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Complaint Cites "Catastrophic Risks" in CA Oil Transport

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PHOTO: Train carrying crude oil. A Bay Area environmental group has sued a Sacramento air-quality district for failing to require an environmental review of a crude-oil transfer station at McClellan Business Park in Sacramento. Credit: U.S. Department of Transportation.
PHOTO: Train carrying crude oil. A Bay Area environmental group has sued a Sacramento air-quality district for failing to require an environmental review of a crude-oil transfer station at McClellan Business Park in Sacramento. Credit: U.S. Department of Transportation.
 By Lori AbbottContact
September 25, 2014

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - An environmental group is accusing air-quality officials of sneaking under the radar and quietly "rubber-stamping" permits for a crude-oil transfer station at a former air force base. A lawsuit filed by Earthjustice claims the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District approved InterState Oil Company's project without any public or environmental impact review. Earthjustice attorney Suma Peesapati says the district neglected to consider the potentially catastrophic risk to public health and safety.

"There's a high risk of explosion related to accidents and derailing, which are commonplace," Peesapati says. "There's concern about derailment and spillage of the crude into precious California waterways that could cripple our economy."

Earthjustice filed the complaint Monday on behalf of the Sierra Club in Sacramento Superior Court. The case asks the court to halt operations immediately while the project undergoes a full-and-transparent review under California Environmental Quality Act.

The number of trains carrying crude oil up and down the West Coast has risen dramatically in the last few years because of increased oil production from both the tar sands in Alberta and the Bakken shale oil area of North Dakota. Peesapati says in most cases the public is unaware these highly volatile fossil fuels are being transferred in and through their neighborhoods.

"It's not visible to the public what the commodity being transferred actually is," Peesapati says. "It doesn't involve any construction when there's an ongoing transfer operation and you're just switching the commodities. So, it makes this type of clandestine approval all the more troubling."

The air district required InterState Oil to file for a permit when inspectors discovered the transloading operation last year. The company is currently permitted to unload about 100 train cars every two weeks.

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