LOS ANGELES— Environmental justice and conservation groups sued the city of Paramount, California today over its approval of a biofuel refinery expansion without adequate environmental review.
The lawsuit challenges the environmental review process for restarting the mostly shuttered petroleum refinery and converting it to produce biodiesel, biogas and “sustainable aviation fuel.” The groups say the review obscures the harms of processing 25,000 barrels of animal fat and vegetable feedstock per day, installing a 3.7-mile gas pipeline, and generating up to 50 railcar and 540 truck trips per day.
The refinery is in a high-density minority and low-income neighborhood, adjacent to Paramount High School and two elementary schools.
“This project ignores the dangers of dirty infrastructure our communities know far too well — increased risks of flaring, fires, and explosions all happening right next to the schools and homes of Paramount residents,” said Whitney Amaya, Zero Waste community organizer at East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice. “Cities should be working on zero-emission solutions, not rubberstamping biofuel projects that will increase toxic pollution and harm the health and safety of the communities they represent.”
Heavily industrial Paramount ranks as one of the most polluted cities in California. Its residents experience the highest levels of cancer-causing hexavalent chromium in Los Angeles County, as well as increased rates of asthma and cardiovascular disease. The converted refinery would release smog-forming pollution that exacerbates these harms.
“This project puts public health and safety in jeopardy in an attempt to squeeze profits from century-old infrastructure,” said Liz Jones, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “Restarting this dirty refinery promises more pollution, not the climate solutions we desperately need. I’m skeptical that there will be sufficient emissions reductions from this project, and certainly not enough to justify the ongoing injustices inflicted on Paramount residents.”
“Even the city of Paramount acknowledged the unmitigated harm from this project by relying on a statement of overriding consideration which concludes that unavoidable adverse environmental impacts associated with this project may be considered acceptable,” said Shana Lazerow, legal director at Communities for a Better Environment. “We need to move away from extractive energy systems that spew pollution into already overburdened communities.”
Rather than fully shut down petroleum refineries, operators are increasingly restarting and converting them to produce “renewable” fuels or biofuels. The demand for feedstock to supply these refineries is expected to rise as more projects come online in Rodeo, Martinez and Bakersfield.
The greenhouse gas emissions from some of these feedstocks can be as significant as emissions from oil and gas when the clearing of forests and wetlands to grow crops is accounted for. In addition, more investment in biofuels can increase nutrient pollution, pesticide contamination and water scarcity, while delaying the needed transition to electrified transportation in sectors like aviation and trucking.
“We’re outraged that the city of Paramount rubberstamped this oil industry proposal to greenwash one polluting facility for another,” said Oscar Espino-Padron, a senior attorney at Earthjustice. “Paramount’s deeply flawed environmental review is full of glaring errors and omissions, ignoring the very real and harmful impacts that this project would have on the already overburdened surrounding communities. We have no choice but to take the city to court to ensure impacted residents get the meaningful environmental review that they deserve.”
The Paramount refinery began operating in the 1930s. In 2011, the refinery was idled. Crude oil production stopped and was permanently shut down in 2017. Meanwhile, the operator made modifications in 2014 and 2015 to process 3,500 barrels of vegetable oils and beef tallow per day. The proposed project would increase biofuel processing capacity more than sevenfold.
Earthjustice is providing legal representation for East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, Communities for a Better Environment, and the Center for Biological Diversity. Communities for a Better Environment and the Center for Biological Diversity are also co-counseling.