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Why I Chained Myself to the Gate of the Kinder Morgan Oil by Rail Facility

By Ethan Buckner - Forest Ethics, September 12, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

“This would not be something that would be a significant concern to us,” responded Jim Karas, a senior officer at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), when asked by a CBS reporter why his agency issued an under-the-table permit allowing   oil trains to roll into a Kinder Morgan railyard in Richmond, CA. . The Kinder Morgan facility receives volatile, dangerous Bakken crude oil on 100-car long trains, offloads that oil onto tanker trucks, and ships the oil to local refineries. Neither BAAQMD nor Kinder Morgan notified any stakeholders or community groups, including the BAAQMD’s board of elected officials - of the permit.

Exploding oil trains are certainly of concern to residents living in Atchison Village, Richmond, CA, a beautiful community just across the street from Kinder Morgan railyard, which did not receive notice about the permit. Teachers and parents at Peres Elementary School, where oil trains now careen next to the playground, weren’t told. And even local organizations like our allies at Communities for a Better Environment and Asian Pacific Environmental Network, were not notified. When a local news station revealed the secret permit, a coalition of community and environmental groups promptly sued the BAAQMD and Kinder Morgan.  The lawsuit was   dismissed by the San Francisco Superior Court Friday, September 5, for being filed too late.

BAAQMD is a public agency thats mission is “to protect and improve public health, air quality, and the global climate” in 9 San Francisco Bay Area counties. The agency’s board has taken extraordinary steps toward following through on its mission, including passing a bold Climate Action Plan that calls for 80% reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. But BAAQMD’s senior staff seem to have different interests in mind.

By granting the under-the-table permit to Kinder Morgan, BAAQMD’s senior staff is protecting big oil instead of our communities.

BAAQMD senior staff refuse to admit wrong-doing in granting the Kinder Morgan permit. And in the meantime, dangerous, toxic, potentially explosive oil trains keep rolling through Richmond.

So our coalition of public health and safety advocates, community organizations, climate justice activists, environmental groups, and grassroots groups on frontlines of the Crude By Rail fight, decided to take the matter into our own hands.

Just after sunrise on a cool, cloudy morning on Thursday, September 4, after weeks of preparation and training, eight of us chained ourselves to the gate of the Kinder Morgan oil by rail facility. Using ‘lockboxes’ made from fabricated steel and PVC piping and simple bicycle U-locks, we made it impossible for trucks or trains to enter and exit the facility, shutting down Kinder Morgan’s operations for three hours.

Among those locked to the Kinder Morgan gates were residents of Richmond, Rodeo, Martinez, Berkeley, Oakland and Benicia - all towns under threat from existing or proposed Oil by Rail facilities.

Our action was full of solidarity and spirit. All of us who put our bodies on the line were supported by dozens of others with food, water, cameras, extra layers, or whatever else we needed. Richmond and Federal police came to the scene. After three hours and a half dozen trucks blocked, we decided to declare victory and unlock with no arrests. CBS Bay Area, the same station that discovered Kinder-Morgan’s clandestine operations, were on site and our action made headline news that night.

“I very much appreciate this organized effort of non-violent civil disobedience today. I applaud the protestors and will continue to be in support of them,” said Richmond’s Mayor Gayle Mclaughlin, who came down to give us a surprise visit.

Some may say that chaining ourselves to the gates of the Kinder Morgan oil train facility was extreme.

What is really extreme is the risk posed by oil by rail to our climate, our neighborhoods, our parks, and our schools. What is extreme is the collusion between agency mandated to protect public health, safety, and the climate and the corporations threatening our communities with climate-killing, potentially deadly oil projects. What is extreme is that Jim Karas and BAAQMD’s senior staff vehemently defends Kinder Morgan and big oil.

If we can’t count on public agencies, like BAAQMD, to protect our communities and our climate, then we’ll have to do it ourselves.

We’ll continue to put pressure on the Air District, and do whatever it takes to defend our communities and climate from oil by rail. We hope you’ll join us in taking action: click here to demand action now from the BAAQMD!

The Fine Print I:

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The Fine Print II:

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