Several groups who came together with the “Association of Irritated Residents” won their appeal of a trial court decision that approved the Kern County plan with Alon USA Energy to double the volume of local oil refinery Nov. 21 in the California Fifth District Court of Appeal.
Judge Donald R. Franson, with Justices Gene M. Gomes and Rosendo Pena concurring, ordered the trial court to reverse its approval of the project, and bring the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) into compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
Most notably, The Residents, a California nonprofit started in 1991, opposed the oil refinery modification because of the Bakkan pipeline. The Residents expressed concerns about the extra crude oil that flows from the volatile Bakkan line that would cause extensive damage if a leak were to occur.
Along with the Sierra Club and Center for Biological Diversity, the residents alleged that Kern County violated the CEQA in its EIR, which included sending unloaded crude oil above the refinery’s capacity through the pipeline to other refineries. The residents stated the EIR used operational numbers from 2007, falsely relied upon the refinery’s participation in California’s cap-and-trade program to decide that the project’s greenhouse gas emissions would be less than significant, and underestimated the environmental impacts if a rail accident occurred and leaked hazardous materials.
The residents questioned the EIR’s use and description of compliance methods to counterbalance the estimated emissions. “The EIR did not disclose and analyze the significance of the criteria air pollutants emitted by the off-site rail activities associated with the project. If any impacts are found to be significant, then the EIR must address the feasibility of mitigating any significant impacts”, Franson ruled.
The court concluded that federal law did not prohibit the EIR from disclosing any foreseeable environmental impacts connected with off-site rail activities. In closing, Franson stated, “Consequently, the EIR must be corrected to include a disclosure and analysis of those indirect effects of the project.”
Plaintiffs are represented by Earth Justice, Elizabeth B. Forsyth, Angela Johnson Meszaros and Oscar Espino Padron.
Mark L. Nations, interim county counsel and Charles F. Collins, deputy county counsel, are representing the defendants and respondents.
Alston & Bird, Jocelyn Thompson, Roger A. Cerda and Maya L. Grasse are representing for real parties in interest and respondents.
California Fifth District Court of Appeals, Case number F073892