Senator Ortiz, Prosecutors & Environmentalists Support Bill
Strengthening Air Quality Laws
Jesse N. Marquez
August 29, 2005
Los Angeles – Senator Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento) joined with Los Angeles District Attorney Steve
Cooley, environmental advocate Erin Brockovich and local environmental organizations to urge support
of SB 109 authorizing criminal prosecutions in serious air pollution cases.
“California has the toughest environmental laws in the country, but those strong statutes do little to
protect our residents if they are not enforced,” Ortiz said. “SB 109 will allow prosecutors to pursue
criminal charges against companies that commit the most serious violations, even when those
companies already have paid civil fines to local air quality control districts.”
District Attorney Steve Cooley stated, “the health of every citizen demands action by state government,”
and explained that air pollution is the only environmental law that does not allow for both civil fines and
criminal prosecution in egregious cases. The current law, “allows the worst violators to merely pay a
fine that can be considered a cost of doing business,” Cooley said.
In modifying existing air pollution law in California, SB 109 eliminates the loophole that has allowed major
polluters such as oil companies and fuel storage tank facilities to escape criminal prosecution. Two
cases discussed included British Petroleum (BP/ARCO) which committed hundreds of air quality
violations at its refinery in Carson. Hundreds of residents and children were impacted by toxic fumes
coming from the facility when it was later discovered that they had tampered with air monitoring
equipment. The Los Angeles District Attorney’s office was not able to prosecute BP because of a civil
The other case involved Chevron oil refinery in El Segundo, which released a large amount of sulfur
compounds into the air in the communities near Los Angeles Airport endangering both public employees
and private citizens in the area. The air pollution even required the evacuation of a nearby business.
The Coalition For A Safe Environment presented a large color photo of ConocoPhilips oil refinery in
Wilmington which showed a huge black toxic plume coming from one of its smoke stacks which traveled
over ten miles and crossed the boundaries of five cities. Environmental organizations and public health
organizations supporting the bill include the American Lung Association, California Attorney General’s
Office, California District Attorneys Association, California Safe Schools, Comite Pro Uno, California
Communities Against Toxics, Sierra Club, and Natural Resources Defense Council.
Those opposing include the Western States Petroleum Association, California Chamber of Commerce,
California Farm Bureau Federation, Wine Institute, Western Growers, California Manufacturers and
Technology Association, California Council for Environmental and Economic Balance and Howard Jarvis
Note: SB109 PASSED IN AUGUST, 2006.
(Jesse Marquez is the Executive Director of
The Coalition for a Safe Environment)