We won!! On Friday, 11/12/21, the Sierra Club announced a settlement in the lawsuit filed against the city by the Levin-Richmond Terminal. The city’s press release is here. The settlement postpones until 2026 a full phase-out of coal and petcoke at the terminal, but in the meantime it provides significant mitigation measures to reduce dust and will end five pending lawsuits against the city.
Under the agreement, the city will hold a public hearing before adopting the agreement. Watch this space and attend!
State court knocks down lawsuits challenging coal ordinance 12/24/20 from Sierra Club SF Bay Chapter
By Jacob Klein Last year, the City of Richmond passed an ordinance to phase out the storage and handling of coal and petroleum coke (petcoke) over three years in order to protect the health of its residents. This came after much pressure from local activists and organizations via the No Coal in Richmond movement. In response to this ordinance, numerous lawsuits were filed against the city, in both state and federal court, by the Levin-Richmond Terminal, Phillips 66, and Wolverine Fuels (the Utah-based coal company).
On Christmas Eve, the state court ruled in favor of the city on all claims challenging the Richmond coal/petcoke ordinance, including the principal claim that the city allegedly violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) when it enacted the ordinance. Specifically, the court ruled that “[t]here is substantial evidence that coal and petcoke dust are harmful to human health based on a number of scientific studies and reports” and that the city properly relied on a “categorical exemption” under CEQA, because the ordinance “will prevent more coal and petcoke dust from entering the air the City of Richmond” and thus will benefit the city’s environment and the health of its residents. Although the companies could appeal the state court’s decision, this is a promising sign of the strength of Richmond’s ordinance.
This is a big win for the people of Richmond who fought hard to protect their air quality. Richmond faces disproportionate air quality issues and received a Community Air Grant to identify and reduce emissions.
No Coal in Richmond and allies rally to say: “Coal on the Council? HELL NO!” 10/13/20
The Levin-Richmond Terminal is trying to buy a seat on the Richmond City Council. Levin has so far donated $25,000 to city council candidates—including Vinay Pimplé, Eleanor Thompson, and Ahmad Anderson. In addition, the company gave the maximum allowable contribution directly to Anderson’s and Thompson's campaigns.
For decades, multinational corporations have exploited our communities, polluted our air, and refused to pay their fair share in taxes. The terminal’s goal is to elect candidates who will overturn the ordinance phasing out their coal and pet coke operations. The current city council adopted the ordinance after a successful two-year campaign by No Coal in Richmond, health professionals, and other environmental and community groups. Election buying in Richmond is nothing new. The city has suffered for decades as big industries have poured money into campaigns for candidates who will support their interests, including Chevron’s $3M unsuccessful attempt to buy 2014 city races. However, No Coal in Richmond and allies from Alliance of Californians for Community Action (ACCE Action) the Sunflower Alliance, Asian Pacific Environmental Network Action (APEN Action), Communities for a Better Environment Action (CBE Action), and SEIU Local 1021 are actively opposing this attempt to subvert the political process.
The environmental and health choice could not be clearer: Stop Big Coal from polluting our elections and our air! ----------------------------
Environmental Groups Join City of Richmond in Legal Fight to Phase Out Polluting Coal Dust from Shipping Terminal May 29, 2020
Yesterday evening, the Sierra Club and San Francisco Baykeeper moved to intervene as full parties in the lawsuits to defend the City of Richmond’s ordinance that phases out the storage and handling of coal and petroleum coke in the city, and also filed an accompanying motion to dismiss the lawsuits. The environmental legal organization Earthjustice is representing both the Sierra Club and SF Baykeeper in court.
The Levin-Richmond Terminal is the only facility in Richmond handling coal and petcoke. For the past two years, the City Council, community members, and the Levin Terminal have participated in a public process to find ways to reduce coal dust in the city. The ordinance, adopted in February 2020, phases out the handling of coal in the city within three years. The Levin-Richmond Terminal Corporation, petrochemical company Phillips 66, and coal company Wolverine Fuels filed lawsuits against the City of Richmond in early March.
“We’re intervening because the health and safety of Richmond community members are on the line” said Anna Stimmel, staff attorney at Earthjustice. “Companies like the Levin Terminal and Phillips 66 don’t have the right to pollute in Richmond indefinitely. The city did the right thing when it passed the ordinance phasing out coal handling within city limits to end the scourge of coal dust in Richmond once and for all, and we’re going to court to defend that decision.”
Dust from coal and petcoke handling and storage contains fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and toxic heavy metals including arsenic, lead, and chromium that pose a serious health threat — a danger that has grown even more acute during this coronavirus pandemic. A recent Harvard study showed long term exposure to PM2.5, in particular, increases the COVID-19 death rate. Exposure to PM2.5 and heavy metals is also linked to cardiovascular and respiratory conditions including asthma, pneumonia, emphysema, heart disease, and cancer. There is no safe level of PM2.5 exposure.
On May 20, the California Attorney General filed a motion for leave to file an amicus (“friend of the court”) brief in support of Richmond’s ordinance, urging that the ordinance be upheld.
