January 29, 2015 / 7:11 PM / 3 years ago

Environmental groups sue California air district over crude by rail permit

SAN FRANCISCO, Jan 29 (Reuters) - Environmental groups on Thursday sued the San Joaquin Air Pollution Control District over a permit it issued last year that allowed crude-carrying trains to begin making deliveries at a terminal in Bakersfield, arguing the regulator failed to adequately vet the proposal.

The plaintiffs asked the California Superior Court to declare the permit invalid and stop further operations at the newly opened Bakersfield Crude Terminal in Taft until a full environmental review is conducted. The terminal, which began receiving crude in November, is owned by Plains All American .

In their complaint, the groups point to emails obtained through a public records request that they say show regulators helping the company avoid environmental and public reviews of the project.

Under the current permit, the terminal can receive one 100-car unit train a day carrying crude from the Bakken shale formation as well as heavier tar sands crude from Canada. The terminal will ultimately expand to receive two unit trains per day, carrying as much as 61 million barrels of crude a year, making it one of the state’s largest crude-by-rail terminals, the groups said.

Crude oil shipments by rail in California have jumped in recent years as producers seek to move cheap, landlocked crudes from North Dakota and Canada to refineries along the West Coast.

The increase has raised environmental and safety concerns due to a series of fiery derailments, most notably the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster in Quebec in July 2013, which killed 47 people.

“It’s outrageous that regulators shrugged off the risks of a rail terminal that receives massive trains full of toxic, dangerously explosive crude oil,” said Vera Pardee, senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the five environmental groups who are plaintiffs in the case.

“The Bakersfield Crude Terminal evaded both state and federal environmental review and was permitted largely in secret. Given the potentially catastrophic damage from derailments of these tank cars full of volatile crude, these permits must be cancelled.”

The San Joaquin Air Pollution Control District did not immediately respond to a request for comment. (Reporting by Rory Carroll; editing by Andrew Hay)

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