Council puts oil refining business license tax on November ballot

Council puts oil refining business license tax on November ballot

The Richmond City Council Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution placing an oil refining business license tax on the November ballot.

If passed by voters, the ordinance implements a business license tax dubbed the "Make Polluters Pay tax" on oil refining at the rate of $1 per barrel of feedstock refined within the City of Richmond.

The proposed tax is submitted as a general tax, which means that the revenues can be spent on any valid municipal purpose. It would be operative on July 1, 2025, and would be in addition to any other taxes owed under the Richmond Municipal Code. It is estimated that the tax will collect approximately $60 million to $90 million per year.

A large group of people gathered in Civic Center Plaza before the council meeting for a press conference sponsored by the Asian Pacific Environmental Network and Communities For A Better Environment.

Another group consisting of Chevron employees and other opponents to the tax were seen filing into council chambers.

The turnout was large enough to necessitate an overflow area after the council chambers were filled to capacity. Speakers queued up in both areas, leading to hours of comments from citizens, many of whom were either environmental activists worried about potential pollution or Chevron employees with concerns about the future of their employment should voters approve the tax.

Felicia Harper, who works in the refinery's hydrogen plant, said it is the "most amazing career" she's ever had and that she hopes to retire from Chevron but feels the tax could jeopardize that dream.

"I feel at home at Chevron, I'm respected, I'm valued, and I would like for my kids to work there one day. My plan is to retire from Chevron, and I think that is at risk if this tax does pass," Harper said.

Lori Minser, an air quality engineer at Chevron, said she is concerned the tax could affect Chevron's ability to invest in local projects.

"The projects that I am currently working on reduce emissions and provide affordable, reliable, and cleaner energy for our community. This tax will cripple Chevron's ability to invest in these projects," Minsner said.

Richmond resident Sara Theiss feels there is a link between the refinery and her family's diabetes and asthma issues and thinks the tax is justified.

"I strongly support the "Make Polluter's Pay" and getting it on the ballot," Theiss said. "For the health of my family and so many other people, I strongly urge you to get this before the voters," Theiss said.

Laura, a farmer in North Richmond, said she believes her community deserves chemical-free food, which is difficult due to her proximity to the refinery.

"I cannot provide the healthiest food within a toxic environment. Now it's time to make the big polluters pay so we don't have to. As bad neighbors, it's the least thing that they can do," Laura said.

Councilmember Doria Robinson said she could hear her relatives in the Chevron worker's statements, but having grown up at 5th Street and Nevin Avenue, she also remembers many accidents at the refinery.

"I know the impact of Chevron is not in my imagination. I also know that a lot of people in the world agree it's not in our imagination," Robinson said. "When you make a mess, you have to be responsible for it."

After hours of comment and one item remaining on the agenda, the council moved to continue the meeting to Monday when it plans to finalize the 2024-2025 fiscal year budget.

A statement issued by Chevron Wednesday morning said the tax isn't about helping those who live in Richmond.

"The vote last night was not about improving the lives of the people in Richmond. It was a power grab by activist organizations and city councilmembers who put their interests ahead of the community’s interest. As evident by the number of people who spoke in opposition of the measure, this punitive tax has been rushed without broad community input, study or forethought into its consequences on the city, county, state and region. We do not believe this decision is reflective of the broader community’s perspective and look forward to engaging in discussions on how best to move Richmond forward in a way that promotes jobs, the environment, and the community."

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