The South Coast Air Quality Management District improperly permitted an oil refinery to implement a new industrial process without an environmental review even though the project might have caused substantially more air pollution, the California Supreme Court unanimously decided Monday.
The state high court faulted the air quality district for determining that the project by ConocoPhillips Co. in Wilmington would not significantly hurt the environment. The court said the air district applied the wrong base rate when calculating the effect of the emissions.
The project by ConocoPhillips was designed to meet federal and state environmental requirements for production of an ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel.
But environmental activists said the industrial process the company used to produce the new diesel increased nitrogen oxide emissions by several hundred pounds a day. Nitrogen oxide is a major contributor to smog and causes asthma and other respiratory ailments.
The refinery, which produces various fuels and chemical products, covers about 400 acres near commercial, recreational and residential neighborhoods.
A group called Communities for a Better Environment, labor organizations and individuals who live or work near the ConocoPhillips refinery sued the air district on the grounds the permit had been wrongly granted.