Advocacy Groups and California Prevail in San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Suit

A civil action filed against the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District (Air District) has been resolved in the petitioners’ favor after a Fresno County Superior Court judge found the Air District’s rules plagued with illegal and arbitrary exemptions and ordered the local authority to revise them. Earthjustice and the Center on Race, Poverty, and the Environment filed in the case in early 2020, and the state’s Department of Justice subsequently intervened in support of their claims and on behalf of California residents. 

The suit was motivated by concerns that December 2019 regulations promulgated by the Air District endangered the health and safety of San Joaquin Valley residents, including low-income communities and communities of color. The rules exempted all four of the refineries in the Air District’s jurisdiction from the full suite of air monitoring requirements passed by the state’s legislature in 2017.

In its ruling, the California court concluded that the Air District’s regulations contravene the authorizing statute and were arbitrary, capricious, and lacking rational bases. “Respondent does not articulate [a] rational connection between the exemption for non-crude oil refining facilities, the emissions from these facilities, and the purposes of the Refinery Statute,” the opinion said.

The court thus granted the petitioners’ and intervenor’s requests for peremptory writ of mandate. It ordered the Air District to comply with applicable law by adopting revised regulations removing the illegal and arbitrary exemptions.

In a press release, California Attorney General Rob Bonta lauded the decision. “For far too long, San Joaquin Valley has been home to some of the worst air pollution in the nation, and its residents have suffered the resulting health consequences,” Bonta said in a statement. “At the bare minimum, these communities have the right to information on the air they breathe. It’s a matter of transparency — and it’s the law. Today’s decision by the Superior Court will ensure that San Joaquin Valley refineries comply with critical air monitoring requirements.”