This June, the Environmental Law Clinic filed two new lawsuits on behalf of Communities for a Better Environment and Center for Biological Diversity, challenging two major projects in the East Bay to convert defunct oil refineries to biofuel refineries. These biofuel refineries have significant implications for local air, water, and odor pollution, and create local safety hazards and upstream and downstream climate impacts.
While many consider biofuels to be an environmentally friendly alternative to crude oil refining, biofuel production is energy and carbon intensive and has extensive impacts on environmental and human health. The feedstocks that would be used for these projects are food crops and animal products. Acquiring sufficient feedstocks for biofuel production puts the energy sector into competition with food sources, driving up food prices and leading to land use conversion, which releases greenhouse gases and eliminates natural carbon “sinks” like wetlands. Local and global environmental impacts also occur in the production, harvesting, and transporting of feedstocks to refineries. Because most biofuels are expected to come from the Midwest, communities along the supply route to the East Bay are likely to experience pollution exposure from transportation modes like diesel trucks and railcars.
Residents living near the biofuel refineries will suffer from significant air, water, and soil pollution, as well as nuisance odors and harmful fuel spills. These impacts are especially worrisome given that the projects are located in communities that are some of the most overburdened by pollution in the state. These communities – recognized by CalEPA as “disadvantaged” because of residents’ high exposure to air, water, and soil contamination – suffer from high asthma rates and low birthweight, as well as other ailments linked to pollution.
The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) was designed to address these local and global impacts through its robust environmental review provisions. As alleged in the petitions, however, the County of Contra Costa rushed approval of the two proposed biofuel refineries using incomplete and misleading environmental reviews. Specifically, the County failed to disclose critical information about the projects, used an improper and inadequate baseline against which to measure impacts, and failed to adopt adequate and enforceable mitigation measures and alternatives that would reduce impacts. ELC’s clients hope that this lawsuit will help rectify the deficiencies of these environmental reviews and provide the public with a full and honest assessment of the adverse impacts of these refinery conversions.