By Tom Lochner Contra Costa Times
SAN FRANCISCO — A lawsuit by environmental groups seeking to stop shipments of crude oil by rail to Richmond was tossed out by a judge Friday on the grounds that it was filed too late.
Communities for a Better Environment, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council sued the Bay Area Air Quality Management District in March. The suit involved a Feb. 3 permit issued to Kinder Morgan to receive crude oil by rail at its Richmond trans-loading facility along the BNSF Railway tracks off Garrard Boulevard, where the oil is transferred to trucks.
Kinder Morgan Material Services LLC and Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP were co-defendants.
The Feb. 3 permit amended a July 2013 permit that allowed Kinder Morgan to operate a denatured ethanol and crude oil bulk terminal. Ethanol is a volatile liquid derived from grain that is used as fuel or as a fuel additive, among other uses. The Feb. 3 amendments included modified testing procedures and standards for trucks. But the judge applied the 180-day statute of limitations to when the July 2013 permit was issued.
Both permits were issued ministerially and without environmental review.
Kinder Morgan has declined to say where the trucks are headed, citing confidentiality, but they are widely believed to be bound for the Tesoro Golden Eagle refinery in Martinez. Tesoro was an intervenor in the lawsuit, which had sought a preliminary injunction against further crude oil operations at Kinder Morgan and suspension of the air district permit pending a full review under the California Environmental Quality Act.
Earlier this year, a Tesoro spokeswoman confirmed the Martinez facility receives between 5,000 and 10,000 barrels per day of Bakken crude, a light, flammable variety named after oil fields in North Dakota and adjacent areas. That amount is equivalent to about two to four trains per month, the spokeswoman said, and is received through a “third-party facility” that she did not identify.
Air district counsel Brian Bunger hailed Friday’s decision as “a correct application of the law.”
“We’re pleased with the outcome,” Bunger said.
Air district spokeswoman Lisa Fasano said late Friday that “The Air District will continue to work with state legislators and policy makers regarding where and how crude oil is transported into the region for refining.”
But Earthjustice blasted the dismissal, saying it allows Kinder Morgan and the air district to “get away with opening (Richmond) to crude oil transport by rail without public notice.”
“This is just how the agencies and industry wins — hide the information, make the change under the cover of night, and hope people don’t notice while the clock winds down on any hope to stop these dangerous and callous developments,” Earthjustice attorney Suma Peesapati said in a news release. “What’s worse is this emboldens other companies to do the same thing and hide their switch to crude oil.”
Kinder Morgan and Tesoro did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday.
Responding by email Friday, Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia, who sits on the air district board, said: “Despite this case’s dismissal, I remain concerned about the safety of transporting Bakken Crude and believe it’s important for the Federal Government to strengthen safety standards.”
Contact Tom Lochner at 510-262-2760. Follow him at Twitter.com/tomlochner.