By C.C. Song, The Greenlining Institute
In the backyard of the Tesoro and Valero refineries in Wilmington, California lives a thriving community that has been fighting back against the oil giants for years. Because of Proposition 23, attention has finally been brought to local residents who wake up to see the refineries’ smoke day after day.
Jasmine Cortez, a senior at nearby Banning High School, told the stories of her asthma attacks at a news conference held on October 14 at nearby Veterans Park. “Growing up in Wilmington, I never knew I had asthma until 10th grade when I had an asthma attack on a hiking trip,” Cortez said. On the way up the trail, she found breathing getting more and more difficult, and eventually she began wheezing and tearing up.
“No one knew what to do with me,” Cortez said. “I felt like I almost died.” After that, she didn’t go on as many hiking trips, even though she loves outdoor activities. When she does go hiking, she makes sure to bring an inhaler, and she pays careful attention to her breathing pattern.
Cortez’ story is common in Wilmington. At a sign-making party the night prior to the news conference, almost every high school student had a story about asthma, about a family member with cancer, and missed school and work days.
These stories are the real face of Proposition 23: illnesses caused or worsened by air pollution. Wilmington and its Long Beach Harbor region neighbors host a wide range of refineries, and local residents hope that one day these pollution-belching facilities will be replaced by clean energy generation and healthy jobs.
After the news conference, residents and students marched along Pacific Coast Highway to the Tesoro refinery, the largest refinery in Wilmington. Wilmington resident Kat Madrigal named all the refineries—not just Valero and Tesoro—as the plants’ flares blended into the clouds. “Not sure if you can see the orange plant over there, but that’s supposed to be a pumpkin. If you go there on Halloween, they’d give you candy. But what about the cancer they gave us?”
Madrigal said that Tesoro and Valero have poured money into projects like the Global Environmental Science Academy in an attempt to silence local opposition. In August, Tesoro also hosted a family picnic day, and around 75 residents came and protested the community-friendly façade Tesoro put on.
Oil giants telling Californians we must choose between old industrial jobs and a healthy environment. But Californians have already made a win-win decision in 2006: We want both green jobs, and a better environment where children don’t have to carry inhalers while hiking.
State Assemblyman Warren Furutani, who represents the region in Sacramento, stressed the benefit of green jobs at the news conference. “Maybe some jobs that create pollution will be lost, but they will be replaced by double and triple the number of green jobs.” And these jobs are what Californians need, and what Wilmington residents are waiting for.
The news conference was organized by The Greenlining Institute, Communities for Better Environment, Coalition for a Safe Environment and the Wilmington Wire, with the support of Communities United Against the Dirty Energy Proposition. We’re all determined to help communities like Wilmington and stop the Texas oil companies from attacking the health of our citizens.
C.C. Song is Green Assets Fellow at The Greenlining Institute, www.greenlining.org.