Refinery - Photo courtesy of Dimitry Anikin on Unsplash

The city of Paramount has responded to a legal action by environmental and conservation groups who sued over the approval of a biofuel refinery expansion, calling the environmental review “comprehensive” despite the petitioners’ claims to the contrary.

The Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit was brought Monday by the Communities for a Better Environment, East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice and the Center for Biological Diversity. The groups challenge the environmental review process for restarting the mostly shuttered petroleum refinery and converting it to produce biodiesel, biogas and sustainable aviation fuel.

“The city’s environmental review process was extremely comprehensive and included input from experts as well as the public,” Paramount City Manager John Moreno said Tuesday. “By approving the project, the city was able to ensure that petroleum products would never again be processed at the facility. If it had been denied, there is every likelihood that the refinery would have returned to petroleum-based production again and into the future.”

Moreno added that although the city cannot comment on the lawsuit because officials have not seen it, a news release about the petition distributed by the three groups “contains many inaccuracies and unsourced statements. We are in the process of formulating replies to this issue.”

On April 11, the Paramount City Council voted 3-1 to issue approvals and certified a final subsequent environmental impact report for the Paramount AltAir Renewable Fuels Conversion Project at the Paramount Refinery on Downey Avenue.

In the lawsuit, plaintiffs allege the city’s assessment obscures the harms of processing 25,000 barrels of animal fat and vegetable feedstock per day, installing a 3.7-mile gas pipeline, and generating up to 50 railcar and 540 truck trips per day.

The refinery is in a high-density minority and low-income neighborhood, adjacent to Paramount High School and two elementary schools, the suit states.

“This project ignores the dangers of dirty infrastructure our communities know far too well, increased risks of flaring, fires and explosions all happening right next to the schools and homes of Paramount residents,” said Whitney Amaya, Zero Waste community organizer at East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice. “Cities should be working on zero-emission solutions, not rubber-stamping biofuel projects that will increase toxic pollution and harm the health and safety of the communities they represent.”

The project puts public health and safety in jeopardy in an attempt to “squeeze profits from century-old infrastructure,” said Liz Jones, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “Restarting this dirty refinery promises more pollution, not the climate solutions we desperately need. I’m skeptical that there will be sufficient emissions reductions from this project and certainly not enough to justify the ongoing injustices inflicted on Paramount residents.”

The refinery started operations in the 1930s and historically refined crude oil into various petroleum products, including gasoline, jet fuel, diesel and asphalt, the suit states. In 2011, the refinery ceased processing crude oil and two years later AltAir and the refinery partnered to form AltAir Paramount LLC, to produce biofuels there, the suit states.

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