Biofuel megaproject operations halted by Bay Area court

MARTINEZ, Calif.— The Contra Costa County Superior Court today [Oct. 12, 2023] ordered Phillips 66 to halt its plan to operate a biofuel refinery in Rodeo, California. The court put the Bay Area megaproject on hold until the county fully complies with environmental review requirements that it violated when first approving the project.

Communities for a Better Environment and the Center for Biological Diversity asked the court to prohibit operations at what would be one of the world’s largest biofuel refinery [sic] while the county works to address major legal flaws in its environmental analysis.

“This is a huge victory for nearby residents who’ve raised serious concerns about pollution that will come from this giant refinery,” said Shana Lazerow, legal director of Communities for a Better Environment. “Allowing this project to operate before the environmental review process is complete would’ve rigged the whole decision in favor of the refinery operator.”

In July the court found the county violated the California Environmental Quality Act — the state’s bedrock environmental protection and community right-to-know law — by approving the Phillips 66 biofuel refinery without properly assessing major components of the project or adopting mitigation for significant odor impacts on local communities. The court ordered the county to redo its review.

In [the] decision, the court ruled that refinery operations are banned until the county completes its new review and the public has a chance to provide comments.

“The court rightly rejected Phillips 66’s outlandish request to start this mega-polluting project before the review is done,” said Hollin Kretzmann, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “Counties are required to evaluate, disclose and reduce the environmental harms of a project before approving it. Communities long suffering from refinery pollution have every right to demand maximum protections against toxic emissions and foul odors, and the county needs to secure them.”

The Phillips 66 refinery in Rodeo would produce more than a billion gallons per year of biofuel products, making it one of the largest biofuel refineries in the world. The nearby Marathon-Tesoro biofuel refinery in Martinez could eventually produce more than 700,000 gallons per year of biofuel products, making it one of the largest biofuel refineries in California.

Combined, the projects would require at least 82,000 truck trips, nearly 29,000 railcars, and more than 760 ship and barge visits annually, adding to pollution, traffic and the risk of spills and accidents. In addition, generating and processing biofuels generates offensive odors to nearby communities, worsens the climate crisis, and can drive up food prices.

Communities neighboring the refineries are categorized by the state as “disadvantaged” because of their high exposure to pollution from existing industries. The proposed refinery projects would lock in continued air and odor pollution for these residents for decades.

“Phillips 66 would have preferred to put the cart before the horse by operating the refinery without its first undergoing an adequate environmental review,” said Lauren Tarpey, an attorney at Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger. “The court’s decision today reinforces that the neighboring communities have a right to know about this refinery’s impacts before it starts operating.”

“We applaud the court for rejecting Phillips 66’s attempt to circumvent the public process and begin operations without valid environmental review,” said Sara Evall, a student attorney at the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic. “As the court reaffirmed today, the county is obligated to reassess the project based on community members’ input and an unbiased record. Rights of the public to informed democratic decision-making come before Phillips 66’s bottom line.”

The Stanford Environmental Law Clinic and Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger LLP represented Communities for a Better Environment and the Center for Biological Diversity. Communities for a Better Environment and the Center for Biological Diversity also served as co-counsel.

Source: “Court Halts Bay Area Biofuel Megaproject Operations,” Oct. 12, 2023 Center for Biological Diversity press release.

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