Just one month after Earthjustice filed a lawsuit on behalf of Sierra Club challenging the Sacramento air district for rubber-stamping permits allowing Inter-State Oil Company to transfer Bakken crude oil from rail to truck without public or environmental review, the agency reversed course telling the oil company to cease all crude trans-loading operations. Today, Inter-State responded in a letter to the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District saying the company will stop handling crude as of November 14.
“This is the first crude transport project that has been stopped dead in its tracks in California,” said Suma Peesapati, Earthjustice attorney. “This is a victory for the health and safety of the people of Sacramento, for communities along the path of the trucks hauling this dangerous product to the bay area, and for the refinery communities where the crude is eventually processed. It signals that industry and government may not benefit from a lack of transparency and play dice with the lives of people who live along the paths of these dangerous oil trains.”
Earthjustice filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Sierra Club on September 23, holding the air district and Inter-State Oil accountable for neglecting to consider the risk to public health and safety of the project. The lawsuit also challenged the air district for eschewing obligations for review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) despite the fact that the project would have significant increases in air pollutants, including toxic air contaminants. In its letter to Inter-State, the Air District admitted that the permits were issued in error since the operation involved emissions increases necessitating the best available pollution controls. Earthjustice’s lawsuit alleged that these emissions increases also triggered public notice and environmental review under CEQA.
The air district first issued a permit to Inter-State to trans-load crude from rail to truck on March 27, however according to an investigation by the Sacramento Bee, the company had been illegally trans-loading crude without a permit as early as six month before that date. No notice was given to local fire and emergency responders or other officials about the handling of this highly flammable substance just 7 miles north of the California state capital.
“This is a huge victory for Sacramento residents and communities across California who are put in harm's way by trains carrying volatile, hazardous crude that are known to derail and explode,” said Devorah Ancel, Sierra Club staff attorney. “Local, state and federal governments must take further immediate action to notify the public when hazardous crude is railed through their communities and to ban the use of unsafe DOT 111 tank cars.”
As a result of today’s victory, Sacramento Superior Court is expected to dismiss the lawsuit.