Judge Orders State and Regional Air Agencies to Regulate Climate Change Pollution from Big Oil

Challenge to reduce dangerous greenhouse gas emissions from WA oil refineries advances


Janette Brimmer, Earthjustice, (206) 343-7340, ext. 1029


Joshua Osborne-Klein, Ziontz, Chestnut, Varnell, Berley & Slonim, (206) 448-1230


Aaron Robins, Sierra Club Washington State Chapter, (425) 442-6726


Becky Kelley, Washington Environmental Council, (206) 631-2602

A federal judge today ruled that the Washington Department of Ecology, Northwest Clean Air Agency, and Puget Sound Clean Air Agency have unlawfully failed to regulate climate change pollution from the five oil refineries operating in Washington State.

Washington Environmental Council and Sierra Club initiated the lawsuit in March of this year. The lawsuit claimed that state agencies have the duty to regulate climate change pollution from oil refineries because this pollution fits within the definition of “air contaminants” in Washington’s State Implementation Plan, which was approved by the Environmental Protection Agency and is enforceable under the federal Clean Air Act.

All five oil refineries in Washington are owned by big oil companies—BP, ConocoPhillips, Shell Oil, Tesoro and U.S. Oil. Collectively, these oil refineries are responsible for six to eight percent of total state-wide greenhouse gas emissions, primarily in the form of nitrous oxide, methane, and carbon dioxide. The oil refineries were represented in the lawsuit by the Western States Petroleum Association, which intervened in the litigation.

The conservation groups praised the decision by U.S. District Chief Judge Marsha J. Pechman, who ordered the state agencies to begin the regulatory process to begin controlling climate change pollution from the refineries.

“We are heartened by this major step to address the serious air pollution and climate challenges our state faces now and in the near future. Oil refineries are the second-largest stationary source of dangerous climate change pollutants, and it is critical that they do everything they can to preserve the health and well-being of Washington communities.” said Becky Kelley of Washington Environmental Council.

“We view this decision as a win for both the environment and the economy,” said Aaron Robins of Sierra Club. “There are numerous options for reducing climate change pollution from oil refineries that can help protect our environment while making refining operations more efficient and creating new jobs.”

The lawsuit claimed that the state agencies had violated their obligation under Washington’s State Implementation Plan to determine and impose “reasonably available control technologies” on refineries to control climate change pollution. The Court agreed, holding that “Washington’s [State Implementation Plan] requires the Agencies to regulate GHGs.”

“The Court affirmed that Washington has the authority and the obligation to address impacts from climate change pollution,” said Janette Brimmer, an attorney with Earthjustice. “Our state can no longer afford to have our regulators sit on their hands and wait for the federal government deal with the issue—it is time for our state regulators to follow the law and implement long-overdue measures to protect our climate.”

Earthjustice and the law firm of Ziontz, Chestnut, Varnell, Berley & Slonim represented Sierra Club and Washington Environmental Council in the lawsuit.

Read the court ruling.

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