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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.

LA Weekly