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L.A. Residents Fight Oil Drilling in Poor Areas

LOS ANGELES (CN) - Los Angeles lets oil companies drill illegally in poor black and Latino neighborhoods by exempting them from state laws, youth groups and environmentalists claim in court.

Youth for Environmental Justice, South Central Youth Leadership Coalition and the Center for Biological Diversity sued the city in Superior Court on Friday, claiming it approved drilling with reviewing its environmental impact on residential neighborhoods.

Their attorney Gladys Limon, with Communities for a Better Environment, said the city violates the California Environmental Quality Act and "recklessly disregards the severe health and safety risks that no child should have to grow up with."

"The city's practices also result in disparate and disproportionate environmental burdens on communities of color subjected to inherently dangerous oil drilling operations," Limon said.

According to the lawsuit, tens of thousands of people live within one mile of oil wells, exposing them to a variety of health problems, including respiratory illnesses, bloody noses, rashes, headaches and neurological conditions.

The city disproportionately approves wells in poor communities and for years has "employed a pattern or practice of rubber stamping oil-drilling applications" without proper environmental review, the complaint states.

The Center for Biological Diversity said in a statement that the city authorized 540 wells in the South L.A. neighborhood of Wilmington.

South Los Angeles also is home to the small oil company AllenCo, which has 11 active wells in the area. The Environmental Protection Agency last year fined AllenCo almost $100,000 for releasing hazardous substances from a facility about 100 feet from a housing development and a high school for developmentally disabled youth, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. The University of Southern California is about two miles from the site.

"People are always saying that the youth are the future," said 16-year-old Joshua Navarro, who lives nearby. "But we can't sit around and wait for the future to come when oil drilling is hurting us now."

Co-counsel Maya Golden-Krasner added: "Oil companies are drilling near homes and schools while L.A. officials do virtually nothing to assess the health threats from these dirty and dangerous wells.

"Oil extraction is a toxic industrial activity that doesn't belong in any neighborhood. It's tragic that city officials are doing so little to protect communities of color from hazardous oil operations."

The groups seek an injunction against violations of the California Environmental Quality Act.

City attorney spokesman Rob Wilcox said the city received the lawsuit Friday morning and is reviewing it.

Communities for a Better Environment is based in Huntington Park, Golden-Krasner, with the Center for Biological Diversity, in La Canada Flintridge.

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