Tag Archives: Elizabeth Forsyth

EPA Cites Bakersfield Oil Train Terminal for Clean Air Act Violations; Permit Invalid

News Release from Earthjustice

EPA Cites Bakersfield Oil Train Terminal for Clean Air Act Violations

Federal agency says California oil train terminal is major air pollution source, permit is invalid without significant environmental review
Contact: Maggie Caldwell, Earthjustice, 415-217-2084, mcaldwell@earthjustice.org, Monday, May 4, 2015
The newly opened Bakersfield Crude Terminal in Taft which the EPA has found in violation of the Clean Air Act.
The newly opened Bakersfield Crude Terminal in Taft which the EPA has found in violation of the Clean Air Act. | Elizabeth Forsyth / Earthjustice

Taft, CA —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.

In January, Earthjustice and Communities for a Better Environment sued the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, which issued the invalid permit, over the permitting process for the facility’s expansion— a process that was conducted without public review. Earthjustice is representing the Association of Irritated Residents (AIR), ForestEthics, Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity.

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. 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.

“The EPA’s announcement declares the Air District’s permit a sham and that the Bakersfield terminal is operating illegally,” said Elizabeth Forsyth, Earthjustice attorney. “Air District officials went out of their way to exclude the public from the process and speed the approval through, ignoring the environmental review required by state and federal law. We applaud EPA for stepping in and enforcing the Clean Air Act.”

EPA’s action could subject the terminal to serious Clean Air Act fines, and should force the Bakersfield Crude Terminal to undergo the major source permitting required by the Clean Air Act.

“The EPA stepped in to protect California from this crude-by-rail facility’s dangerous air pollution,” said Vera Pardee, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Federal intervention is urgently needed because the air district and Kern County officials have utterly failed to safeguard public health and the environment. They’re turning a blind eye to air pollution and environmental risks such as catastrophic explosions linked to these massive trains full of volatile crude.”

“EPA’s notice of violation should serve as a wake up call to local authorities around the country who help polluters when they should be protecting public health,” said Matt Krogh, ForestEthics Extreme Oil Campaign Director.  “Oil trains threaten 25 million Americans who live in the blast zone, plus millions more who live downwind of a refinery, downstream of where an oil train crosses a river, or in the Bakken and tar sands producing regions of North Dakota and Alberta, Canada.”

“In Kern County, with the worst air in the nation, the air district has harmed the health of the public by intentionally allowing this facility to violate the Clean Air Act,” said Tom Frantz, with Association of Irritated Residents.

“Given the increased pollution and hazards from refining and transporting a lower quality crude, there is immediate need for a moratorium that halts new permits and construction of extreme oil infrastructure, not the opposite fast track permitting process that Air District officials put this massive crude by rail terminal on – and in secret,” said Roger Lin, attorney with Communities for a Better Environment.

“The US Environmental Protection Agency’s announcement today is a significant step forward for Bakersfield and Kern County residents who bear all the burdens of volatile, accident-prone crude by rail transport and none of the benefits,” said Gordon Nipp Bakersfield resident and Sierra Club Kern-Kaweah Chapter Vice Chairman. “This terminal wreaks havoc on our region’s already compromised air quality and our communities now fear the risk of exploding trains.”

The agency also weighed in on the issue of vapor pressure of Bakken crude, declaring it unreasonable to underestimate the vapor pressure when permitting a crude-by-rail site and requiring vigorous monitoring and reporting of what crude oil is actually shipped. One way many of these facilities get around major source permitting is by cherry-picking the volatility of the crude oil being shipped, estimating the vapor pressure on the low end of the spectrum, which would keep emissions of volatile organic compounds under the threshold for triggering Clean Air Act review.

In addition to emitting volatile organic compounds from the off-loading of crude oil, the facility endangers Bakersfield and other communities in California by increasing the amount of explosive crude oil transported by rail through the state. There have been multiple incidents of train derailments and explosions across the nation and in Canada. An oil train that derailed in Lac Megantic, Quebec, destroyed most of the town center, burning more than 30 buildings to the ground and killing 47 people. Just this year, there have been four derailments and explosions in West Virginia, Illinois and Ontario involving oil trains.

Read EPA’s Notice of Violation.

