ExxonMobil sues Santa Barbara County, claims constitutional rights violation

After the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors’ rejected ExxonMobil’s proposal to truck crude oil from its Las Flores Canyon processing facility to Santa Maria and Kern County pump stations, the oil company filed a lawsuit against the county stating its U.S. and California state constitutional rights were violated, according to legal documents. 

“We are seeking to set aside the Board of Supervisors’ recent decision on the grounds that their denial: ‘is an arbitrary, capricious, and unlawful prejudicial abuse of discretion, violates the United States and California’s Constitutions and impairs ExxonMobil’s vested rights to restart and operate [facilities],’” ExxonMobil Public Information Officer Meghan Macdonald told the Sun via email. 

The lawsuit claims that the project’s denial goes against the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth and 14th amendments, ensuring the rights to private property and its use. Now, the company’s seeking a U.S. District Court reversal of the denial, as well as asking a court to decide that the county pay for lost property value, attorney fees, and any other relief deemed necessary, the legal documents stated. 

click to enlarge ExxonMobil sues Santa Barbara County, claims constitutional rights violation
FIGHTING BACK : Oil company ExxonMobil filed a lawsuit against Santa Barbara County regarding its trucking proposal, stating its constitutional rights to operate were violated and are asking the U.S. District Court to reverse the supervisor’s rejection.

The trucking proposal was designed as a temporary solution while the Plains All American Pipeline company works to complete reconstruction of its pipe that leaked oil onto the Gaviota Coast in 2015. Trucking would have occured seven days a week, 24 hours a day, and transported 11,200 barrels per day until a pipeline became available.

ExxonMobil worked with the county Planning and Development Department for four years to make sure the project’s potential impacts—oil spills, air quality damage, traffic, and neighborhood safety—were mitigated, but supervisors rejected the proposal in a 3-2 vote.

“Rather than focus on the merits of the project, however, the board improperly treated the consideration of the project as a referendum on offshore production as well as the transportation and use of crude oil in the county of Santa Barbara,” court documents stated. “But that was not the issue before it. The only question before the board was whether the project complies with federal, state, and local law. It does.”

ExxonMobil continues with ongoing inspection and maintenance of its facilities and pays more than $1 million in taxes each year, it stated. In September 2017, the company began the permit application process, followed all county regulations, and came up with detailed mitigation plans to reduce oil spill risk, the company said. 

Fourth District Supervisor Bob Nelson and 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino acknowledged this during the March 8 meeting when the project was considered, and said they wanted to see the project approved. 

“Exxon has come in and gone above and beyond in every place possible. What I’m hearing is there is no scenario where their project can be approved. … I do support the project; the process was correct and legal,” Nelson said during the meeting. 

Supervisors who supported project denial—Das Williams, Gregg Hart, and Joan Hartmann—cited unavoidable environmental impacts as the reason to deny the project. 

“Are we willing to go back to a less safe and less secure transportation system for oil to accommodate that resource to resume old operations?” 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart told the Sun in a previous interview. “Balance is the equation, and on this decision it was to be more concerned about the risks than the potential rewards.” 

Court documents said that evidence presented during the meeting didn’t support that conclusion, but still formed the base for the project’s denial, “unjustifiably discriminating” against buying and selling oil in the county. 

“It constitutes an illegal exercise of the county’s police powers by affecting residents outside of Santa Barbara County without due consideration of the regional welfare,” the lawsuit said. 

The Santa Barbara County Executive Office said it does not comment on pending litigation and did not have a comment at this time. ExxonMobil officials said they are looking forward to the court reviewing the case. 

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