Last Monday's fire transformed everyone's focus from the days, months, years that they've been incident free, to one of fear, trepidation, and anxiety over when another thick, black cloud of toxic smoke could fill their skies again.
"Chevron absolutely has to make sure that they're paying attention to safety," Richmond Councilmember Jim Rogers said. Rogers helped to draft legislation, dubbed "the good-neighbor ordinance." It calls for the oversight of all major maintenance projects at the Chevron refinery, through a public hearing, noting, "If they're not doing the job, then the Richmond City Council has to step up to the plate and we have to make sure that we protect the health of our citizens."
Chevron says that plans to improve the facility -- through expansion, replacement of aged equipment, or upgrading -- would not change the range of crude oil blends historically processed at the refinery.
But opponents like Dr. Greg Karras with the group, Communities for a Better Environment, say that's not true, "Chevron proposed a major expansion of the refineries capacity to refine inherently dirtier grades of crude oil. They didn't disclose that, we caught them."
Karras is an environmental scientist who has pushed for Chevron to be transparent about their activities at the facility and the chemicals they release into the air. Recently his group won a court order, requiring Chevron to reveal the impacts of a new project and public comment before development can move forward.
In a statement to ABC7 News, Chevron spokesperson Justin Higgins said, "It is a misconception perpetuated by project opponents that Chevron is trying to process 'heavy crude' at its Richmond facility. The refinery has historically processed light-intermediate crude oils." That is the kind most often used to lubricate machinery and gas-up our cars at the pump.
Karras says that he and his group will make sure that if the project moves forward, it will not be a trade off for clean air, "And we don't have to, if we hold the company accountable and we would hope that the government agencies would join the community in doing just that."
The environmental group has scored another victory, Contra Costa County officials have invited the group to participate in the investigation of the refinery fire.
First lawsuits filed against Chevron for refinery fire
Also Wednesday, the first lawsuits were filed against Chevron. Three Bay Area law firms have filed suits on behalf of nine Richmond residents. They accuse Chevron of gross negligence in both safety measures and how the company responded to the fire.
Attorney John Burris tells ABC7 News that the community deserves better, "Enough is enough, it has to stop. It is our view with this litigation that we will be in a position to get chevron to understand the gravity of it."
One of the plaintiffs, Charles H. Simmons, said he hopes the lawsuit will help Richmond residents who are suffering, "I would like to have, uh, Chevron and similar companies charged with corporate genocide because I think they're killing us like Jim Jones did his people. The only difference is, we didn't agree to do that."
In a statement, Chevron said the company will review each lawsuit based on the merits of their claim and handle as appropriate through the legal process.