Click on a link below to jump to a specific legal victory:
- Oil: CBE v. City of Richmond / Chevron (2010) 184 Cal.App.4th 70
- Power Plants
- Pollution Credits
- Port of LA: CBE v. South Coast Air Quality Management Dist. / ConocoPhillips (2010) 48 Cal.4th 310
- Other Victories
CBE Stops a Dirty Oil Project
CBE v. Bay Area Air Quality Management District and Chevron (2014)
In 2014, CBE filed suit against the Air District for the illegal permitting of Chevron’s expansion project. CBE discovered that the District had allowed Chevron to build a Richmond refinery expansion that could increase air pollution from one of the state’s biggest industrial climate polluters without required emission prevention and environmental reviews.
Chevron had sought the permitting approval from the District despite court orders in 2009 and 2010 that invalidated the permits for Chevron’s first attempt at expanding its Richmond refinery. (CBE v. City of Richmond / Chevron (2010) 184 Cal.App.4th 70). The courts found that those permits were based on an Environmental Impact Report which failed to meet CEQA’s requirement to disclose impacts of refining lower quality oil and also improperly deferred greenhouse gas mitigation. CBE challenged the Air District, as a responsible agency under CEQA, for greenlighting the project based on that illegal EIR, and prior to even the completion of the project’s revised EIR. This had foreclosed any opportunity for either the public, or even the Air District, to determine whether the emissions from the project would even meet EPA’s national standards for the protection of public health and welfare from harmful levels of pollutants.
This litigation forced a settlement requiring the Air District to make a public redetermination of its air permit for the Chevron Modernization Project based on a complete application which includes the revised EIR, certified by the City of Richmond in July 2014. This provided an opportunity for the Air District to revisit this project under more stringent regulations. Those protections are basic requirements of both CEQA and clean air laws–and desperately needed in the already-overburdened communities on Chevron’s fence line.
CBE v. City of Richmond / Chevron (2010) 184 Cal.App.4th 70
The City of Richmond in the San Francisco Bay Area agreed in 2008 to allow Chevron to significantly expand the local refinery, and the company began construction on a project that would have enabled Chevron to process low-quality crude oil.
That would have translated to heavier emissions and dirtier air for those living nearby.
The agreement also allowed Chevron to ship hydrogen to other Bay Area oil refineries—creating potential for more frequent toxic releases of mercury and selenium, more sulfur flare gas and greenhouse gas emissions. It also would have put refinery workers at higher risk for workplace accidents.
CBE and environmental justice allies filed suit to force full and proper environmental review and mitigation of the project’s impacts.
A trial court injunction not only forced Chevron to stop all project development, but it also required the oil giant to dismantle construction it had already started. In February 2011, the Court of Appeal upheld the trial court’s decision that the environmental impact report (EIR) for the expansion failed to explain the true impacts of the project. If Chevron still wants to expand, the City of Richmond will now have to circulate a new EIR that discloses the true scope of the project, and it will have to describe how it will avoid or reduce significant impacts.
The Legal Fight That Blocked a Power Plant
Southern California is famous for many things—Hollywood, sun—and smog.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) is in charge of protecting the public against air pollution. CBE’s legal team has pushed to make sure the AQMD does just that–follows the federal Clean Air Act and limits potential new pollution sources in Southern California.
Savvy legal work plus local organizing scored a big victory in 2009 when a CBE campaign stopped a proposed power plant in the City of Vernon, an industrial city five miles south of downtown Los Angeles, surrounded by low-income, majority-Latino communities–areas already overburdened by pollution sources.
Official estimates showed the new power plant would have increased mortality rates by at least 4 to 11 persons each year—hundreds of premature deaths over the life of the facility.
CBE’s successful legal fight—which denied the proposed power plant the pollution credits it needed from AQMD to operate (and pollute)—was key to the Vernon power plant victory.
CBE Litigation Challenges Pollution Credits
The litigation CBE filed in 2007 that helped CBE defeat the Vernon power plant had a broader impact for Southern California’s air quality—the lawsuit successfully challenged AQMD rules that would have supported the development of new power plants that would add millions of pounds of pollution to the air in and around Los Angeles.
