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Thursday, 28 August 2014 07:06

Chevron: Global Bandit, Local Bully

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aaaChevron(Photo: Coolcaesar)Perhaps one of the lesser predictable outcomes of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision is that it would open the floodgates to corporations having their way in local elections. That seems to be a significant part of an ongoing story in Richmond, California, a city of a little over 106,000 residents, where the Chevron Corporation -- the city's main employer and taxpayer – is using a Political Action Committee to back a Chevron-friendly mayoral candidate, and several City Council candidates.

Although the Political Action Committee, called Moving Forward, claims it is made up of "labor unions, small businesses and public safety and firefighters associations," in reality, it is Chevron, headquartered in San Ramon, which makes its engine run. According to San Francisco Chronicle columnist Chip Johnson, Chevron is "the biggest spender on political campaigns ... set[ing] aside $1.6 million" for Moving Forward.

Johnson pointed out that "The campaign contribution limit in Richmond for both individuals and companies is $2,500, but political action committees can spend unlimited amounts of money on 'in-kind' support – money not given directly to a candidate but spent on that candidate's behalf." The Contra Costa Times' Robert Rogers noted that according to documents, "All of the [PAC's] money came from Chevron."

The beneficiaries of Chevron's contributions are "Richmond City Councilman Nat Bates, [83] who's running for mayor and Donna Powers, Charles Ramsey and Al Martinez, all candidates vying for seats on the City Council," Johnson reported.

Global Bandit

Chevron, one of the world's largest oil companies operates in more than 175 countries. It is involved in just about every aspect of the oil, gas, and geothermal energy industries, including exploration and production; refining, marketing and transport; chemicals manufacturing and sales; and power generation.

The company has been criticized and fined over oil spills in Africa and Latin America, a rig explosion in Nigeria that killed two workers, and another incident in that country where the company was accused of hiring police and military forces to put down demonstrations.

Texaco, now under the banner of Chevron, was sued by the government of Ecuador "was found guilty of dumping 18 billion gallons of toxic waste in the previously pristine Amazon rainforest ... but has yet to pay anything to its many victims," according to Amazon Watch. (To better understand the case, see this link)

Local Bully

In the coming weeks, all sorts of political ephemera will likely flood Richmond residents; from billboards to door hangings, from glossy mailers to paid-for phone banks. Some people question whether being a Chevron candidate is a good thing, given how often the company's environmental mishaps have sent residents running to hospitals and health care providers.

"The curse is that they will also become, for the next two months, the 'Chevron candidates,' a moniker that impresses some and scares the hell out of others," Tom Butt, a 70-year-old Vietnam veteran, and Richmond City Councilman who is running for mayor, wrote in his newsletter.

"I'm going to run my campaign the best I can, probably with a budget of around $60,000," Butt said. "At the end of the day, what this comes down to is whether the people of Richmond want to vote for Chevron's candidate or an independent candidate."

Chevron trying to buy City Council members is nothing new. According to the Contra Costa Times, in 2012, the last Richmond election, "Moving Forward spent more than $1.4 million, much of it opposing Richmond Progressive Alliance candidates and supporting Chevron-friendly candidates such as Bates, Gary Bell and Bea Roberson."

That Chevron is bad actor is also nothing new to Richmond residents. According to Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) the Chevron oil refinery is "the largest polluter in the area and the top greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter in the state." CBE points to Chevron's "long record of safety and pollution violations."

"The latest major incident occurred on August 6th, 2012 where an explosion sent 15,000 residents and 19 workers to the hospital." In addition, CBE notes that "Chevron has incessantly flexed its financial muscle, attempting to expand its Richmond refinery. The expansion would allow processing of dirtier crude oil, which would mean even more pollution and a refinery more prone to accidents."

In the wake of the August 2012 explosion, Chevron has launched some major public relations efforts to win back the trust of the city's people. According to kqed.org's Molly Samuel, the company came up "with a new environmental impact report on" its controversial billion-dollar expansion project -- a project that has been previously stymied by Bay Area environmentalists. Chevron also created "a company-published local news website and billboards celebrating the city of Richmond, and TV ads supporting the proposed project."

Samuel reported that "CBE, with other partner organizations, was the group that won the lawsuit to stop the earlier project. CBE argued, and a state judge agreed, that Chevron hadn't provided enough information about how the project would affect air pollution."

The $1 billion upgrade passed the City Council last month.

As KQED's Tara Siler and Molly Samuel recently observed: "What, exactly, is coming up on Chevron's agenda in Richmond is an open question."

The Contra Costa Times' Robert Rogers told KQED that "The modernization plan was a major hurdle, and Chevron passed it. What they foresee as being an issue in which their interests could perhaps be decided by the council is relatively unknown."