For Immediate Release, September 8, 2021

Contact:

Maya Golden-Krasner, Center for Biological Diversity, (213) 215-3729, mgoldenkrasner@biologicaldiversity.org
Ashley Hernandez, Youth for Environmental Justice, (310) 780-7753, ashley@cbecal.org

California Oil Industry Lobby Group Files for Bankruptcy

CIPA May Dodge Millions Owed to City of Los Angeles, Activist Groups

SACRAMENTO, Calif.— The California Independent Petroleum Association, one of the two main lobbying groups for the oil and gas industry in California, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in a state bankruptcy court this week. The move comes after a Los Angeles court ordered the group to pay more than $2 million to the Center for Biological Diversity, youth groups from South Los Angeles and Wilmington, and the city of Los Angeles for filing a retaliatory lawsuit against them.

The bankruptcy filing suggests the lobbyists won’t pay the multi-million-dollar judgment, after forcing years of litigation over a baseless SLAPP suit (“Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation”) against the groups. A judge determined in July that the suit was intended to harass the groups after they won neighborhood oil drilling protections in Los Angeles in 2015.

“What a bunch of absolute cowards,” said Maya Golden-Krasner, an attorney at the Center’s Climate Law Institute. “It’s disgraceful for this oil industry front group to sue a bunch of kids fighting for cleaner air, try to intimidate groups fighting pollution, and then run away from the bill when courts put a stop to their bullying behavior.”

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 oil and gas association then counter-sued, claiming that the city, environmental and youth groups had violated its constitutional right to due process ― a classic SLAPP suit intended to harass and intimidate people defending their rights.

In 2019 a California appeals court dismissed the petroleum association’s suit as a meritless attack on the groups, leading to the judgment that it must pay the legal fees they incurred fighting it.

“Hearing that they filed for bankruptcy is beyond upsetting,” said Nalleli Cobo, co-founder of the South Central Youth Leadership Coalition. “Seeing how close we were to a win, only to have this big corporation take the easy way out. When will this industry be forced to face the consequences of poisoning innocent people? We’ll continue to fight until everyone has access to clean air no matter their age, gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status or ZIP code.”

The California Independent Petroleum Association, or CIPA, has continued to spend hundreds of thousands on lobbying this year to oppose legislation aimed at protecting communities from oil industry pollution.

“Oil operators continue to put their pockets over what is rightly ours, whether it’s money or control of our environment,” said Ashley Hernandez, a Wilmington youth organizer. “Our courageous leaders may be young, but they know the insidious strategies that CIPA launches to avoid being held accountable for the racist rubber-stamping in BIPOC neighborhoods. We will not let CIPA and other oil representatives slither away from their responsibility to our vulnerable communities, not after achieving a landmark judgment ensuring a process is underway to protect frontline communities from their practices.”

The industry group is highly influential in shaping state policies on oil and gas. Jason Marshall, the former head of the California Geologic Energy Management Division, the state’s primary oil and gas regulator, is now an executive board member of the association.

The association’s members have included oil giants like Chevron, Aera Energy (a joint venture of Shell and Exxon), and California Resources Corporation. Chevron alone reported $3.1 billion in earnings in the most recent quarter.

Several law firms engaged in the oil and gas association’s litigation, including those filing the SLAPP suit, are also themselves members of the association. One law firm, Alston & Bird, is listed as a creditor. The firm is a member of the association, and a partner of the law firm sits on the board of a member organization, the California Natural Gas Producers Association. Attorneys from the law firm represented the association in its lawsuit against the youth groups and the Center.

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Photo from Inglewood Oil Field by Gary Kavanagh Image is available for media use.

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.