Lawsuit Says State Failed to Conduct Proper Environmental Review
February 25, 2021
SACRAMENTO, Calif.— The Center for Biological Diversity sued the state of California on Wednesday for approving thousands of oil and gas drilling and fracking projects without the required environmental review.
Today’s lawsuit says that the state’s primary oil and gas regulator, the California Geologic Energy Management Division, or CalGEM, has ignored its legal obligation to conduct analyses of environmental and health harms before issuing permits and approvals.
In 2020 alone regulators approved nearly 2,000 permits for new oil and gas wells without proper environmental review.
“It is completely unacceptable for Gov. Newsom to continue to ignore our flagship environmental law that’s meant to protect people from oil industry pollution,” said Hollin Kretzmann, an attorney at the Center’s Climate Law Institute. “Newsom can’t protect our health and climate while giving thousands of illegal permits each year to this dirty and dangerous industry. We need the courts to step in and stop this.”
Under the California Environmental Quality Act — the state’s bedrock environmental protection and community right-to-know law — state and local agencies are required to disclose, analyze and mitigate a project’s environmental harms before approving oil and gas permits. But for years CalGEM has granted approvals for new oil and gas activity without conducting any such studies. As a result, regulators have approved thousands of permits every year that haven’t been reviewed for health and environmental risks.
Regulators have also skipped public notice, comment and hearing requirements that ordinarily apply.
“The state’s failure to conduct environmental review has been in reckless disregard of the health and safety impacts imposed on communities at the frontlines of gas and oil operations,” said Gladys Limón, executive director of the California Environmental Justice Alliance. “Our government’s primary duty is to protect communities, which requires diligently identifying and preventing short- and long-term impacts to people’s health and life expectancy.”
The lawsuit challenges CalGEM’s approval of oil and gas projects, including drilling, fracking and injection throughout the state. If successful it would force CalGEM to complete a review of health and environmental impacts before approving future projects.
“State laws are designed to protect communities and minimize pollution,” said Deborah Sivas, director of the Environmental Law Clinic at Stanford Law School, who is representing the Center in the lawsuit. “The state can’t continue to pretend these fundamental protections don’t apply to one of the most polluting and dangerous industries on the planet.”
Despite Gov. Newsom’s progressive rhetoric on climate change, he has failed to curb California’s dirty and carbon-intensive oil and gas production. His regulators continue to issue thousands of permits without review, and the governor has refused to act on his stated desire to ban fracking. Newsom’s regulators also failed to meet the governor’s deadline to publish a draft health-and-safety rule after vowing to do so before the end of 2020.
“The governor is openly flouting the law by rubberstamping new oil permits, and we believe the courts will make him stop,” Kretzmann said.
Today’s suit was filed in the California Superior Court of Alameda County.