Central Valley Communities Fight to Hold Petroleum Refineries Accountable

Communities challenge Valley Air’s dangerous air monitoring exemptions


Oscar Espino-Padron, Earthjustice, (213) 766-1070

Today, Central Valley communities filed a lawsuit challenging the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District’s (Valley Air) decision to grant a number of unlawful loopholes to exempt petroleum refineries from monitoring their toxic emissions. Despite state laws mandating that all refineries in California monitor their emissions, Valley Air has adopted weak regulations that illegally exempt petroleum refineries in the San Joaquin Valley from monitoring emissions of a number of toxic chemicals known to be hazardous to our health.

“Time and time again, Valley Air has prioritized industry demands over public health and safety,” said Juan Flores from the Center on Race, Poverty & The Environment. “The agency allows refineries who don’t comply with regulations to operate without penalty. Valley Air must reverse course and use their authority to protect our communities and finally hold the oil industry accountable.”

There are four petroleum refineries in the San Joaquin Valley, mostly concentrated in Bakersfield within Kern County, the largest oil-producing and most polluted county in the state. This region suffers from the worst air quality in the nation, experiencing harmful levels of lung-searing ozone or smog that can undermine lung formation in children and cause other health complications. As a major source of air pollution, refineries exacerbate these dangerous air conditions and expose neighboring communities to unacceptable risks to their health and safety every day.

In 2017, the California Legislature passed AB 1647 to require all refineries monitor their air pollution crossing into fenceline communities. This important law was designed to bring some much-needed transparency to refinery operations and provide frontline communities with vital information they need and deserve to protect their health. Yet instead of implementing this law, Valley Air instead sought to appease the oil industry by granting unlawful exemptions and creating a rule that arbitrarily limits the range of pollutants for monitoring and number of community air monitoring sites.

Today’s filing from Earthjustice and the Center on Race Poverty & The Environment challenges these exemptions and seeks to close the loopholes created by Valley Air’s weak regulations. The petition calls on Valley Air to comply with the law by requiring that all refineries install air monitoring equipment, including community air monitoring in important areas such as residences and schools.

“We cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the emissions spewing out of California’s petroleum refineries,” said Oscar Espino-Padron, a staff attorney with Earthjustice. “In order to deal with this serious problem and protect the public, we need the oil industry to do its part by being transparent about refinery emissions and curbing dangerous emissions by updating their equipment. Given the severe risks posed by petroleum refineries, the very least the oil industry can do is provide the public with accurate data on refinery emissions.”

Read the legal document.

Jose Mireles, President of Comite Progreso de Lamont, and his family near refinery operations in Lamont.
Jose Mireles, President of Comite Progreso de Lamont, and his family near refinery operations in Lamont. (Juan Flores / The Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment)

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