Tesoro’s LA refinery expansion has major impacts in LA and nationally. Even after 5,000 people marched in Wilmington in April calling for a more comprehensive environmental review, the government approved it. (Photo credit: Hannah Benet)

AQMD Approves Largest West Coast Refinery, Ignoring Community Voices

by Jack Eidt, Director – Wild Heritage Planners

5,000 People’s Climate Marchers converged on the Tesoro Refinery in April to speak out against the dangers to communities and the planet from the project. Sadly, the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) went ahead two weeks later and approved a merger and expansion of the facility, making it the largest fossil fuel processor on the West Coast.

The April event, supported by over 100 community and social justice organizations in solidarity with marches worldwide, was led by frontline LA Harbor Area community activists. Robert F. Kennedy Jr., CA Sen. Kevin de Leon, and actor/activist Jane Fonda highlighted the dangers of enabling Tesoro to expand and open the faucet to explosive fracked Bakken crude and toxic, corrosive Canadian tar sands. Many advocates for and residents of the vulnerable communities surrounding the five nearby refineries then marched from Banning Park to the Tesoro refinery.

The event culminated with a prayer by Indigenous leaders at the gates of the refinery, a community that has been very vocal about the related Dakota Access Pipeline violating treaty rights and threatening water resources of the Standing Rock Sioux in North Dakota.

Evidently, the collective call for a more comprehensive environmental review of the Tesoro LA merger and expansion were not enough.

The AQMD decision left no appeals recourse, included no public hearings except one held in May 2016. Such an authoritarian decision seems to violate the spirit of the California Environmental Quality Act, but this is how the Air Quality Management District conducts its business.

Thus, on June 2, Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) (including grandmothers from Wilmington), Communities for a Safe Environment, the California Nurses Association, my organization SoCal 350 Climate Action, South Bay 350, Progressive Asian Network for Action (PANA), March and Rally LA, and others, engaged in a peaceful public assembly and demonstration involving chanting and holding signs at the Governing Board meeting in protest of the Board’s decision approving the massive Tesoro expansion. Additional members of the public joined the protest.

Alicia Rivera, a community organizer from CBE said: “They already rubber-stamped the decision, without evaluating the impact of that dirty crude.” Rivera further told Random Lengths, “That’s why I said we believe that they evade responsibility on this significant issue by putting all the power on the executive officer [Wayne Nastri]. They should have a public hearing: they should be the ones deciding, not the executive officer, that’s why we started chanting.”

Over 2000 people signed letters from SoCal 350, CBE, and the Center for Biological Diversity. Please sign this and join the protest from SoCal 350!

Following this, CBE on June 14, representing community members surrounding the massive refinery, filed a lawsuit against the AQMD alleging it unlawfully approved the Tesoro refinery expansion and merger project by failing to conduct necessary environmental review. The lawsuit states that the District failed to disclose significant elements of the project and their health and safety impacts to surrounding communities. The group alleges that the project will allow Tesoro to import and refine North Dakotan fracked crude and Canadian tar sands.

The suit follows similar legal action filed by the city of Carson last month against the South Coast Air Quality Management District. It’s interesting that CBE’s offices in Huntington Park were broken into the weekend prior to the filing of the lawsuit, safes were broken into, and computers stolen. At this point, this writer has no proof the two are related, but the crime’s timing served to scare employees of the organization that is legally taking on a major corporation and governmental agencies responsible for massive pollution for a community and region that suffers some of the worst air quality in the nation. Tesoro already is the largest greenhouse gas polluter in the state of California, a climate scofflaw.

Our air quality regulatory board, AQMD, has forsaken the interest of the LA Harbor Area frontline communities already suffering contamination from the five refineries, two major ports, and freeway corridors. Last year Republicans overthrew long-time Executive Officer Barry Wallerstein; his replacement Wayne Nastri has now delivered the prize to Big Oil. It’s up to us to tell the AQMD and Tesoro that this is not acceptable, that they must uphold the interests of the community, and the movement toward climate justice, and stop caving into one of the most powerful lobbies in the world, Big Oil.

To keep in touch with SoCal 350 Climate Action, click https://socal350.org/ and sign up for updates or check our calendar of events: https://socal350.org/calendar/.

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