What can I say to the recent letter from the Center for Biological Diversity about my column on a recent court ruling, except “Hey! Thanks for proving my point.”
My story, which ran July 4, took to task several environmental groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, for crowing about a “major legal victory” regarding an appellate court ruling over a stormwater collection system at the Bakersfield Crude Terminal.
The press release was riddled with misleading information.
Maybe I should just let these things go.
But I get tired of these overblown press releases from activist groups.
They make outlandish claims that get a blip of publicity without anyone checking the facts and become embedded in the public’s mind as “true.”
So, I checked facts.
My take was that if these groups want credibility they shouldn’t play fast and loose with the truth.
That apparently didn’t go over well with the Center for Biological Diversity.
Its attorney Maya Golden-Krasner wrote that I missed some key details in my column.
Uh oh, really?
No. Not really, but we’ll get to that.
First, the background.
The Bakersfield Crude Terminal, southeast of Taft, offloads hundreds of rail tanker cars of crude every day and ships the oil to refineries in Southern California.
It was permitted by Kern County back in 2012.
The stormwater collection system was part of that original permit but as a leach field.
Operators applied for a new permit in 2014 because they wanted to use tanks and a separator to better sequester the oily water and reduce emissions.
Seems like a good idea but activist group EarthJustice, representing several local and statewide activist groups, sued in 2015 because the San Joaquin Air Pollution Control District hadn't opened the permitting process up to public hearings.
A Kern County Superior Court sided with the air district and EarthJustice appealed.
In late June, the 5th District Court of Appeal reversed the lower court and sent the case back to Kern saying it needs to A) order the air district to redo the permits under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and B) decide if the stormwater collection system should be suspended while the air district conducts its redo.
The ruling didn’t overturn approval of the terminal.
That’s not how the screaming press release sent out by Center for Biological Diversity made it sound, claiming the ruling was a “major legal victory against oil trains.”
Nope, trains are still rolling right through the center of town. (Something I wish the public had been given better notice about but Kern County shuffled that under the radar, which is a whole other story.)
Anyhow, Golden-Krasner didn’t like my story and wrote last week to complain that “Lois Henry makes the exact same mistake air regulators made.”
She goes on about how CEQA doesn’t allow “piecemealing,” or permitting a large project one bit at a time in order to avoid public review and minimize the appearance of environmental effects.
OK, but the court made no ruling about piecemealing and left it as an unresolved issue.
Golden-Krasner goes on:
“And Henry tried to minimize a legal victory for the air we breathe by overlooking the court’s finding that the terminal — including the sewer system — might emit more pollution than air regulators admitted.”
First, I love how these groups try and anthropomorphize the environment as Golden-Krasner tries to do with “air,” imbuing it with legal rights.
Just a reminder, the only reason we care about clean air is because of its health effects on humans.
Snarky side note: How long before these groups are suing on behalf of gravity’s “right” not to be abused by human activities?
Anyhow, the court made no such finding that the terminal “might emit more pollution than air regulators admitted.”
That’s just false.
The court makes some very technical findings about whether the air district exercised “discretion,” which triggers a CEQA review by applying a rounding policy to emissions authorized by its permits.
Finally, Golden-Krasner finds it “curious” that I didn’t mention that the reason the court didn’t suspend operations of the stormwater collection system was because the EPA had issued a notice of violation for that system and the court didn’t want to get in the middle of that process.
And that the violation was for, among other things, the air district “underestimating its air emissions,” according to Golden-Krasner.
That part is true but Golden-Krasner left out a big part of the story.
“The Air District was able to convince EPA that they were wrong,” said Annette Ballatore-Williamson, the air district’s attorney, regarding questions about whether emissions were calculated properly
As to the rest, the air district made revisions to the permits per EPA’s concerns (basically spelling out what the terminal was already doing under the permits) about six months ago and hasn’t heard back, Ballatore-Williamson said.
I contacted the EPA for a status update. The case is still "active," I was told, but nothing more.
Here's what I find curious.
The EPA apparently didn't bother talking with the Bakersfield Crude Terminal operators nor the air district prior to issuing that violation.
According to the air district and the environmental director of the terminal, no one from the EPA came by, asked questions, requested information — nada.
EarthJustice did though.
It was the only entity to request a copy of Bakersfield Crude Terminal’s permitting file, which it received in January 2015.
The air district first learned of the violation (which included information that only could have come from that file) when it was notified the morning of May 4, 2015, just hours before EarthJustice put out, oh yeah, a screaming press release about the violation.
I'd hate to think the EPA relied solely on information provided by an activist group to issue a major violation rather than conducting an independent investigation.
Interestingly, when I asked the EPA about that violation, it emailed me a copy to make sure that was the correct one.
The link to it was from EarthJustice.org.