AQMD Approves Tesoro Project, Activists and Elected Officials Continue Opposition

After a multi-year process, the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) announced the approval of the final environmental impact report (EIR) for the Los Angeles Refinery Integration and Compliance (LARIC) project, often referred to as the Tesoro expansion. The project, which will merge Tesoro’s Carson and Wilmington plants and increase the crude oil storage and processing capacity making it the largest refinery on the West Coast, now moves to the EPA for final approval and permits.

Environmental groups, city officials, city agencies, and community members across Los Angeles, Carson and Long Beach have criticized and even objected to AQMD’s handling of the EIR process. The AQMD has continued to decrease air quality regulations since Republicans took over the board in February 2016. Last year the new board fired long-time Executive Officer Barry Wallerstein and replaced him with former Bush-appointed EPA administrator Wayne Nastri. Nastri was officially appointed in December 2016 and given a six-month contract at a salary of $271,080, against criticism from environmentalists who were concerned that Nastri’s former clients do business before the AMQD.

With the new leadership’s pro-business stance, communities like Wilmington are left with weakened regulations. In a AQMD press release about the decision to move forward with the LARIC project, Nastri stated, “After extensive review and consideration of the document and comments received, I have certified the EIR, recognizing the overall reduction in air pollution and reduced impacts to the neighboring community.” AQMD’s comments contradict evidence provided by environmental groups about the increase in pollution to the surrounding areas of Wilmington, Carson, and Long Beach.

Julia May, Senior Scientist of Communities for a Better Environment, is particularly worried about the increase in volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are known carcinogens and can lead to increased asthma in an already overburdened region. The project will also bring large amounts of North Dakota crude oil into Los Angeles which contain cancer-causing benzene and Canadian tar sands. Benzene, a natural chemical in crude oil and gasoline, is known to cause leukemia and other cancers of blood cells.

A recent study developed by the AQMD themselves shows local refinery emissions have been under-reported and are far worse than the AQMD estimated.

“Tesoro for example, had 43 times higher benzene levels…this should make the AQMD take pause, and send the draft EIR back to re-draft and recirculate,” said May prior to the approval of the EIR.

AQMD’s press release also states that the EIR process “included extensive public participation”, which some community members dispute. At a public hearing in May 2016, Wilmington resident Steve Salas spoke out against the refinery expansion and mentioned how Tesoro representatives were offering residents food at Banning Park in exchange for them signing a petition in support of the refinery. An overwhelming amount of Tesoro refinery workers, as well as Wilmington organizations who receive funding from Tesoro, showed up in support for the proposed refinery expansion.

In a Daily Breeze op-ed community organizer Alicia Rivera writes, “Tesoro discouraged the rest of the public from participating by getting there early, filling up the seats in a large room and submitting hundreds of speaker cards to drag the event out late… ”

Rivera commented on the decision last week, “After thousands marched to the gates of Tesoro on April 29 to protest this expansion and the pollution that Wilmington, Carson, and West Long Beach neighbors have to face daily, we are dismayed AQMD did not even honor our request to hold one more public hearing before certifying the project,”

A problem with the EIR process, is that it does not require projects to consider cumulative impacts in an area. AQMD’s analysis does not take into consideration Wilmington’s existing toxic sources of pollution (refineries, freeways, ports, trains). Carson City Manager Ken Farfsing said in a letter about about the project, “The draft environmental impact report utterly fails to address the potentially higher cumulative pollution impacts on low-income communities”.

In an over-burdened area in dire need of air quality improvements, AQMD stating that the project will not have “significant impact on air quality” and “will not cause a significant increase in cancer or non-cancer risks” does not mean much. In the South Bay Harbor of LA, coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death and lung cancer is the second leading cause of death. Children in Wilmington are twice as likely to suffer from asthma than children nationally.

Additionally, the air district has not met the federal standards for fine particle pollution, ozone levels, etc. and its newest plan to meet federal clean air standards leaves much room for improvement.

Over the last few years, Wilmington has received significant attention due to the creation of new programs designed to reduce pollution in Wilmington like Clean Up Green Up and emission reduction programs from the cap-and-trade fund created by SB 535. Jane Fonda, Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Rosario Dawson and other celebs have come to our community to see firsthand the damage done to Wilmington by polluters and have brought attention to issues like urban drilling, flaring and the LARIC project.

But it is not enough.

While programs like Clean Up Green Up are intended to help improve the air quality in Wilmington, they are undermined by the approval of projects like the LARIC project.

Wilmington representatives have had a long history of supporting polluting industries. In 2015 Wilmington City Councilmember Joe Buscaino supported the controversial BNSF railyard project, which was ultimately stopped because of a lawsuit filed by environmental activists and neighboring cities. Former Wilmington State Assemblymember and Senator Isadore Hall was a top recipient of campaign funds from the Oil lobby.

Polluters like Tesoro also sponsor programs in the community. This charity work does not exonerate refineries from their wrongdoing, but community residents have often felt unable to speak up due to the financial support they receive from the refineries.

As community members we have a duty to speak up.

Environmental groups and community leaders are asking for online signatures to Nastri to protest the EIR decision. You can also use social media to target AQMD using the hashtag #ShameOnSCAQMD or by clicking the “Join this thunderclap” button below . You can also see sample social media posts here.


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