Stacy Fortner | Courts Wrong on Chiquita Canyon

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Sometimes the courts are wrong.

It happened in the past with unfair civil rights decisions that were later overturned. And often a powerful multinational corporation worth billions of dollars will win in court even when they are wrong. When a corporation can pay for seven or eight expensive attorneys to argue at the hearing while the community must depend on an under-funded public interest attorney, the corporation generally wins.

This was the situation in the Chiquita Canyon Landfill litigation. Chiquita Canyon Landfill does not just take trash from our community. It is a regional dump, which allows it to take up to 12,000 tons per day from all over Southern California with the vast majority (around 85%) coming from faraway communities in huge diesel trucks that wreak havoc on our roads and pollute our air.

It has been a well-known fact for many years that landfills are major producers of methane gas, a potent climate-warming greenhouse gas. Chiquita Landfill has already received five violations for methane exceedances this year alone. Another landfill pollutant, PM2 and PM10, gets into ours and our children’s lungs and causes asthma. 

Of course, if you were going to accurately decide on whether these contaminants were polluting our community, you would monitor the perimeter of the community, not take readings from monitors in Reseda and Burbank. Obviously, an accurate assessment is not going to be obtained from a monitor in a different valley. 

But this is what the landfill did in the environmental impact report to show there was not a problem with air quality. It is what L.A. County allowed when it approved the landfill, and when Santa Clarita Organization for Planning the Environment (SCOPE) and the Val Verde Civic Association complained, the court OK’d this assessment. The multinational out-of-state corporation won. It can continue polluting our air without the environmental impact report conditions that would have required greater mitigation.

The Val Verde community has been subjected to landfill odors for years, but to show a violation, multiple people must call and someone must come from the Air Quality Management District, a three-hour drive away in San Dimas, to verify the complaint. If they can’t leave right away it can take eight hours before they arrive. Obviously, the wind can change by then, if the regulator even arrives at all with all the traffic. But the landfill operator argued to the county and in court that there were no odors, and that people in the community were just calling in false reports because they could not be verified by the AQMD. As unfair as this seems, the court that is supposed to be the last bastion of protection and fairness supported the argument made by this $3.6 billion corporation.

Concern over greenhouse gases and environmental justice were brushed aside. The attorneys for the county made the absurd argument that Val Verde was not a community of color, because when averaged in with the average ethnicity of the entire county, it was not that much different. I am sure other ethnic communities will be interested to hear this argument. It also makes a mockery of the county’s claims to be working toward environmental justice.  

So the attempt by these groups to make sure that air quality, odor, greenhouse gases and environmental justice issues were fully addressed in the EIR failed in court. But that doesn’t mean that they were wrong for trying or that the court’s decision was correct. I hope they appeal their case so our community will be better protected from the massive impacts of this huge regional landfill.

Stacy Fortner

Santa Clarita

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