While environmental organizations are celebrating a recent ruling in ExxonMobil’s lawsuit against Santa Barbara County, they might also rue the day the judge in the case issued it. 

At the end of September, a federal judge upheld the county Board of Supervisors’ right to deny ExxonMobil a permit to truck oil on the county’s highways and byways. The board denied the oil giant’s proposal last year, and the company sued over the decision, accusing supervisors of “abusing” their discretion.

But apparently being worried about the impacts that could result from tankers running oil up and down highways 101 and 166 24/7—like, say, oil spills, fatal accidents, and fires—isn’t abuse. Turns out, it’s downright reasonable! 

The Environmental Defense Center intervened in the lawsuit to defend the county against Big Oil—what a relief for taxpayers! The nonprofit’s Chief Counsel Linda Krop said that the court ruled that the county had the ability to deny the project.

“Exxon did not have the right to tanker oil,” Krop said.

Woohoo! Right? 

Well, actually, there’s a caveat that she conveniently left out. If you’re looking to rid the county of Big Oil’s slippery suckers, the ruling isn’t quite firmly on the side of environmental activists like Krop. The judge’s ruling stated that the court didn’t consider Exxon’s “vested right” in the county to include that oil trucking proposal. 

“The parties do not dispute that Exxon has a vested right to operate the facilities [it owns in the county] to extract oil and transport it via pipeline per its 1987 permit,” the ruling stated. 

And that means what exactly? 

The permit from the 1980s is powerful.

ExxonMobil seems to think that this ruling is good for its future. It now owns the two Plains All-American pipelines that have been shut down since the 2015 oil spill and has been attempting to bring them up to state code—although the county board was unable to take action on that plan in August. Everyone knows that ExxonMobil would love to restart the Santa Ynez Unit, which has also been idle since 2015, and the corresponding offshore oil rigs that have been silent for eight years. 

So what’s ExxonMobil going to do? 

According to Corporate Media Relations Advisor Michelle Gray, the company is reviewing the court’s rule and its recognition “that we have a right to operate our existing facilities and affiliated pipelines” in the county. 

I’m going to guess that it means ExxonMobil is digging in for a fight against county environmentalists who are dying for the company to have to shut everything down for good. 

There’s been a lot of fear expressed in recent months about the steps the company is taking in an effort to restart its oily apparatus: changing the ownership of the pipelines? Attempt to restart! Putting new, technologically advanced valves on the pipelines? Attempt to restart! 

It sort of sounds like the company may just have a legal right to restart, and the judge might have made it official. I’m not sure. The lawsuit isn’t over yet and there’s still more to come in the future. 

I’ll be getting my popcorn out (even though it gets stuck in my beak) and pulling my swing over to watch it all go down.

The Canary loves a good fight. Get in the fray by emailing [email protected].

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