UCLA Environmental Law Clinic Students’ Work Utilized in Litigation for Improved Refinery Monitoring
East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, represented by Earthjustice, filed a petition drafted by UCLA ELC students
On Monday, environmental-justice advocates filed a petition drafted by two of our amazing UCLA Environmental Law Clinic students, Sarah Repko and Monica Heger, opening litigation to enhance monitoring of petroleum refineries in Southern California.
This spring, Sarah and Monica had the exciting opportunity to work with Earthjustice’s Community Partnerships program to arrange litigation enforcing state requirements for fenceline and community air monitoring near refineries. Refineries are dangerous, each because they emit large quantities of air pollutants and toxics when operating normally, and since their operations are liable to explosions and fires, which in turn could cause even greater releases of harmful chemicals.
California, which is the third-largest refiner of crude oil within the U.S., has nineteen refineries, nine of that are positioned in Southern California. Despite their danger, the facilities are inclined to be positioned in densely populated areas, akin to the cluster of six refineries in Carson, Wilmington, and Torrance. Shamefully, the communities where these refineries are positioned—and that are placed at the best risk—are overwhelmingly Black or Brown and have far lower average income than the Los Angeles metro area.
The California Legislature took a vital step toward protecting these communities in 2017, when it enacted AB 1647, requiring all refineries to observe for air pollutants at their “fencelines” (the borders of their facility) and at sensitive points in the encompassing neighborhood. However the Southern California Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD), which is liable for implementing the state mandate, unilaterally decided to exempt refineries that produce lower than 40,000 barrels per day. This has allowed three Southern Californian refineries, which collectively release lots of of tons of toxic chemicals, to avoid the monitoring requirement—and left the encompassing communities with no sure technique to know the extent to which they and their families are affected.
We on the Environmental Law Clinic were very excited to partner with Earthjustice to support the campaign to shut this loophole. As a part of their clinical work, Monica and Sarah researched and wrote a draft petition for Earthjustice, laying out the case that SCAQMD must change its rules. Now Earthjustice, representing East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, has filed a version of that petition in Los Angeles Superior Court. We’re hopeful that the court will agree that SCAQMD must comply with state law and be sure that all refinery communities get the advantages of fenceline and community monitoring.
For more on this necessary topic, take a look at Earthjustice’s recent report, Crossing the Fenceline (available in Spanish here), and this opinion piece in City Watch from an East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice organizer and an attorney at Communities for a Higher Environment.