West Edition

Oil industry counter suit wasn’t meant as retaliation

SOUTH LOS ANGELESThe leader of the California Independent Petroleum Association (CIPA) said a cross-complaint filed against youth groups and local South L.A. and Wilmington organizations is not retaliatory.

Instead, he said, it is a response to a settlement reached between environmentalist groups and the city of Los Angeles without CIPA’s input. Lawsuits that are filed and believed to be retaliatory strategic lawsuits against public participation are known as SLAPP suits.

“We were supposed to be privy to all settlement discussions,” said Rock Zierman, CEO of CIPA, a nonprofit, nonpartisan trade association representing approximately 500 oil and gas producers, royalty owners and service and supply companies in California. “The judge in the case ordered the plaintiff and the city to do that. Then the city and the environmentalist groups went off and created a settlement, which included changes to the oil and gas ordinance, major changes including state law, without a public hearing and no input from us whatsoever.”

Youth for Environmental Justice, the South Central Youth Leadership Coalition, and the Center for Biological Diversity sued the city of Los Angeles a year ago. That suit accused the city of a pattern and practice of violating the California Environmental Quality Act in approving drilling applications and unlawful racial discrimination by requiring inferior protective conditions for oil operations in communities of color, as compared to largely white communities.

While the suit was pending, the city’s Planning Department adopted new procedures for oil drilling applications they said were designed to ensure compliance with state environmental review mandates and to protect the health and safety of communities of color impacted by neighborhood drilling.

In light of the new procedures, which addressed most of their allegations, the plaintiffs settled their suit with the city and the case was dismissed last Sept. 28.

In its cross-complaint, CIPA stated that it objected to the settlement agreement and that any settlement agreement between the petitioners and the city would violate CIPA’s due process right under the California Constitution to have a decision on the merits of the litigation and would be unenforceable as to CIPA, thereby rendering any settlement meaningless.

“Our complaint is that [the settlement] was not consistent with what the judge had ordered,” Zierman said. “In a hearing on Dec. 23, the judge stated that he has been very disturbed about how the city and the environmentalists have been colluding together, and he fears that that was the goal all along.”

A spokesperson for the Center for Biological Diversity told The Wave CIPA doesn’t have a legal cause of action and that there were other avenues the oil industry could have pursued if it was unhappy with the settlement.

“We’re being subjected to a new oil and gas ordinance that did not go through a proper public process,” Zierman said. “Even more disturbing is part of a settlement that we were directed by the court to be a part of but were excluded.”

CIPA represents approximately 70 percent of California’s total oil production and 90 percent of the state’s natural gas production, according to its website.