Permitting of south Valley oil operation prompts lawsuit – an update

A Taft, California-based oil unloading and storage facility appears to now be in the hot seat regarding the way the crude oil terminal in question’s expansion was approved.

I first covered this story back on Feb. 17th (this year).

A quick review:

“Community and environmental groups filed suit … over the expansion—orchestrated mostly in secret—of a crude oil operation in Kern County that could lead to a 1,000 percent increase in the amount of crude imported by rail into California each year,” reported Earthjustice in the “Groups Sue to Stop Daily 100-Car Train Deliveries of Toxic Crude Oil to Bakersfield Terminal: Coalition sues over illegal permitting of major crude-by-rail project in Central Valley,” press release.

Bakersfield Crude Terminal
Bakersfield Crude Terminal

“In addition to dramatically increasing the risk to communities along the rail route, facilities such as the Bakersfield Crude Terminal are major sources of volatile organic compound emissions—a precursor to ozone air pollution. Breathing ozone is hazardous to respiratory health, and the San Joaquin Valley is one of two air basins in the United States designated ‘extreme nonattainment’ for federal ozone standards. The degraded state of the San Joaquin Valley’s air results in more than a thousand premature deaths each year, and one in six Valley children is diagnosed with asthma,” Earthjustice in its Jan. 29, 2015 release further remarked.

Now, an update

Now, in a May 4, 2015 Earthjustice press release, the organization announced:

“The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has cited the Bakersfield Crude Terminal for 10 violations of the Clean Air Act, declaring the California crude-by-rail facility a major air pollution source that should have been subjected to rigorous environmental review during the permitting process. The federal agency found that the terminal’s permit is invalid and that the facility lacks required pollution controls and emissions offsets, and that it is in violation of the Clean Air Act’s public notice and environmental review requirements.”

More specifically, “A public records request revealed communications between San Joaquin Valley Air District officials and the project manager for the terminal that included advice from the officials about how the project could avoid public noticing and pollution controls,” Earthjustice further explained in the release. “The Air District approved the massive expansion in a piece-meal permitting process that allowed one of the largest crude oil operations in California to expand largely out of public scrutiny.”

What happens now?

My understanding of additional information brought out in the May 4, 2015 Earthjustice release in question is that the imposition of fines levied against the terminal cannot be ruled out – such are certainly within the realm of possibility. It is also entirely possible that an appropriate and thorough permitting review process could still be required.

There is more on the matter here.

Image above: Elizabeth Forsyth, Earthjustice

– Alan Kandel