Environmental Groups Join Lawsuit to Defend Denial of Phillips 66 Oil Train Project


January 12, 2017


SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. – Six environmental groups were granted permission today to intervene in a lawsuit brought by Phillips 66, challenging the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission’s denial of the company’s proposal to construct a crude oil train terminal in Nipomo. The Planning Commission denied the project in October, following nearly a year of hearings in which communities throughout the State raised concerns about public safety and environmental harm. Intervention by the groups (Sierra Club, Communities for a Better Environment, Environmental Defense Center, Center for Biological Diversity, Surfrider Foundation, and Stand.earth) will give voice to the more than 20,000 Californians who opposed the project.

Phillips 66’s lawsuit challenges the Planning Commission’s determination that the site for the proposed oil train terminal contains rare and valuable habitat that is protected under the California Coastal Act and the County’s local policies and ordinances. State law requires that such decisions be challenged through the agency appeals process before an applicant can go to court. In this case, Phillips did appeal the Planning Commission decision to the Board of Supervisors (whose decision may be appealed to the California Coastal Commission), but also inexplicably filed a lawsuit at the same time. In their application to intervene, the environmental groups expressed concern not only about the potential environmental risks, but also the integrity of the public review process.

In granting the motion to intervene, the court ruled that the groups have an interest in protecting the environment as well as an interest in participating in further hearings on the project. The court allowed the environmental groups to join the lawsuit so that they could “continue to participate in and protect the environmental review process” as it relates to the Phillips project and the determination that the project would impact environmentally sensitive habitat.

“Because the public played such a critical role in convincing the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission to deny the project, it is important that our organizations be allowed to participate in the court proceedings as well,” stated Linda Krop, Chief Counsel for the Environmental Defense Center (“EDC”).  “Phillips 66’s attempt to reverse the Planning Commission’s decision to protect environmentally sensitive habitats should be handled through the normal agency appeal process, not the courts.”

“Phillips 66’s premature lawsuit against the County threatened to silence not only the local community, but also the several rail-line communities, environmental, environmental justice, public and worker health and safety and academic groups, and elected officials that have so far expressed concern with this tar sands crude by rail project,” said Roger Lin, Staff Attorney with Communities for a Better Environment.  “We are pleased with the Court’s decision to allow our groups to represent those interests in this proceeding and stop Phillips 66 from short-cutting an essential public process.”

 “Phillip’s proposed crude by rail project and its challenge to the County’s protection of sensitive species and habitat threatens some of California’s most treasured coastal and riparian ecosystems as well as drinking water sources and air quality for communities across the state,” stated Devorah Ancel, attorney for Sierra Club. “As a party to this litigation and any appeal of the County’s decision, Sierra Club and its allies can continue to advocate for the protection of these critical resources against the threat of millions of gallons of dirty volatile crude rail shipments.” 

If built, the Phillips 66 oil train terminal would allow more than seven million gallons of crude oil to be shipped via rail through our coastal communities to its local refinery each week. The project would make it possible for Phillips 66 to refine volatile and carbon-intensive tar sands crude from Canada and elsewhere in the United States. Tar sands crude, when prepared for transport, is thinned with an unstable blend of chemicals that have been known to explode in derailment incidents, which have become increasingly frequent in recent years and threaten millions of Californians who live in the blast zone — the one mile evacuation area in the event of an oil train derailment or explosion. Trains servicing the Phillips 66 project would travel from the north and south through hundreds of major California cities and smaller communities, including Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Davis, Berkeley, Oakland, and San Jose. These trains would jeopardize numerous ecologically sensitive areas including the San Francisco Bay and California’s iconic central coast.

Now that the environmental groups are parties to the lawsuit, they plan to file a motion asking the court to dismiss the case as premature. The hearing on that motion is scheduled for February 16, 2017.


The Environmental Defense Center, a non-profit law firm, protects and enhances the local environment through education, advocacy, and legal action and works primarily within Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo counties. Since 1977, EDC has empowered community-based organizations to advance environmental protection. EDC’s focus areas include protection of the Santa Barbara Channel, ensuring clean water, preserving open space and wildlife, and addressing climate and energy. EDC represents the Center for Biological Diversity, Surfrider Foundation, Stand.earth and EDC in the Phillips 66 oil train case. Learn more about EDC at www.EnvironmentalDefenseCenter.org.

Communities for a Better Environment is one of the preeminent environmental justice organizations in the nation, building people’s power in California’s communities of color and low income communities to achieve environmental health and justice (www.cbecal.org).

Sierra Club is a national nonprofit organization with 67 chapter and over 635,000 members dedicated to exploring, enjoying, and protecting the wild places of the earth; to practicing and promoting the responsible use of the earth’s ecosystems and resources; to educating and enlisting humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment; and to using all lawful means to carry out these objectives. The Sierra club has over 147,000 members in the state of California, including approximately 2,380 members in the Santa Lucia Chapter, which covers San Luis Obispo County and California’s central coast.  Learn more about Sierra Club at www.sierraclub.org.

Join our Mailing List