Web store

California Oil Group pays fees to advocacy groups it harassed, but dodges multimillion-dollar judgment

LOS ANGELES – The California Independent Petroleum Association, a petroleum industry trade association, today paid the City of Los Angeles, Youth for Environmental Justice, the South Central Youth Leadership Coalition and the Center for Biological Diversity near of $650,000 as part of a bankruptcy reorganization plan, after years of litigation.

The bankruptcy allowed the oil association to avoid paying in full a court-ordered $2.3 million judgment for bringing a SLAPP – “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation” – retaliatory action against the groups and the city. The SLAPP lawsuit forced the groups into years of unnecessary litigation until a judge determined the lawsuit was aimed at harassing the groups after they won protection from neighborhood oil drilling in Los Angeles in 2015.

Members of the oil association have included oil giants Chevron, Aera Energy and California Resources Corporation.

On September 20, a California bankruptcy court approved the final plan under which the groups received a portion of the trial court judgment.

“The idea that Big Oil can’t afford to pass judgment on children and conservationists is a bad rebuttal to a terrible joke,” said Maya Golden-Krasner, an attorney at the Climate Law Institute at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Justice would have the industry pay the millions it owes for harassing and bullying groups of young people fighting for clean air. But greasing the legal system to avoid penalties is about as predictable as the climate damage caused by their filthy fossil fuels.

“No matter how small a fraction they pay us, the oil industry’s bullying tactics have failed,” said Nalleli Cobo, co-founder of the South Central Youth Leadership Coalition. “People power is winning in California. We are ready to protect communities from toxic oil pollution.”

In 2015, the groups sued the city of Los Angeles for approving oil projects in communities of color. The two sides reached an agreement in 2016 after the city passed new requirements for drilling applications to protect vulnerable communities and ensure compliance with state environmental review rules.

The oil association sued the city, youth and environmental groups and forced years of litigation over a baseless SLAPP lawsuit. In 2019, a California appeals court dismissed the oil association’s lawsuit as a baseless attack on the groups, leading to the ruling that the association must pay the legal fees the groups incurred to fight it. A judge determined in July 2021 that the lawsuit was aimed at harassing the groups after they obtained neighborhood oil drilling protections in Los Angeles.

“The industry should pay for the bullying that got them in trouble,” said Alison Hahm, a lawyer at Communities for a better environmentYouth for Environmental Justice. “There is something wrong with bankruptcy law that shields well-heeled private interests from liability, shifting the financial burdens onto communities already harmed by polluters and lobbyists. We will continue to fight for a safer and healthier future without fossil fuels.

Despite its bankruptcy, the oil association continued to spend hundreds of thousands on lobbying this year to oppose legislation to protect communities from oil industry pollution.

The petroleum association backed a referendum in Ventura County to strike down a law that would have increased environmental oversight of oil and gas drilling. A member of the association’s board of directors is behind a state referendum to try to repeal SB 1137, California’s landmark legislation establishing setbacks that would prohibit new permits for petroleum activities within 3,200 feet of homes, schools, hospitals and other sensitive sites.