In California, an industry that expects to produce pollution must obtain pollution credits to offset the increase in pollution caused by the new industry. A proposed AQMD rule change in 2006 would have created a new pool of credits and made them available for sale to developers of new power plants.
In 2008, the Los Angeles Superior Court ruled in CBE’s favor, agreeing that AQMD had failed to evaluate the true harm to the environment by creating and selling these credits to power plants, and forced AQMD to rescind the rules that would have opened the door for more plants.
CBE teamed up with the Natural Resources Defense Council, Coalition for a Safe Environment, and California Communities Against Toxics to file the suit. The July 2008 court ruling scuttled the AQMD rules that would have fueled the construction of many new power plants based with cheap pollution credits.
Victory Prevents Even More Nitrous Oxide Emissions Near the Port of Los Angeles
CBE v. South Coast Air Quality Management Dist. / ConocoPhillips (2010) 48 Cal.4th 310
One-third of California’s oil processing plants are concentrated in the area near the Port of Los Angeles. This makes for dense oil refinery emissions—yet the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD), charged with protecting Southern Californians from air pollution, issued a permit in 2004 to allow ConocoPhillips Oil Refinery to produce ultra low-sulfur diesel—the production of which is dirtier and causes more pollution than the production of other diesel fuel—in port-adjacent Wilmington.
Wilmington residents—particularly children—already suffer from high rates of severe asthma and other life-shortening respiratory problems; the proposed ConocoPhillips project had the potential to increase daily emissions of nitrogen oxide (NOx) by 455 pounds per day.
ConocoPhillips had obtained the AQMD permit without a full environmental impact report (EIR) detailing the true impacts of the project (the difference between current production (baseline) and expected production).
The California Court of Appeal and, in 2010, the California Supreme Court, agreed with CBE. The courts found that ConocoPhillips based its analysis of NOx impacts on the wrong CEQA baseline—the baseline should have been the actual current production emissions, not the higher emissions level allowed in the permit. Substantial evidence showed that NOx from the project could exceed the CEQA significance threshold set by AQMD. Now, if ConocoPhillips wants to produce ultra-low sulfur diesel, it must undertake a new environmental review that discloses and mitigates the impacts of the project.
Other CBE Legal Victories:
- Reduced oil company pollution by challenging a junk car buy-back program. Five oil companies used California’s pollution-trading system to buy the ability to emit greater amounts of hazardous pollution by buying and junking old cars (an alternative that the oil companies viewed as cheaper than directly decreasing their emissions). CBE won a court challenge to the junk car buy-back program. Now the companies must genuinely reduce pollution by using vapor recovery equipment on their marine tankers. CBE also won money from the oil companies for pollution mitigation. The litigation also prompted the South Coast Air Quality Management District to agree to adopt an Environmental Justice Initiative, leading to a policy change that significantly reduced the allowable cancer risk from air contaminants from existing sources.
- Blocked televangelist Pat Robertson’s attempt to fire up a long-mothballed oil refinery (Cenco) in southeastern Los Angeles. After a CBE legal and organizing campaign, Cenco gave up its plans to restart an old power plant that would have drastically added to Southern California’s air pollution. Under a settlement agreement, Cenco waived its right to open the refinery, and surrendered its permits.
- Won settlements requiring eight oil giants to clean-up over 700 MTBE-contaminated sites, including many drinking water sources. The political momentum the case helped build led to a statewide ban of MTBE by the end of 2003.
- Shut down a chrome-plating operation next door to a southeast Los Angeles-area school. Students at Suva Elementary School, their teachers and parents in the predominantly Latino community of Bell Gardens had suffered for years from health effects—including cancer—related to pollution from a chrome plating facility right on the school’s fence-line. CBE worked with parents and nearby residents and filed a lawsuit under California’s Proposition 65. Soil and water tests at the school by federal and state agencies found high levels of cancer-causing lead and chromium. The facility agreed to stop chrome plating and permanently dismantled its equipment.