Over the course of a lengthy conversation yesterday, Rizgar Ghazi, head of permitting at the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), explained that part of the delay on the decision regarding embattled lead-acid battery recycler Exide’s petition for a formal operating permit was that Exide had to first draft an Environmental Impact Report (EIR).
The months it would take for both the EIR to be drafted and reviewed and for the DTSC to conduct painstaking inspections of the plant, he assured me, would help ensure that Exide was in compliance with CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) and that the risk to surrounding communities would (finally) be minimized.
Contrast this highly flawed (particularly in the case of Exide, which has operated for over a decade on an interim permit) but somewhat transparent process with the one that guides permitting for oil drilling and well stimulation.
As the many concerned West Adams residents who will be on hand at 1 p.m. today to protest Freeport-McMoRan’s (FMOG) quest for a CEQA exemption from the City Zoning Administrator to expand operations at their Jefferson and Budlong site already know, the cards are very much stacked in favor of the operators. The residents vehemently disagree with FMOG’s declaration that drilling one new well and re-drilling two existing wells will not “have a significant effect on the environment” and do not wish to have any more wells added to the eleven already in operation on site, all of which also were exempt from CEQA.
For the uninitiated, the purpose of CEQA is (among other things) to alert the public to the significant environmental effects of a proposed project and prevent or minimize damage to the environment via development of project alternatives, mitigation measures, and mitigation monitoring. Until last year, even the implementation of some bicycle lanes required the drafting of an EIR and a lengthy public process.
In the case of oil drilling, however, as long as the applicant is in compliance with the “authorized activities” previously approved for a site, operators can generally forego the public hearing or EIR process in favor of an administrative review process. Because the drilling of new wells is not seen as a change to the land use or a modification to pre-existing entitlements, a review process is not triggered. And this remains true regardless of the technique (fracking, acidization, etc.) utilized, the thousands of pounds of acids and other hazardous materials/waste that must be trucked in and out of a site and through communities, the pollution generated by the hundreds of trucks that transport the water and other materials, the (potentially contaminated) dust that gets kicked up on site, the land that must be cleared, the millions of gallons of water contaminated in the process, the number of times a well must be fractured to complete drilling, or the potential for earthquakes as a result of drilling.
And while it is true that the majority of oil districts were established well before CEQA was even a twinkle in environmentalists’ eyes, drilling operators, oil and gas lobbyists, the Department of Conservation’s (DoC) regulatory agency, the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), and even the state have continued to work actively to guard the right of operators to remain exempt from it. Read more…