LOS ANGELES (July 6, 2011) – An agreement reached by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors yesterday strengthens health and safety protections for thousands of residents living near the Baldwin Hills area of south Los Angeles who are currently affected by drilling operations by the Plains Exploration and Production Company (PXP). The settlement resolves four lawsuits filed in November 2008 by Community Health Councils, Inc. (CHC) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the City of Culver City, Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles (CCSCLA), and the Citizen’s Coalition for a Safe Community.
“This is a hard fought victory by residents seeking to protect themselves and their property from oil and gas drilling,” said Damon Nagami, staff attorney for NRDC. “In some cases, drilling is happening within a few hundred feet of residences. There must be better protections for people confronted by ongoing drilling operations in densely populated communities.”
In the lawsuits, the petitioners claimed that the County violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by failing to conduct an adequate environmental impact report (EIR) before adopting the Baldwin Hills Community Standards District (CSD), which was intended to regulate 1,100 acres of oil drilling and production activities in Baldwin Hills.
Key elements of the settlement include
• Reduced drilling of new wells
• Increased air quality monitoring
• More stringent noise limits
• Mandatory, recurring health and environmental justice assessments
“While this does not result in an amendment to the CSD (the county ordinance) as we had hoped, we are glad that we were able to reach agreement on a number of key issues which we believe will help to further protect the health and safety of the community,” said Lark Galloway-Gilliam, executive director of Community Health Councils, Inc. “Now the task is to use the tools afforded in the CSD and this settlement agreement to monitor the field and hold PXP to being a better neighbor.”
“The settlement provides additional protections for the residents of Baldwin Hills, and visitors to the Baldwin Hills Park, in one of the most diverse areas of Los Angeles and the historic heart of African-American L.A.,” said Robert García, president and counsel of The City Project, which represented CCSCLA. “The agreement recognizes that equal justice and environmental laws create more livable communities for all. This is a best practice example for environmental justice everywhere.”
Ken Kutcher, an attorney with Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal who served as co-counsel for CHC and NRDC, recapped the multi-year effort to settle the cases. “This settlement has been a long time coming. It is the product of a great deal of work by the lawyers and their clients, as well as the State Attorney General’s Office.” At the Superior Court’s request, the AG’s office served in the unusual role of acting as mediator for critical portions of the settlement negotiations.
Following the finalized settlement agreement, the parties will effectuate the dismissal of the lawsuits, after which time the agreement will be released to the public.
In January 2006, uncontrolled emissions of noxious gas from the Inglewood Oil Field near Baldwin Hills caused the evacuation of dozens of people and affected more than 500 homes in adjacent neighborhoods. A similar incident occurred a month later, in February 2006.
Community action resulting from the two incidents prompted the County to adopt emergency restrictions on PXP’s operations and eventually led to a temporary moratorium on new well drilling through October 2008. The County then approved a CSD document to allow expanded drilling which many community members and groups believed lacked sufficient oversight and protections for the community and environment.
The lawsuits, filed in November 2008, challenged the County vote in October 2008 authorizing PXP to develop 600 new oil wells over the next 20 years in Baldwin Hills without any further public hearings or environmental review.
The parties to the settlement have agreed to the following joint statement:
“The parties have negotiated in good faith a settlement containing important improvements to the Baldwin Hills Community Standards District (‘CSD’) that could not have been compelled by a court order resulting from the current litigation challenging the County’s Environmental Impact Report and the CSD.
The terms of the settlement adequately augment the protections contained in the CSD and, when combined with the existing provisions of the CSD, provide a satisfactory framework for safeguarding community health, safety and security.
The settlement expedites the resolution of significant community concerns and allows the focus of this process to shift to constructive dialogue, implementation, monitoring and establishment of a more effective working relationship between the parties.”