By Roger Straw, March 31, 2016
On March 30, attorney Rachael E. Koss of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo, representing Safe Fuel and Energy Resources California (SAFER), sent the Benicia City Council this letter of opposition to Valero’s oil trains project.
First, Valero’s argument that the City should not consider Project impacts from crude slate changes because emissions would not exceed its permit limits has already been rejected by the California Supreme Court. The California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”)l requires the City to determine whether a project would change the existing environment by increasing emissions as compared to actual existing emissions — not whether the Project will change the environment by exceeding hypothetical emissions allowed under permit limits. This was precisely the issue before the California Supreme Court in Communities for a Better Environment v. South Coast Air Quality Management District.2 The Court rejected the argument that “the analytical baseline for a project employing existing equipment should be the maximum permitted operating capacity of the equipment, even if the equipment is operating below those levels at the time the environmental analysis is begun.”3 The Court held that CEQA requires the baseline to reflect “established levels of a particular use,” not the “merely hypothetical conditions allowable under the permits…”4 Following the Supreme Court decision, the court in Communities for a Better Environlnent v. City of Richmond5 similarly rejected the city’s use of a hypothetical baseline, which failed to reflect actual operational conditions. “The [Supreme Court] stated that using hypothetical, allowable conditions as a baseline ‘will not inform decision makers and the public of the project’s significant environmental impacts, as CEQA mandates.”’6 Thus, Valero’s argument has already been rejected by the California Supreme Court.