The Richmond Community Takes a Stand
The legal fight comes on the heels of a major community effort within Richmond to address the coal dust that has afflicted residents at home, at work, and at school for years. Increases in coal handling at the Levin terminal prompted Richmond’s City Council to take action after thousands of local residents, including teachers and nurses, wrote complaints to the city about the scourge of coal dust.
At the waterfront — less than a mile away from residential neighborhoods — coal and petcoke are heaped in massive open air piles and loaded onto ships. Bay breezes then carry the toxic dust into surrounding communities and the Bay.
Richmond High School teacher and United Teachers of Richmond member Jacob Gran issued the following statement: “Coal and petcoke dust can travel for miles, and Richmond residents have reported finding the dust on their cars and inside their homes. Teachers at a K-12 school within a mile away need to carry inhalers because so many of their students are struggling to breathe. The pollution from coal and petcoke contains fine particulate matter that causes serious heart and respiratory diseases — and now we know that means increased mortality rates from COVID-19 too. We won’t sit back and let major fossil fuel corporations keep us from building a cleaner and more vibrant community and economy. The City of Richmond did the right thing.”
Richmond pediatrician Dr. Amanda Millstein issued the following statement: "I take care of babies, toddlers, children, and teenagers who live and go to school in Richmond every day. Exposure to coal dust is known to be a major trigger of asthma. My patients suffer from asthma rates up to double the national average, requiring trips to the Emergency Department and high doses of medications. It is not every day that a city council has an opportunity to pass legislation that will save children's lives. The City of Richmond was absolutely right to put the health of children and families first."
SF Baykeeper Executive Director Sejal Choksi-Chugh issued the following statement: "Most people don't think of the Bay Area as Coal Country, but the industry's recent attempts to move millions of tons of dirty coal through our cities prove otherwise and put us all at risk. We don't want toxic coal dust in our Bay or asthma in our communities--instead, we need to fight the dirty fuel industry and support Richmond's right to clean air and clean water."
About the Sierra Club The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 3.5 million members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person's right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit www.sierraclub.org.
About San Francisco Baykeeper Baykeeper defends the health of San Francisco Bay and Bay Area residents from toxic pollution and the effects of climate change. Since 1989, Baykeeper has held polluters accountable through science, advocacy, legal action, and Bay patrols by air and water. For more information, visit www.baykeeper.org.
About Earthjustice Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer. ----------------------------
March 16, 2020
We're happy to report that the City of Richmond has issued a revised City Council agenda, here. The closed session has been cancelled, and the consent calendar item was removed.
To those of you who responded, thank you for taking the time to email the council and mayor. Please don't hesitate to email us if you have questions about these developments. ----------------------------
March 15, 2020
Last Thursday morning, Richmond Mayor Tom Butt used his “e-forum” to announce the lawsuits filed in response to the coal ordinance and accuse the Sierra Club of “bailing out” on a promise to help the city with the cost. The Sierra Club replied, “We think the city’s in a strong legal position to defend the ordinance, and we plan to intervene to assist.”
Then, this coming Tuesday’s City Council agenda appeared containing a consent calendar item—a second reading of a previously withdrawn, terminal-related nuisance ordinance from 2018 calling for enclosure of the coal and pet coke piles.
How do these two things relate?
Is the mayor’s report about the lawsuits an effort to set the stage for overturning the coal ordinance?
Is he re-introducing the enclosure proposal as part of that strategy?
Two months ago the mayor told Bloomberg News, "I've got bigger ambitions than just Richmond. I'd like to get rid of coal worldwide." At that time he took full personal credit for a two-year campaign involving nine participating organizations and countless individuals. Now he is using the fear of legal expenses to stir up animosity toward the Sierra Club because of their opposition to his projects.
Environmental advocate and retired physician Carol Weed noted that instead of badgering the Sierra Club, the mayor “could have started a legal defense fund [and] asked for contributions from multiple organizations that value public health over fossil fuel profits.”
What is clear is that our ordinance may be at risk in closed session settlements, and we need the community to once again demonstrate its support to the mayor and city council. Please take one or both of these steps:
1. Contact the mayor and city council members (contact info here). You can copy and paste this text into an email: I fully and enthusiastically support the Richmond Coal Ordinance that the City Council approved in January. The ordinance is the best-case scenario for eliminating public health hazards from coal and petroleum coke operations at the Levin-Richmond Terminal. The city should defend this ordinance and take a positive, pro-active attitude toward raising public support.
2. Come to the City Council meeting on Tuesday, March 17, and speak in Public Comment Before Closed Session (where the litigation will be discussed)at 5:00 pm. 440 Civic Center Plaza, Richmond
If you don’t want to stay, write your comment on a pink comment form and submit it to the City Clerk before Public Comment Before Closed Session. Those comments will be read into the record by the City Clerk, and council members will hear them .
The agenda contains guidelines and an advisory on minimizing social contact.
We are confident that the ordinance will withstand the legal challenge. What’s at stake is protecting the health and safety of Richmond residents. Thank you for your continuing support!