Environmental groups challenge shipments of crude oil by rail in the San Francisco bay area

On March 27, 2014, Earthjustice, on behalf of several environmental and conservation groups, filed a lawsuit against the Bay Area Air Quality Management LLC (BAAQM) for issuing a permit allowing North Dakotan Bakken crude oil to be transported to refineries in the San Francisco Bay area,  The environmentalists argue that the BAAQM issued the permit without any notice or public process, without considering the “well-known and potentially catastrophic risk to public health and safety” as evidenced in the Lac-Mégantic, Québec train derailment in July 2013, and without complying with the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). 

The environmentalists contend that, in labeling the permit request as “ministerial,” the BAAQM ignored “the risks of derailment and accidents, risks of explosions, increased release of toxic air pollutants, increased greenhouse gases from further train travel, and increased noxious odors.”  The groups assert that these impacts from the issuance of the permit should have been publicly disclosed, analyzed and mitigated in an Environmental Impact Review (EIR).  They point to the already-heavily polluted community where the rail yard is located and to California’s inadequate and aged railroad infrastructure. 

The environmental groups seek a declaratory judgment and preliminary injunction to set aside the permit, to require full compliance with the CEQA , and to enjoin crude-by rail operations under the permit until an EIR is complete and subject to public scrutiny.

This post was written by Barclay Nicholson (barclay.nicholson@nortonrosefulbright.com or 713.651.3662) from Norton Rose Fulbright's Energy Practice Group.