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    Green coalition sues Kern County over DEIR failures

    Repost from Courthouse News
    [Editor: Significant quote: “They claim that the EIR’s analysis of greenhouse gas emissions is ‘riddled with flaws’ because instead of discussing mitigation measures to curb emissions, it assumed that the refinery’s emissions will be ‘reduced to zero’ by participating in the state’s cap-and-trade program, and thus concluded that ‘these emissions are not significant.'”    – RS]

    Greens Fight SoCal Tar Sands Oil Project

    By Rebekah Kearn, October 13, 2014

    BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (CN) – Kern County illegally approved expansion of a local refinery that will let it transport and process 70,000 barrels of crude oil a day, environmentalists claim in court.

    The Association of Irritated Residents, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club sued the Kern County Board of Supervisors and the Kern County Planning and Community Development Department, on Oct. 9 in Superior Court.

    Alon U.S.A. Energy, of Texas, and its subsidiary Paramount Petroleum Corp. are named as real parties in interest.

    “The lawsuit challenges Kern County’s unlawful approval of a massive oil refinery and rail project that will further harm air quality in the San Joaquin Valley and subject residents in several states to the catastrophic risks of a derailment involving scores of tanker cars filled with explosive Bakken crude oil,” plaintiffs’ attorney Elizabeth Forsyth, with Earthjustice, told Courthouse News.

    Bakken crude is from northern Montana and North Dakota, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Much of it is extracted by fracking, or hydraulic fracturing.

    “The San Joaquin Valley is already overburdened by industrial pollution,” Forsyth said. “Kern County officials should put the health of their residents over the profits of oil companies.”

    The groups claim the county’s approval of the Alon Bakersfield Refinery Crude Oil Flexibility Project and its allegedly inadequate environmental impact report violated the California Environmental Quality Act.

    The project quintuples the Alon Bakersfield Refinery’s capacity to import crude oil, “from 40 tank cars per day to 200 tank cars per day, or up to 63.1 million barrels of crude per year,” the 27-page complaint states.

    “This influx of cheap, mid-continent crudes, including Canadian tar sands crude and Bakken crude from North Dakota, would allow the shuttered refinery to reopen and run at full capacity, processing 70,000 barrels of crude oil per day,” according to the complaint.

    “The project’s massive ramp-up in oil transport and processing poses alarming health and safety threats to the residents of Bakersfield and to those who live along the crude-by-rail route. Restarting the refinery will significantly increase harmful air pollution that will only exacerbate the poor air quality and respiratory illnesses that plague San Joaquin Valley communities already unfairly burdened with industrial pollution.”

    Bakken crude oil is “highly volatile,” and shipping it across several states “over treacherous and poorly maintained mountain passages” without adequate safety regulations will expose everyone who lives along the shipping route to the risks of derailment, the environmentalists say.

    Trains carrying Bakken crude have derailed and exploded, including the July 2013 disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Canada, which killed 47 people and leveled half of downtown Lec-Mégantic, according to the complaint.

    Bakersfield, pop. 464,000, between Los Angeles and Fresno, is the ninth-largest city in California. Kern County produces more oil than any other county in the state, and boasts the fourth largest agricultural output in the country.

    Its air quality is abysmal. “Bakersfield has the country’s third most polluted air, according to the American Lung Association, and one in six children in the Valley will be diagnosed with asthma before age 18,” Forsyth told Courthouse News.

    Kern County’s notoriously poor air quality causes approximately 1,500 premature deaths each year, and exposure to toxic air pollution racks up “$3 billion to $6 billion in health costs and lost productivity annually,” according to the complaint.

    Several schools, residential neighborhoods and a hospital are only a few miles away from the Alon Bakersfield refinery. It is 1,000 feet from the Kern River Parkway, where people hike, walk, and ride bikes along trails and through parks, according to the complaint.

    The refinery shut its doors in 2008 when its owner filed for bankruptcy. After sitting inactive for two years, it was bought by Alon in 2010 and “refashioned to convert intermediate vacuum gas oil into finished products,” but stopped all refining operations in December 2012 when the price of local feedstock rose, the complaint states.

    In August 2012, Paramount submitted proposed modifications to the county that would let the refinery use the Burlington Northern Santa Fe rail line to bring in 5.5 million gallons of oil per day.

    “The five-fold expansion of the terminal’s unloading capacity, from 40 tank cars per day to over 200 tank cars per day, is the largest crude-by-rail project in California, twice the size of the next largest project,” the complaint states.

