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Judge Studies Group’s Suit to Block Mobil Oil Pipeline : Environment: Project’s foes say the impact report was flawed. Ruling may not come before the work begins.

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A Los Angeles judge has taken under advisement a request to block construction of a new Mobil Oil Corp. pipeline, which opponents say won city construction approval based on a faulty environmental impact report.

After a seven-hour hearing, held in fits and starts over several days, Superior Court Judge Ronald M. Sohigian said Wednesday that he would rule “as promptly as I can” on the lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles and Mobil by a group of community activists called Coalition Against the Pipeline.

Sohigian hinted that he is unlikely to rule before next month, by which time construction probably will have begun.

Mobil wants to build the $88-million, 92-mile pipeline to carry hot crude oil from Kern County through the Santa Clarita and San Fernando valleys and parts of West Los Angeles to its Torrance refinery to replace an existing pipeline that has frequently leaked.

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Opponents say the new line, which would be capable of carrying far more oil, could lead to more oil refining, adding to the area’s air pollution. Mobil has denied that claim.

The city of Torrance has withheld granting a construction permit to Mobil until the coalition’s lawsuit is concluded.

But Los Angeles transportation officials recently approved Mobil’s plans to reduce traffic tie-ups during pipeline construction, giving the company the go-ahead to begin work on the project in the Santa Clarita and San Fernando valleys.

Last week, Mobil spokesman James Carbonetti said notices soon will be sent to residents of affected neighborhoods, allowing work to start by the end of the month. If Mobil loses the lawsuit, the company could be ordered to halt work and restore city streets.

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The coalition lawsuit questioned whether the environmental impact reports that guide development decisions can legally be prepared by consultants hired by the project’s developers. In this case, the report was prepared by Dames & Moore, an engineering firm retained by Mobil.

Courts have divided on the issue. In two recent Los Angeles cases, one Superior Court judge ruled that developers could hire their own environmental consultants, and another ruled that they could not. Last week the state’s 2nd District Court of Appeal--deciding one of those cases--ruled 2-1 that developers could hire environmental impact report consultants as long as local officials carefully scrutinize the reports.

Coalition attorney Larry Teeter said Los Angeles improperly relied on Mobil’s consultant to produce a “public relations document.”

Attorneys for Mobil and the city said the report was a collaborative effort, in which the consultant took direction from city engineers.

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Opponents also maintained that the environmental report failed to adequately consider the alternatives of repairing the existing pipeline or building a line no larger than the current one.

Mobil and city officials argued that these issues were adequately considered. Citing the history of oil leaks from the existing line, Deputy City Atty. Keith Pritsker said opponents of the new line were acting like “knee-jerk environmental reactionaries.”


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