(CN) - An air quality regulatory agency in California used the wrong baseline when it approved ConocoPhillips' plan for diesel production in Los Angeles without analyzing the project's environmental impact, the California Supreme Court ruled.
Communities for a Better Environment, the Southern California Pipe Trades District Council and nearby residents sued the South Coast Air Quality Management District for using the maximum operating levels under Conoco's previous boiler permits as the baseline when determining that the project did not require environmental review.
The air quality agency was required to use the site's actual conditions as a baseline for analysis, not the max capacity allowed under prior permits, the high court ruled.
Thus, the district violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by failing to prepare an environmental impact report based on this improper analysis, the court concluded.
"[T]he comparison must be between existing physical conditions without the diesel project and the conditions expected to be produced by the project," Justice Kathryn Werdegar wrote. "Without such a comparison, the [environmental impact report] will not inform decision makers and the public of the project's significant environmental impacts, as CEQA mandates."
The project, slated for a Los Angeles oil refinery, calls for the production of ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel.
The court left it up to the district to "resolve exactly how the existing physical conditions ... should be measured."