate more than $100 million annually, according to attorney Kerry Guerin, with Communities for a Better Environment. 

“Let’s say, for example, you do $2 dollars per barrel of feedstock, then that’s $120 to $180 million per year to the general fund,” she told the council during a presentation on the proposal. 

The council did not determine the specific tax but directed the city attorney to prepare information as the next step. 

More than 50 people commented on the proposed measure, nearly all in support. Many complained of being more vulnerable to asthma or other respiratory illnesses due to their proximity to Chevron. 

“This is just one step forward. Taxing Chevron is literally the minimum we can possibly do,” said resident and community organizer Edith Pastrano. 

Althea Skinner said that her family moved to Richmond two years ago for a better life. 

“Chevron cannot be allowed to continue to reap record benefits, while violating environmental laws and poisoning our air, water, soil and health,”  she said. 

Biggest taxpayer

Chevron set up on the banks of San Francisco Bay as Standard Oil Co. in 1902 and Richmond grew around it. It is the city’s largest employer, with about 1,200 workers. Chevron also is the biggest taxpayer in Richmond and the second biggest in Contra Costa County behind PG&E, paying $46.4 million last year. The oil giant reported $21.3 billion in income last year.  

Communities for a Better Environment and Asian Pacific Environmental Network Action proposed the excise tax and say it is on better legal footing than a tandem tax proposed in 2008 that also was put to voters. Measure T won on the ballot but not in court. 

Guerin said taxing a refinery for the privilege of conducting business in Richmond “is a legally sound strategy.” 

Brian Hubinger, senior public affairs representative at Chevron, called the tax punitive and said it would work against new projects in the city. Chevron has contributed millions of dollars to the community, he said, noting its support of various events and activities, scholarship funds and business initiatives. 

“It’s the wrong approach to solve the city’s long-term budget issues. It’s the wrong approach to encourage investment,” he said.

The presentation by city staff and the two environmental groups also focussed on the deteriorating air quality in the East Bay, which the refinery contributes to. Chevron had more than 600 air pollution infractions pending with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District until the two sides recently agreed to a $138 million settlement, which also included the Martinez refinery. 

According to an ongoing research project by LifeLong Medical, UC Berkeley, and UCSF, the prevalence of asthma in Richmond is 25%, which is almost double the state rate. The study is currently enrolling families, as researchers try to determine the combined role of genetics and external factors such as air pollution on asthma incidence in adolescents. 

Veil of fire and smoke over Richmond from what Chevron says is a flare

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