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Assoc. of Irritated Residents v. Kern County Board of Supervisors

ELR Citation: 47 ELR 20152
Nos. S-1500-CV-283166, (Cal. Super. Ct., 11/21/2017)

A California appellate court held that a project to modify an oil refinery so it can unload the equivalent of 150,000 barrels of crude oil per day should not proceed until corrections can be made to its state environmental impact report (EIR). The project proposed transporting crude oil from the Bakken formation in North Dakota. Compared to heavier crudes, Bakken crude may be more volatile and likely to explode in the event of a rail accident. Plaintiffs contended that the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) was violated because the EIR underestimated or failed to fully describe the project's potential impacts, including the risk of a rail accident causing a release of hazardous materials and the environmental impacts of off-site rail activity. The project proponents contended that federal law preempted CEQA review of certain environmental impacts of off-site railroad activities and that transport risks were included in the EIR. The court held that the EIR contained a factual error about train accidents that tainted its results. Further, federal law – the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act – does not preempt CEQA review of the project’s reasonably foreseeable indirect physical changes to the environment as the review does not directly or indirectly interfere with railroad operations. The case was remanded for further proceedings.