Judge halts Rodeo refinery plan; critics cite 'major legal flaws' in environmental analysis

 (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

A judge on Thursday halted plans by Phillips 66 to convert its Rodeo refinery into a biofuel facility, ruling that the company needs to do more environmental review work on the impact to the surrounding community.

Environmental groups Communities for a Better Environment and the Center for Biological Diversity sued Contra Costa County after the Board of Supervisors approved the company's plan on May 3, 2022.  

The groups asked the court to stop what it says would be one of the world's largest biofuel refineries while the county addresses "major legal flaws in its environmental analysis."   

"This is a huge victory for nearby residents who've raised serious concerns about pollution that will come from this giant refinery," Shana Lazerow, legal director of Communities for a Better Environment, said in a statement. "Allowing this project to operate before the environmental review process is complete would've rigged the whole decision in favor of the refinery operator."   

In July, the court found the county failed to properly assess ways to reduce odors from the refinery and the Marathon-Tesoro refinery in Martinez, which is also slated for a biofuel conversion and is included in the suit.   


2 of 5 Bay Area refineries to stop making gasoline

The Phillips 66 and Marathon Petroleum are permanently converting their East Bay refineries to produce renewable, bio-based diesel fuel from plant-based materials.

Judge Edward Weil ordered the county in July to set aside its environmental review and redo flawed sections for the Rodeo project and said odor mitigation measures for the Martinez project need to be improved. But he stopped short of stopping construction at the time.   

Thursday's order halts construction in Rodeo until the county completes its new review.   

A message left for the community relations manager at Phillips 66 went unreturned Thursday.   

"The court rightly rejected Phillips 66's outlandish request to start this mega-polluting project before the review is done," said Hollin Kretzmann, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute. "Counties are required to evaluate, disclose and reduce the environmental harms of a project before approving it. Communities long-suffering from refinery pollution have every right to demand maximum protections against toxic emissions and foul odors, and the county needs to secure them."   

A statement from the environmental groups said both biofuel refineries would require at least 82,000 truck trips, nearly 29,000 railcars, and more than 760 ship and barge visits annually, adding to pollution, traffic and the risk of spills and accidents.     

They also said communities neighboring the refineries are categorized by the state as "disadvantaged" because of their high exposure to pollution from existing industries.