LOS ANGELES – Developers of a railyard project near the Port of Los Angeles did not consider air quality impacts in its environmental report, a California appeals court ruled Friday.
The First Appellate District ordered BNSF Railway and the city of Los Angeles to suspend work on the project until they address inconsistencies in the environmental impact report. Those include “impacts to ambient air pollutant concentrations and cumulative impacts of such pollutant concentrations,” according to the 45-page ruling.
Appellants include Los Angeles, the city’s Harbor Department, City Council, Port of Los Angeles and BNSF Railway Company, who received approval in 2013 to build the $500 million railway.
Plaintiffs include the city of Long Beach, South Coast Air Quality Management District, East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, several environmental and legal groups and trucking companies, and state Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who intervened in the case.
Six trucking companies filed the initial lawsuit in 2013, claiming LA and its Harbor Commission abused their powers in order to get the railyard project approved. The trucking companies would have lost their property to the city through eminent domain, and said the city made an “outrageous” and “unfounded” claim that competitors would rehire people who would lose their jobs.
The trial court found the more than 5,000-page final environmental impact report had inconsistencies with regard to air pollutants under California Environmental Quality Act guidelines.
Additionally, the trial court held the environmental report had a misleading scenario involving emissions and provided insufficient information to permit meaningful comparison of the project and any alternative.
The appellants said this composite model is “common industry-accepted protocol,” but the panel said that there were still questions left unanswered related to air pollution in the report.
“While we do not agree that the composite emissions, or worst case, methodology is misleading, we do agree with the trial court that the analysis of air pollution concentration impacts is nonetheless incomplete,” Acting Presiding Justice Stuart Pollak wrote for the panel, which included Justices Peter Siggins and Martin Jenkins.
One method the environmental impact report outlined for mitigating emissions from the railyard was to have a review of new technology or “any port-identified or other new emissions-reduction technology, and report to the port. Such technology feasibility reviews shall take place at the time of the port’s consideration of any lease amendment or facility modification for the project site,” according to the ruling.
The trial courts did not see this as being enforceable, but the panel disagreed.
“The mitigation measure in dispute anticipates future improvements in technology that are not presently available and perhaps not even contemplated. In light of what is unknown, a more specific measure may be an impossibility.
“While disagreements in the application of this standard are possible, the standard is nonetheless objective and can be enforced,” Pollak wrote.
As to deficiencies with the impact report’s analysis on changes to an existing BNSF railyard near the Port of Long Beach, greenhouse gas emissions, noise, transportation and other health concerns, the panel reversed the trial court’s judgment.
Despite the California appeals court finding “inconsistencies” with the impact report’s study of ambient air quality, Port of Los Angeles officials are pleased that the higher court overturned several of the trial court’s 2016 rulings.
“We are pleased with the decision and will be discussing next steps with BNSF Railway in the future.” said the port’s executive director Gene Seroka.