Community allies have filed the opening brief in litigation against the County of Los Angeles and PXP Oil Company challenging the legal adequacy of the Final Environmental Impact Report (the “EIR”) for the regulation of new oil well drilling and other operations in the Inglewood Oil Field through oil field regulations known as the Baldwin Hills Community Standards District (the “CSD”). Spurred by the 2006 damaging release of noxious gases caused by oil drilling impacting surrounding neighborhoods, the County recognized that expanded operations in a 900 acre oil field operating in the middle of a highly urbanized environment with over a million people required the modernization of anachronistic zoning regulations. The new oil field regulations were supposed to “ensure that oil field operations are conducted in harmony with adjacent land uses, to minimize the potential adverse impacts of such operations so they are compatible with surrounding land uses…to protect the comfort, health, safety and general welfare of people living, working and recreating in the surrounding areas.” Unfortunately, the oil field regulations missed the mark in many ways. This is a classic case where people of color are being forced to accept a noxious industrial use without full mitigation. Such an outcome would not be tried in other communities.
The opening brief was filed by petitioners the City of Culver City; Community Health Councils, Inc.; Natural Resources Defense Council; Mark Salkin; Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles, and Citizens Coalitions for a Safe Community.
The oil field regulations were intended so that future oil operations, including hundreds of new wells, and even the future development of so-called mitigation, would be insulated from future review under the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”). Thus, as a practical matter, the EIR purports to be the final discretionary review for all new drilling and other operations at the oil field over the next twenty years. Given the long-range impacts of PXP’s planned massive drilling and oil extraction operations, the EIR’s inadequacy, as well as the inadequacy of the purported mitigation measures under the regulations, are of substantial regional importance for dozens of communities and the tens of thousands of families who live and work in them.
While the new oil field regulations may be an improvement over the County’s prior minimal regulation over the oil field, the EIR supporting it has major flaws that undermine its adequacy both as an informational document and as a means to develop the important feasible mitigation measures necessary to protect against anticipated environmental harm. As so many of the defects have undermined the County’s ability to identify and mitigate the impacts from the oil field operations, the EIR’s defects will have real-life impacts on surrounding communities. Petitioners have endeavored to focus on those defects which, if corrected, should result in meaningful changes to the EIR and the regulations – changes that will benefit the surrounding communities and environment. Among those are the following:
- The EIR Failed to Describe or Consider the Right Project.
- The EIR Improperly Included Emissions from Prior Drilling Projects in its Air Quality Baseline.
- The EIR Failed to Adequately Consider the Risk of Major Oil Spills Like the One That Had Occurred Only Months Before the EIR was Issued.
- In “Mitigating” the Noise Impacts of Drilling, the EIR Allows a Noise Increase in Residential Areas Already Subjected to Excessive Noise.
- The EIR Entirely Abdicated the Obligation to Consider the Significance of Greenhouse Gas Emissions.
- The EIR Failed to Include Feasible Mitigation Measures that Would Help Protect Surrounding Residents.
- The EIR Lacks an Adequate Analysis of the Social, Economic and Environmental Justice Effects and Physical Changes Caused by the Project.
- The Regulations Unlawfully Deferred the Implementation of Enforceable Mitigation.
- The Final EIR Should Have Been Recirculated.
“The Baldwin Hills area of Los Angeles has long been a geographical focus for African Americans. The African American movement towards the Baldwin Hills area is rooted in a number of factors, including racial segregation that existed throughout the Los Angeles area in the 1950s . . . As segregation began to fall in the 1960s, middle and upper class African Americans disproportionately moved westward from South Central Los Angeles. White flight from advancing blacks opened up opportunities to rent or buy housing. Hundreds of houses and apartment complexes were built in Baldwin Hills in the 1950s providing larger more comfortable houses that were desirable to the more affluent African Americans that moved to the area. . . . By the late-1950s and early-1960s Baldwin Hills became the heart of affluent African American culture in Los Angeles. ” The quoted language is from the final EIR.