Let’s hold Exxon accountable

Everett terminal is a ticking time bomb

AS A LIFELONG CHELSEA resident, I’ve seen many positive transformations in our community over the past few years. But one thing that has been ever-present is the shadow that the fossil fuel industry and, specifically, companies such as ExxonMobil, have cast over our waterfront, which is so critical to the health of our neighborhoods.

Ten years ago, Exxon’s storage and distribution terminal in Everett on the banks of the Mystic spilled 15,000 gallons of diesel oil into the river. Instead of taking immediate responsibility and corrective action, Exxon instead denied any wrongdoing for months. It was only after being confronted by the Department of Justice that they finally admitted fault and were forced to pay a $6 million fine for violating the Clean Water Act.

But Exxon’s abuse of our waters did not stop there: the company has continued to pollute the Mystic River with toxic chemicals from its Everett terminal. Exxon routinely discharges harmful substances in amounts that exceed the allowable levels set by its Clean Water Act permit, resulting in further pollution of the river that local citizens are working so hard to clean up.

What’s worse, Exxon has done nothing to prepare its facility to handle the next major weather event caused by our rapidly changing climate. If Hurricane Matthew had changed course and hit the Boston area as even a Category I storm, the terminal could have been under water, and toxic chemicals and oil could have flooded into the streets, basements, and yards where our kids play.

While we’ve long been aware that fossil fuels are major drivers of climate change, we now know that companies like Exxon have been active in casting doubt about its very existence. Recent media exposés have confirmed that Exxon knew as early as the 1970s that climate change caused by human activities would be devastating if nothing was done to address it. But rather than taking action, Exxon chose to protect its own financial interests by spending $30 million dollars on a denial campaign.

Ironically, while Exxon worked to deceive its investors and the public about climate change, it was taking its own scientists’ advice and fortifying certain company assets to plan for rising sea levels, including implementing a redesign of some of its oil rigs. The fact that Exxon chose to fortify its oil rigs, but has done nothing to prepare its Everett terminal for a major storm speaks volumes to how the company operates: it will go to great lengths to protect its own bottom line, but continues to dismiss the collateral damage it is inflicting in the communities in which it operates — especially those like mine, which have not enjoyed the same access to resources as our wealthier counterparts in the greater Boston area.

At times we have felt hopeless and that we are locked in a losing battle with Exxon over the Mystic that we can never win. But recent developments suggest that the tide may be turning. Earlier this fall, Conservation Law Foundation filed a lawsuit against Exxon for its endangerment of communities along the Mystic, citing violations of both the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), laws that protect the health and safety of waterfront communities in the face of climate change. It is the first major lawsuit to be filed against the company since revelations about its climate denial were uncovered, and seeks to hold Exxon accountable not only for its ongoing pollution of the Mystic, but also for failing to prepare its Everett terminal for the impacts of climate change.

On the heels of the lawsuit filing, I and more than 160 members of the Chelsea community have signed on to a letter requesting that Exxon provide us with information about the threat posed by climate change to its Everett facility terminal and what — if anything — it is doing to prepare for a catastrophic weather event. We are hopeful that Exxon will respond, but let’s just say we won’t be waiting by the phone.

For too long Exxon has assumed that we are powerless to challenge them, or that we are simply content to live with its Everett terminal as a ticking time bomb in our backyard. The time has come for us to step out from under Exxon’s shadow and say enough is enough. We all deserve a safe, clean, healthy place to raise our families, to live, work, and play.

Meet the Author

Damali Vidot

Vice President, Chelsea City Council
As a mom and as someone who is deeply invested in the future of Chelsea and its residents, I will not stop fighting until Exxon is held accountable for the damage it has done and my kids are safe from the threat of toxic pollution in their own backyards.

Damali Vidot is lifelong Chelsea resident, and the vice president of the Chelsea City Council.