For Immediate Release, October 3, 2022
Maya Golden-Krasner, Center for Biological Diversity, (213) 215-3729, email@example.com
California Oil Group Pays Fees to Advocacy Groups It Harassed, But Dodges Multimillion Dollar Judgment
LOS ANGELES— The California Independent Petroleum Association, an oil industry trade association, paid the city of Los Angeles, Youth for Environmental Justice, South Central Youth Leadership Coalition, and the Center for Biological Diversity nearly $650,000 as part of a bankruptcy reorganization plan today, after years of litigation.
The bankruptcy allowed the petroleum association to avoid paying in full a court-ordered $2.3 million judgment for bringing a retaliatory SLAPP suit — “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation” — against the groups and the city. The SLAPP suit forced the groups into years of unnecessary litigation until a judge determined that the suit was intended to harass the groups after they won neighborhood oil drilling protections in Los Angeles in 2015.
The petroleum association’s members have included oil giants Chevron, Aera Energy and California Resources Corporation.
On Sept. 20, a California bankruptcy court approved the final plan under which the groups received a fraction of the judgment awarded by the trial court.
“The idea that Big Oil can’t afford to pay its due judgment to kids and conservationists is a bad punchline to a terrible joke,” said Maya Golden-Krasner, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “Justice would have the industry ponying up the millions it owes for harassing and intimidating youth groups fighting for clean air. But greasing the legal system to avoid penalties is about as predictable as the climate damage from their dirty fossil fuels.”
“No matter what small fraction they’re paying us, the oil industry’s intimidation tactics failed,” said Nalleli Cobo, co-founder of the South Central Youth Leadership Coalition. “People power is winning in California. We’re ready to get on with protecting communities from toxic oil pollution."
In 2015 the groups sued the city of Los Angeles for rubber-stamping oil projects in communities of color. Both sides reached a settlement in 2016 after the city adopted new requirements for drilling applications to protect vulnerable communities and ensure compliance with state environmental review rules.
The petroleum association sued the city and youth and environmental groups and forced years of litigation over a baseless SLAPP suit. In 2019 a California appeals court dismissed the petroleum association’s suit as a meritless attack on the groups, leading to the judgment that the association must pay the legal fees the groups incurred fighting it. A judge determined in July 2021 that the suit was intended to harass the groups after they won neighborhood oil drilling protections in Los Angeles.
“The industry should pay for the bullying that landed them in trouble,” said Alison Hahm, an attorney at Communities for a Better Environment’s Youth for Environmental Justice. “There’s something wrong with bankruptcy law that shields well-resourced private interests from responsibility, shifting financial burdens to communities already harmed by polluters and lobbyists. We’ll continue to fight for a safer, healthier future without fossil fuels.”
Despite its bankruptcy, the petroleum association has continued to spend hundreds of thousands on lobbying this year to oppose legislation aimed at protecting communities from oil industry pollution.
The petroleum association supported a referendum in Ventura County to overturn a law that would have increased environmental oversight of oil and gas drilling. An association board member is behind a statewide referendum to try to repeal S.B. 1137, California’s landmark legislation establishing setbacks that would prohibit new permits for oil activities within 3,200 feet of homes, schools, hospitals and other sensitive sites.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.