Air Quality Watchdog Agrees to Get Tougher on Refineries
There’s a positive settlement within the case brought by Earthjustice on behalf of EYCEJ with help from UCLA law students.
Last yr, the South Coast Air Quality Management District was accused of not properly enforcing a state law that requires petroleum refineries to put in air-quality monitoring systems around their perimeter. Essentially, the air quality watchdog exempted smaller refineries from having to follow the principles. Now, the SCAQMD has agreed to reverse course and move to shut that loophole.
The accusation got here in a petition filed in LA Superior Court by Earthjustice on behalf of client East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice. Two UCLA Environmental Law Clinic students, Sarah Repko (JD ’23) and Monica Heger (JD ’22), helped draft that petition. The pair undertook this work through the Clinic last spring alongside Earthjustice’s Community Partnerships program, which litigates on behalf of local organizations. That program enforces restrictions on local pollution, including state requirements for fenceline and community air monitoring near refineries. Heger and Repko researched and wrote a draft, laying out the case that SCAQMD must change its rules.
And now it should. This month, the parties agreed to settlement terms that include SCAQMD releasing latest rules that remove the exemption for refineries that produce lower than 40,000 barrels of crude oil per day. The settlement says the SCAQMD will hold a board meeting to approve that latest guidance by January 2024 and that the judge overseeing the case will implement the terms of the settlement.
Though the refiners at issue are small, it’s an enormous victory for fenceline communities in LA and beyond. California, the third-largest refiner of crude oil within the U.S., has nineteen refineries, and nine of those facilities sit in Southern California. Despite their danger, the facilities are inclined to be situated in densely populated areas, corresponding to the cluster of six refineries in Carson, Wilmington, and Torrance. The communities where these refineries are situated are overwhelmingly Black or Brown and have far lower average income than the Los Angeles metro area.
SCAQMD Executive Director Wayne Nastri was quoted recently as saying that SCAQMD is doing the very best it could possibly. “We’re specializing in the big facilities because those are those that everybody sees that everybody is anxious about. And so they require probably the most attention,” he said. “As time progresses, we learn more, and we’ve the aptitude to do more.”
The big facilities is perhaps those that “everyone sees,” however the residents represented by East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice see the motion and the results of the smaller facilities too—higher risk of cancer and dirtier air in a region already notorious for poor air quality. That’s why closing this loophole goes to be necessary.
It’s also why Senate Bill 674 is vital. That bill authored by State Senator Lena Gonzalez would create a statewide standard for the fenceline air monitoring program, eliminating the exemptions for small refineries on the state level, and would expand the variety of chemicals that each one refineries must monitor.