Lead Story West Edition

Youth groups settle lawsuit over oil drilling

SOUTH LOS ANGELES — The city of Los Angeles has settled a lawsuit filed by organizations representing young people involving oil drilling in residential neighborhoods.

Gladys Limón with Communities for a Better Environment represents Youth for Environmental Justice, the South Central Youth Leadership Coalition and the Center for Biological Diversity, which sued the city last year.

She said in South Los Angeles where the Jefferson drill site has 33 active wells, the nearest home is only three feet away and that an elementary school is a little over 700 feet from the site.

Limón said the city allowed more than 500 oil wells in Wilmington, and that people living near those areas often face a number of health problems including headaches, skin rashes and asthma.

The groups’ lawsuit, filed in November 2015, alleged that the city was approving oil drilling sites disproportionally in black and brown neighborhoods. The organizations said the city was violating anti-discriminatory protections and that they were not conducting environmental reviews required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

The city agreed, and about a week before they settled with the organizations on Sept. 28, the city Planning Department implemented new procedures and guidelines to make sure the city complies with CEQA rules when permitting oil wells. The guidelines acknowledged that oil drilling can “create unique risks and hazards” and “have significant and immediate impacts on the health, safety and welfare of the residents in and around the project site.”

The organizations were not suing for money, only for the changes in oil well approvals, and attorney fees. To the organizations and to Limón, the settlement was a major victory.

“The youth of color who live with the health and safety risks from oil drilling in their neighborhoods courageously asserted their rights against the city,” Limón said. “The City Attorney’s Office did right by taking a hard look at the city’s practices, leading to the implementation of new procedures to ensure compliance with state laws and the public’s welfare.”

But the story is not over. Now the youth and community organizations find themselves on the other end of a lawsuit. The California Independent Petroleum Association filed a cross-complaint, intervening on behalf of the oil drillers. Officials with the petroleum organization said in the complaint that the city and the community organizations had shut them out of communications regarding the case.

The association members said they are suing because the new conditions the city has implemented will impact their businesses. They’re asking the court declare the agreement between the city and the community organizations unconstitutional and to void it because they say it undermines the oil associations’ due process.

The group says the city and the community groups met and settled the suit in secret, and that the organizations would not provide the association with requested documents regarding the settlement.

Limón applauded the city’s actions, and said the petroleum association’s claims are false.

“The oil lobby group’s cross claims are entirely without merit,” Limón said. “They seek only to retaliate against the youth environmental groups for asserting their rights in challenging what they alleged were illegal drilling practices that endangered their health and safety.”