    The Kern County Board of Supervisors approved the environmental impact report on Sept. 9 this year.

    But the plaintiffs claim the environmental study “obfuscates and underestimates” the significant impacts posed by the project and ignores the effects that rail transport of Bakken crude will have on air pollution.

    “The EIR severely underestimates the safety risks of this project through sloppy math and an incomplete analysis,” the complaint states. “Based on simple mathematical error, the EIR calculates the risk of a train accident involving an oil spill is unlikely to occur within the project’s 30-year lifetime. Correcting this error, however, results in a risk of accident involving an oil spill once every 30 years.”

    California has a high risk for catastrophic accidents because many of its 5,000 to 7,000 railroad bridges are over 100 years old and are not routinely inspected by any state or federal agency, and the rail lines run through “hazard areas” such as earthquake faults and densely populated cities, the complaint states.

    Kern County is especially vulnerable because “the freight rail track runs through the Tehachapi Mountain, an area identified by the California Interagency Rail Safety Working Group as a ‘high hazard area.’ The rail track includes steep grades, extreme track curvature, and a single track through the majority of the corridor. The elevation loss of this corridor is approximately 3,600 feet from Tehachapi to Bakersfield, and the grade is so steep that it includes the famous ‘Tehachapi loop’ where the railroad line must loop back under itself to make the grade,” the complaint adds.

    The plaintiffs say the project also threatens to further pollute the air quality of a region “already plagued by the worst air quality in the nation.”

    “Refining Bakken crude emits high levels of volatile organic compound emissions that lead to ozone pollution, which in turn causes respiratory illnesses such as asthma,” Forsyth told Courthouse News.

    “The refining of tar sands crude, which is far dirtier than local crudes, will result in higher emissions of greenhouse gases, nitrogen, sulfur and toxic metals,” she added.

    Moreover, restarting the refinery and processing 60 million barrels of fossil fuels a year will elevate greenhouse gas emissions in the region and interfere with California’s goal of reducing such emissions, the groups say.

    They claim the EIR’s analysis of greenhouse gas emissions is “riddled with flaws” because instead of discussing mitigation measures to curb emissions, it assumed that the refinery’s emissions will be “reduced to zero” by participating in the state’s cap-and-trade program, and thus concluded that “these emissions are not significant.”

    “The EIR also unlawfully underestimates greenhouse gas emissions, ignoring emissions from the combustion of end products produced from the imported crude,” the complaint states.

    After Kern County released an initial study of the project in September 2013, the Air District commented that using 2007 as the baseline to analyze impacts to air quality was improper because the refinery had not refined crude since 2008, according to the complaint.

    The groups say the draft environmental report released for public comment on May 22 this year did not correct this error.

    “The draft EIR also omitted fundamental information necessary to evaluate the EIR’s conclusions, including underlying assumptions and calculations for the EIR’s emissions analysis, data concerning the properties of Bakken crude, and an objective description of the project’s crude slate,” the complaint states.

    On June 13, the groups’ attorneys asked for the information not included in the draft report and an extension to the 45-day comment period, but the county denied both requests.

    When the county issued its final EIR in August, the groups say, they objected to “new disclosures that the public had not had a chance to review,” including its flawed analysis of the probability of a train accident, and demanded that it be revised.

    Several prominent environmental scientists submitted comments criticizing the report’s treatment of toxic air emissions and its failure to include “emergency flaring events” in emissions calculations, but the county ignored their input and approved the report 13 days after it was released, the complaint states.

    Kern County Counsel Theresa Goldner defended the project.

    “The Kern County Board of Supervisors carefully and thoughtfully considered the EIR and all public comments and approved the report after a full and complete public process,” Goldner told Courthouse News.

    “We will vigorously oppose this action.”

    Paramount did not immediately return requests for comment.

    The environmentalists seek declaratory judgment that Kern County violated CEQA by authorizing the refinery expansion project without performing adequate environmental analysis.

    They ask that the project approvals and the environmental impact report be vacated until the defendants prepare a new environmental study that complies with CEQA.

    They also want an injunction preventing the defendants from carrying out any part of the project until they fulfill all of the CEQA requirements.

    They are represented by Earthjustice attorneys Elizabeth Forsyth and co-counsel Wendy Park of San Francisco.

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