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February 3, 2010


Council Calls for Reduced Airborne Pollution

By Robert Rogers

Richmond was born an industrial town of sooty petroleum refineries and locomotives, but its future should be based on low-emission, high-tech industries, the City Council declared Tuesday.

After a long, and sometimes contentious, public debate, the Council voted 5-1 to declare the city in recognition of a lower standard of carbon dioxide levels in the air.

<View resolution and supporting materials here.>

The new standard, 350 CO2 parts-per-million (ppm), was established by a team of scientists and environmentalists who argue that the ratio should be the upper limit for how much carbon dioxide is in the earth’s air. According to research published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2008, the current level worldwide stands at 387 ppm; about 40 percent higher than at the onset of the Industrial Revolution.

Although the recognition has no legal force nor costs, Councilman Jeff Ritterman, who introduced the resolution with the support of Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and Councilman Jim Rogers, said he hoped the resolution would raise awareness and spur public debate about climate change.

“I really wanted to do something on the local level,” Ritterman said. “We didn’t get much international leadership on this in Copenhagen,” Ritterman added, referring to the United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Copenhagen, Denmark in December 2009.

The Council’s adoption of the measure, which includes an agreement to begin organizing community meetings to draw input for possible future local climate measures, comes amid intensifying public debate over the city’s largest employer, Chevron Corp.

California Attorney General Jerry Brown has proposed that the local Chevron refinery upgrade old infrastructure and improve energy efficiency in exchange for environmental groups’ dropping their objections to expansion in Chevron’s refining operations.

Dozens of community members spoke out during public debate, most in criticism of Chevron.

The lone dissent on the council for the air quality declaration came from Councilman Nat Bates, who at one point called his council colleagues “socialists.” He also accused McLaughlin, a member of the Green Party, and Ritterman of working to “run Chevron out of town.”

“This city is going to be a ghost town,” Bates said of what would happen if Chevron ceased local operations. Rumors that Chevron may consider closing its Richmond refinery have swirled of late. The refinery employs about 1,200 workers. Bates said Chevron pays the city nearly $35 million annually in total taxes.

McLaughlin and Councilman Tom Butt said they hoped the resolution would be part of a larger effort to establish Richmond as an environmentally-friendly city and a hot spot for green technology and industry. Butt said Richmond had recently been accepted to Green Cities California, a coalition of local governments calling for policies that support sustainable development.

On Jan. 27, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger toured a local solar panel manufacturing company to tout his statewide jobs growth plan.


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