Outing Polluters

Oil refineries, grocery stores and lackadaisical enforcement have helped make L.A. the smog capital of the West. Here are just some of the egregious violators and the penalties incurred for violating our air space. AES Alamitos Settlement: $17 million Violation: In 2000, the gargantuan power plant was penalized for allowing its Long Beach facility to illegally emit more than 1 million pounds of smog-forming emissions — about 50 percent more than allowed under its air-pollution permits. Albertsons/Vons/Ralphs (Kroger)/Stater Bros. Settlement: $30 million Violation: The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Coalition for Clean Air (CCA) filed a lawsuit against the grocery giants in 2000, alleging that their diesel trucks were left idling for hours, causing emissions far above state health standards. The stores agreed to install natural-gas-powered motors for on-road and off-road fleets, install particulate traps, and inform workers and residents in English and Spanish that they may be exposed to harmful chemicals. AQMD Settlement: $1 million Violation: In 1997, the NRDC and CCA took the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to task for their inability to administer 32 clean-air measures, including their failure to administer a program to buy and scrap as many as 75,000 old cars a year, adopt a more stringent standard on household paints and industrial cleaning solvents, and enforce pollution limits for bakeries and restaurants. The CARB settled a few years later, but the AQMD held out until a federal judge — in a ruling that marked the first time a court enforced a state air plan — forced the air district to enact a wide range of new air-pollution solutions to control everything from house paints to old refinery flares. AQMD Settlement: $1 million Violation: In 2003, Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) and Our Children’s Earth filed a lawsuit against the AQMD for violating the federal Clean Air Act in the administration of the Regional Clean Air Incentive Market (RECLAIM), an air-pollution-trading program designed to control emissions of the ozone-creating nitrogen oxides — the principal elements of smog. The agency agreed to establish a $1 million fund to finance environmental projects to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides in affected communities and post information about the program on its Web site. British Petroleum Settlement: $81 million Violation: In March, the AQMD won a record settlement with the energy giant, accused of illegally spewing toxic gases from its Carson refinery for nearly a decade. The air district claimed that B.P. inadequately inspected its large aboveground storage tanks, kept shoddy records, failed to inspect and repair its equipment, and leaked a larger amount of smog-forming volatile organic compounds than it was reporting. These incidents occurred over a period of two and a half years and affected 17 schools in the area. Air regulators reported that teachers and children were exposed to gases, including hydrogen sulfide — a poisonous substance that gives off the smell of rotten eggs — and suffered dizziness, headaches and breathing problems. Although it didn’t admit to any wrongdoing, B.P. agreed to shell out $50 million for community and clean-air projects, including $30 million for a community-outreach program for those living around the refineries with asthma and other health problems. Chevron USA Inc. Settlement: $7.4 million Violation: In 2000, Chevron settled charges that it violated the Clean Air Act at its El Segundo refinery, the largest one west of the Mississippi. The lawsuit, which was filed by CBE, alleged that Chevron, which produces more than 260,000 barrels of oil a day, bypassed federal law and dumped tons of toxic and carcinogenic chemicals on the communities every time it loaded its tankers. In the same case, the environmental group also charged that a pollution-trading program set up by the AQMD violated the civil rights of the poor, minority communities living around the heavily industrial area. As part of the settlement, Chevron agreed to install pollution-control equipment at the El Segundo refinery and dole out $500,000 for a mobile asthma clinic in Wilmington. China Shipping Holding Co. Settlement: $60 million Violations: In 2001, the NRDC, CBE and the CCA partnered with local community groups in a lawsuit against the Port of Los Angeles, charging that the port failed to conduct an Environmental Impact Report before it built container-handling facilities at a 174-acre terminal the port leased to the China Shipping Holding Co. The environmental groups successfully persuaded a three-judge panel to close the project down, just weeks before it planned to open. The 2003 settlement agreement allowed the port to finish building the terminal and put aside $50 million in community projects, including $20 million for air-quality improvements, the creation of parks in nearby communities, and $10 million toward replacing old diesel trucks with cleaner-burning models. Los Angeles Department of Water and Power Settlement: $14 million Violation: In 2000, with electricity supplies tight, the DWP fired up three old plants that had been closed since 1995. The extra power gave the energy giant an additional 960 megawatts of generating capacity. However, the plants produced about 50 percent more smog-forming emissions than modern plants and were on their way to emitting up to 100 tons more nitrogen oxide — a brownish gas produced by combustion that turns the sky hazy and adds to lung-scarring ozone. The result: The DWP provided excess power to the state, and the $14 million penalty went to various projects, including partnering with the AQMD for natural-gas-fueling infrastructure. Exxon Mobil Oil Corp. Settlement: $8.25 million Violation: The AQMD fined the oil giant for air-pollution violations at its Torrance Refinery and Terminal Island facilities in 2004. The citations ranged from improper inspection and maintenance of large tanks used to store gasoline, to not properly supervising its contractors, to leaking smog-forming volatile organic compounds. Keysor-Century Settlement: $4.3 million Violation: Keysor-Century Corp., a now-defunct company that manufactured polyvinyl chloride at its facility in Saugus, pleaded guilty in 2001 to a series of felony charges for violating the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act; committing mail fraud and defrauding the United States; and civil violations of the Emergency Planning and Community Right To Know Act. The company, which was once a major producer of vinyl records, admitted to dumping toxic wastewater into the Santa Clara River, releasing air pollutants, falsifying emission reports to state and federal agencies, and illegally storing and handling hazardous waste. LAX Agreement: $500 million Violation: Although a lawsuit was never filed, the LAX Coalition for Economic, Environmental and Educational Justice, a coalition of community groups, environmental organizations and labor unions, joined together to negotiate a $500 million package of environmental initiatives to the city’s $11 billion LAX plan. The 2004 package included a $200 million plan to install soundproofing, air-conditioning and air-filter systems for schools near the airport, a study of the long-term health effects of noise and air pollution on those living near the airport, and a deal to replace diesel airport vehicles with cleaner-burning equipment. Ultramar Settlement: $1 million Violation: With prompting from CBE and Wilmington residents, the AQMD agreed to work with the petroleum refinery to phase out its use of concentrated hydrogen fluoride by the end of 2005. The lung-searing chemical, which can cause immediate death if released, was the cause of the Bhopal, India, disaster in 1984. As a penalty, Ultramar agreed to donate money to the Liberty Hill Foundation and the American Lung Association, and to pay $400,000 for installation of pollution-control devices at its refinery.


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