Environmental Justice

Hunters Point Power Plant Controversy

April 1, 2006

On Wednesday, March 15, the San Francisco Public Power Commission voted unanimously to close the aging Hunters Point power plant as early as this April. This might sound like a victory for the Bayview Hunter’s Point community, but they’ve heard news like this before. The power plant, which has been at the center of a local controversy for nearly a decade, was initially scheduled to close in 1998.

So this latest development has not changed local activists’ plans to lead a nonviolent protest intended to shut down the power station that abuts Heron’s Head Park at noon on Tuesday, April 11. “It’ll be either champagne [celebrating the closure of the plant] or rocks and chains,” says Marie Harrison, one of the primary organizers of the event.

In the late 1990s, when local residents started to question their abnormally high rates of cancer and other afflictions, the San Francisco Health Department began studies that revealed some frightening statistic—Bayview-Hunters Point residents were suffering from twice the average U.S. rate of asthma, cervical, and breast cancer, and had hospitalization rates that were three times the national rate for congestive heart failure, hypertension, and emphysema. Bayview-Hunters Point and the bordering neighborhood of Potrero Hill also had noticeably higher rates of bronchitis and other upper respiratory diseases in children.

Despite these findings, the studies failed to point to any direct link between the emissions from the power plant and the health of the people of the community. The studies were limited in scope and the Bayview also happens to be home to two Superfund sites, hazardous waste storage facilities, and San Francisco’s largest sewer treatment facility, among other things.

At the time, the state was considering a bid to put in yet another power station in the neighborhood. Several community organizations formed to oppose the bid, and then-mayor Willie Brown championed the effort, saying that the “people of Bayview Hunters Point have been dumped on enough.” He led the opposition of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to the project, which voted to block development of the power plant in June 1996.

That victory led many residents to start calling for the closure of the already antiquated Hunters Point power plant. Since 1998, PG&E has pushed back the projected closure date for the plant several times, each time stating that the power station must keep running until measures have been completed to replace the energy that it supplies. In fact, PG&E has begun to phase out the plant. Only two of the four generators there are running, and specific plans are in place to phase out the plant completely. The company also has a published timeline for what needs to happen to shut down the plant.

But Bayview Hunters Point residents say the time to complete the closure of the plant has come and gone. For more information about the protest, contact Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice: visit www.greenaction.org, email greenaction@greenaction.org, or call (415)248-5010.

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