Since 2013, the Levin Shipyard in Richmond, CA has been shipping coal, mined in Utah, as well as petroleum coke, primarily from Phillips 66 in Rodeo, to Japan and other Asian countries. Every week, roughly 200 uncovered freight trains have rolled through working class residential neighborhoods in Richmond to reach the terminal. If covered, the freight cars would be flammable. Not only is coal one of the worst offenders for greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming, but coal dust contains many harmful chemicals, such as arsenic, lead, chromium, nickel, selenium, and other toxic heavy metals that have very serious health effects.
But on January 14, the Richmond City Council voted 5-1 in favor of an ordinance that would prohibit new coal and petroleum coke operations in the city, prevent existing facilities like the Levin Terminal from expanding, and creating a graduated phase out of coal and pet coke operations over three years. This limited victory didn’t come out of nowhere. It was a result of organizing in Richmond over several years, particularly by reaching out to people who live close to the railway lines.
The fight isn’t over. Right now, the Levin Terminal is threatening to sue the city because of the ordinance. They are also threatening to possibly cut jobs as a way to make up for whatever profits they might lose from moving away from coal. This is nothing more than an attempt to drive a wedge between the workers and community. Those that profit from poisoning people and our planet would like to force us to choose between having jobs or a clean environment. The truth is that we deserve both. There is no reason that we can’t have both. But this will ultimately be possible only when power is in the hands of the majority of working people to collectively decide our future.