Since 1902, Chevron has been refining crude oil in order to manufacture petroleum products and other chemicals in Richmond, a poor and mostly African American community in Contra Costa County, CA. During the 20th century, the Richmond refinery spread across the area. Today, the company employs 1,200 people and processes approximately 240,000 barrels of crude oil a day into gasoline, jet fuel, diesel and lubricants. Negative health outcomes have been associated with the disproportionate burden of industrial contamination in this area. A recent health study reported that prevalence of asthma among children in Richmond (17%) was double than the national average (7%). Prevalence of asthma among adults that have lived in Richmond for more than 15 years (34.9%) was significantly higher than those more recent residents (9.2%), both higher than the national average (8.7%). Other acute health problems related to air pollution, such as headaches, eye irritation, skin irritation, and respiratory allergies have been identified within these communities.
The controversy sparked in 1993, when Chevron made plans to increase its chemical storage and the number of hazardous chemicals in the Richmond area.
After not reaching agreements in negotiations with Chevron, local residents tried to lobby public officials to force the company to invest $50 million into community development. The West County Toxics Coalition was able to successfully lobby the Planning Commission in Richmond because it could rally hundreds of citizens. Legal advice from the Golden Gate Law Clinic also helped this community group interpret laws like the CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) and thus provide powerful evidence that the reformulated fuel plan would have detrimental impacts on children and other vulnerable residents. Chevron ended up paying $5 million.
In the 2008 Elections, residents of Richmond approved the Richmond Business License Tax (Measure T), an initiative to bring $10 million additional annual revenue for the city from Chevron to expand community programs. However, in February 2009, Chevron filed a lawsuit in Contra Costa County Superior Court that was ruled on its favour, proclaiming Measure T unconstitutional and voiding it.
Since the plant started operating, hundreds of accidents have occurred. The latest was a large explosion and fire that occurred on August 6, 2012. This accident caused more than 15,000 of residents to seek treatment at area hospitals. After the 2012 accident and mass protests (210 protesters were arrested in the one year anniversary of the accident), the city of Richmond filed a lawsuit against Chevron over the fire. In response to this lawsuit, Chevron pleaded no context to six criminal charges and agreed to implement extra oversight of its operation and pay $2 million in fines and restitution.