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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on March 29th, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 4 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 18, Issue 4

Greka asks to halt court case


A Santa Maria-based oil company asked a federal judge on March 16 to indefinitely halt a court case against it, citing an executive order signed by President Donald Trump meant to deregulate the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) powers over navigable waters.

The lawsuit was filed against Greka Oil and Gas, now known as HVI Cat Canyon Inc., by the U.S. government and the state of California in June 2011 for what the plaintiffs believe are numerous violations of state and federal laws, including the Clean Water and Pollution Control acts. The trial is slated to begin this summer.

Greka Oil and Gas—now called HVI Cat Canyon Inc.—hopes to get a case regarding North County oil spills thrown out, citing a Feb. 28 executive order issued by President Donald Trump. Pictured: Firestone Vineyard property affected by a 2008 Greka Oil and Gas spill which originated at one of the company’s facilities.

The oil company is accused of illegally spilling crude oil at least 21 times at numerous facilities between 2005 and 2010, including at its Davis and Bell Lease facilities in Los Olivos and Santa Maria, respectively.

The executive order in question is one Trump signed on Feb. 28 that reversed a 2015 water rule issued by former President Barack Obama that gives the EPA jurisdiction over small bodies of water.

The EPA rule expanded the Clean Water Act’s definition of navigable waters to include farm ponds and intermittent streams. HVI Cat Canyon believes it’s a “regulatory overreach unsupported by law,” according to its court filing.

Santa Barbara County officials issued a stop-work order and later revoked the company’s permit to operate the Bell facility following a series of spills there in December 2008. The company had previously settled with the county for $2 million in fines for several spills per year earlier at its Bell and Zaca facilities.

In its petition, HVI Cat Canyon asked the court to stay the 2011 case because the company believes the new administrative review from the EPA would ultimately cause the case to be dismissed.

“Under these circumstances, and given HVI-CC limited financial resources, the continued litigation of this matter before the current administrative review process is completed will inflict irreparable harm on HVI-CC and needlessly waste both parties’ and this court’s resources,” the oil company wrote in its March 16 filing.

The case has dragged on for nearly six years. HVI Cat Canyon sought to have former Santa Barbara County 1st District Supervisor (now Congressman) Salud Carbajal testify in a deposition for the case last October. However, the motion was quashed by his attorneys.

“It was my understanding that HVI sought to depose Supervisor Carbajal because HVI’s former President Andrew DeVegvar had testified that he had been told that Supervisor Carbajal called together federal and state regulators and told them that he wanted to find some way to put Greka out of business,” Carbajal’s attorney Martin McKenzie stated in a court filing.

At one point, the case took a nasty turn when EPA employee Rob Wise allegedly threatened former Greka President deVegvar with prison rape by a man named “Leroy” during a deposition taken from Wise in September 2016, according to court documents.

“We have seen the government destroy documents and delete emails, threaten HVI-CC with bankruptcy and its employees with prison rape, concoct facts in order to assert EPA jurisdiction and, now, ignore an executive order issued by the White House,” HVI Cat Canyon attorney Robert O’Brien said in an emailed statement to the Sun. “As demonstrated in its current motion, HVI-CC will continue to defend itself in the face of this unprecedented legal onslaught.”

Attorneys from the U.S. Department of Justice, who represent the plaintiffs, declined to discuss the case, citing active litigation.

However, they oppose HVI Cat Canyon’s motion, stating in a subsequent court filling that the company’s hardship is speculative and that the repealed 2015 rule doesn’t matter, since the spills occurred years prior.

“This is unsurprising given that the spills at issue in this case occurred between 2005 and 2010, and the initial complaint was filed in 2011,” the plaintiffs stated.

The court will decide whether to grant HVI Cat Canyon’s request on April 20. A trial is tentatively scheduled for June 20 at 9 a.m. at the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in Los Angeles.

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