Vivian Chang: The Environmental Justice Activist Talks about Green Economies, Organizing in Asian Immigrant Communities and the Battle against Chevron

By Satake, Alison Lee | Colorlines Magazine, March-April 2008 | Go to article overview

Vivian Chang: The Environmental Justice Activist Talks about Green Economies, Organizing in Asian Immigrant Communities and the Battle against Chevron


Satake, Alison Lee, Colorlines Magazine


You were part of the first National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in 1991. How does today's push for green jobs and state-led emissions control measure up to the goals you helped develop in the early years of the environmental justice movement? The rise of the green economy is an opportunity for us to create an alternative that will curb the poisoning of our communities and earth, as well as an opportunity to meet the need of our communities to survive economically.

But, it is up to us what we make of the opportunity. It is entirely possible--would be business as usual--if the rise of the green economy completely passes us by. It is also possible that as some opportunities such as jobs open up to low-income communities and communities of color, the oppressive power structure will not change. Our challenge is to grab this opportunity to not only open up the jobs, but to do it in a way that builds the collective power of our communities and builds a broader movement for racial, environmental and economic justice.

Richmond, California is creating green job programs, and it is home to a huge Chevron oil refinery, which is the county's largest property tax payer and accounts for 2 percent of the county's revenue. Explain the local issues involved in the Richmond and Chevron relationship. Richmond is a company town, and the company is Chevron. The research and refinery facility employs over 2,600 workers, which makes it by far the largest employer in Richmond. While Chevron is on target to make more than $14 billion in profits for a second year running, the low-income city and its residents are struggling to keep their libraries, parks and schools open.

Additionally, the refineries in the area release more than 22 tons of hydrocarbons and up to 27 tons of sulfur dioxide every day. And that's not even counting the other 350 polluting facilities in the area.

Recently, California Attorney General Jerry Brown negotiated a settlement with ConocoPhillips in exchange for dropping his lawsuit blocking the expansion of their refinery in the county. The settlement included a $10 million donation to support projects in the larger Bay Area, including $2.8 million for tree planting. Tree planting might be an acceptable zero-loss/sum game on a global or even a national level, but will the people of Richmond be able to breathe the trees?

Your organization, the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) has been organizing immigrant Asian communities in Oakland and Richmond since 1993. …

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