An advocate for environmental justice
Linda Garcia, 51, is a resident of Vancouver’s Fruit Valley neighborhood. She works part-time for the Community Roots Collaborative, a small grassroots organization that builds permanent affordable housing for homeless and at-risk families, and for the Washington Environmental Council, a nonprofit that focuses on sustainability and climate action throughout Washington State. Garcia has long been motivated to help advocate and speak for those who don’t have a voice in her community.
Taking on an industrial giant
Garcia first learned about the Tesoro Savage project in April 2013, while serving as leader of the Fruit Valley Neighborhood Association. She immediately became concerned about the safety and health of her community. The details of the project—and Tesoro’s troubled history—worried Garcia. The oil company already owed $10 million in fines for air pollution and $720,000 for safety violations in nearby Anacortes, Washington, after seven workers died in a Tesoro refinery in 2010.
Garcia reached out to influential stakeholders, including the local chapter of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Columbia Riverkeeper, Sierra Club, and small business owners’ associations. These groups were opposed to the project due to the potential environmental and health consequences for the community and for workers. Garcia soon became a spokesperson and testified as a key community witness at public hearings and city council meetings.
Garcia continued her leadership and advocacy and convinced the city council to appeal the Tesoro Savage proposal to Washington’s Energy Facility Evaluation Council (EFSEC)—the state agency responsible for permitting new projects. Garcia attended every EFSEC meeting from 2014 to 2017 as a representative of the Fruit Valley Community. In July 2016, she provided key testimony before EFSEC against Tesoro, the port, and BNSF railroad at a major hearing on the project.
From 2015 through 2017, Garcia supported the campaigns to elect two key community voices to the port commission—Eric LaBrandt and Don Orange—whose presence on the commission proved critical for Fruit Valley residents.
Through much of the campaign, Garcia battled serious illness. She would often travel directly from chemotherapy to community meetings and testify on behalf of Fruit Valley residents. However, she did not let this slow her down—and never missed a meeting. Additionally, from 2015 to 2017, Garcia received death threats on a near-daily basis.
In November 2017, thanks to Garcia’s activism and input, EFSEC issued an environmental impact statement asserting that the Tesoro Savage project posed “significant, unavoidable harms” to the environment and community. One week later, EFSEC representatives unanimously voted to recommend that the state deny the permit for the Tesoro Savage oil terminal. In January 2018, Governor Jay Inslee denied approval for the necessary permits. The following month, Tesoro Savage and the port agreed to terminate the company’s lease, effectively canceling all plans for the oil terminal in Vancouver.
Garcia united Fruit Valley residents with unions, environmental NGOs, and local government officials to halt the construction of North America’s largest oil terminal. Her leadership protected Vancouver residents—and one of the Northwest’s most scenic river areas—from potentially devastating pollution.