AltAir/World Energy Paramount Conversion Project

In 2013, the Paramount Refinery began converting portions of the oil refinery into renewable fuels production. In 2018, World Energy purchased AltAir and the Paramount Refinery, and AltAir became a wholly owned subsidiary of World Energy. Under World Energy, AltAir proposes to complete the conversion of the refinery to manufacture only renewable fuels at a higher level than originally approved by the City. On April 11, 2022, the City Council approved an amendment to Conditional Use Permit (CUP) No. 757 to proceed with construction and the conversion of the refinery. The City Council also approved Zone Variance No. 409, which will allow some refinery equipment to exceed the 55-foot height limit.

Fact Check

CLAIM: Facility Lacks Adequate Environmental Review of Community Harms

FACT: The final Environmental Impact Report [EIR] provides extensive analysis and information on a whole range of issues under CEQA, and followed all CEQA requirements utterly and completely. Multiple agencies, including the AQMD, were involved in its review and preparation, and all information has been available to the public.

CLAIM: Environmental justice and conservation groups sued the city of Paramount, California today over its approval of a biofuel refinery expansion without adequate environmental review. The lawsuit challenges the environmental review process for restarting the mostly shuttered petroleum refinery and converting it to produce biodiesel, biogas and “sustainable aviation fuel.” ….

FACT: The refinery has never been even close to “shuttered.” Since shifting over to the production of biofuels, its output has decreased from when it was producing petroleum products. But it maintained all permits, with the City and the AQMD, for operation as a crude oil refinery until approval of the EIR put an end to petroleum products being used there ever again.

CLAIM: … The groups say the review obscures the harms of processing 25,000 barrels of animal fat and vegetable feedstock per day, installing a 3.7-mile gas pipeline, and generating up to 50 railcar and 540 truck trips per day.

FACT: Nothing has been obscured. The EIR, in fact, examined worst-case operations, which would see most of the bio fuels transported by truck. The maximum estimate of truck trips would be 300 per day. Traffic studies indicate that the existing intersections can handle this increase in traffic. In addition, CEQA requires that analysis of the project look at it highest output figures, running at full capacity, 24 hours a day, 365 days per year. This is where truck trip estimates came from, so the 540 figure is mythical. Given that requirement, it needs to be said that there are a wide variety of factors that will prevent the refinery from operating at that level.

CLAIM: The refinery is in a high-density minority and low-income neighborhood, adjacent to Paramount High School and two elementary schools. “This project ignores the dangers of dirty infrastructure our communities know far too well — increased risks of flaring, fires, and explosions all happening right next to the schools and homes of Paramount residents,” said Whitney Amaya, Zero Waste community organizer at East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice…

FACT: The EIR hazards analysis indicated that impacts from such accidental scenarios would not increase beyond the facility’s historical operations. The refinery has been operating as a bio fuel facility for a number of years and has not experienced increased flaring or odor or air quality issues, as per AQMD files. Furthermore, air quality risk assessments indicate that the cancer risk to the community would actually be reduced with the project relative to historical operations.

CLAIM: … “Cities should be working on zero-emission solutions, not rubberstamping biofuel projects that will increase toxic pollution and harm the health and safety of the communities they represent.”

FACT: There was no “rubberstamping.” Analyzing and studying the project and its impacts and effects was an exacting and exhaustive two-and-a-half-year endeavor that included all legal and ethical processes. As to toxics, bio fuels lead to substantial reductions in Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions compared to fossil fuels and are supported by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and the State’s low-carbon fuels program. According to modeling done for the EIR, the project would produce a reduction in toxic pollution near the refinery and reduce cancer risks, and would not increase safety impacts relative to historical operations at the refinery.

CLAIM: Heavily industrial Paramount ranks as one of the most polluted cities in California. Its residents experience the highest levels of cancer-causing hexavalent chromium in Los Angeles County, as well as increased rates of asthma and cardiovascular disease. The converted refinery would release smog-forming pollution that exacerbates these harms.

FACT: The statements about “most polluted … highest levels of hex chrome … increased rates of asthma and cardiovascular disease …” are given no factual sources, and therefore are unsubstantiated and simply provocative. To address possible pollution, the approved permit encouraged utilizing pipelines to the maximum extent feasible and required a number of mitigation measures that will work toward dampening any potential harms.

CLAIM: “This project puts public health and safety in jeopardy in an attempt to squeeze profits from century-old infrastructure,” said Liz Jones, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “Restarting this dirty refinery promises more pollution, not the climate solutions we desperately need. I’m skeptical that there will be sufficient emissions reductions from this project, and certainly not enough to justify the ongoing injustices inflicted on Paramount residents.”

FACT: The facility was never closed so there is no restarting. By approving the project, the City was able to ensure that petroleum products – which have far more negative environmental impacts – would never again be processed there. If it had been denied, there is every likelihood that the refinery would have returned to petroleum-based production again and into the future.

CLAIM: “Even the city of Paramount acknowledged the unmitigated harm from this project by relying on a statement of overriding consideration which concludes that unavoidable adverse environmental impacts associated with this project may be considered acceptable,” said Shana Lazerow, legal director at Communities for a Better Environment….

FACT: While any project of this type can have negative impacts, the benefits associated with substantial reductions in GHG emissions and implementing statewide and City-wide goals for the use of renewable fuels and reduced carbon content of fuels far outweigh them.

CLAIM: …. “We need to move away from extractive energy systems that spew pollution into already overburdened communities.”

FACT: This statement is perplexing. The project is predicated on moving away from “extractive energy systems,” which are fossil fuels that are extracted from geological formations in the form of crude oil, products of which then produce extensively harmful pollutants. Climate change is considered a critical issue and efforts to address it are supported by the local community, as exemplified by Paramount’s Climate Action Plan. This project would further the Climate Action Plan, as well as statewide, goals and efforts.

CLAIM: Rather than fully shut down petroleum refineries, operators are increasingly restarting and converting them to produce “renewable” fuels or biofuels. The demand for feedstock to supply these refineries is expected to rise as more projects come online in Rodeo, Martinez and Bakersfield. The greenhouse gas emissions from some of these feedstocks can be as significant as emissions from oil and gas when the clearing of forests and wetlands to grow crops is accounted for. In addition, more investment in biofuels can increase nutrient pollution, pesticide contamination and water scarcity, while delaying the needed transition to electrified transportation in sectors like aviation and trucking. “We’re outraged that the city of Paramount rubberstamped this oil industry proposal to greenwash one polluting facility for another,” said Oscar Espino-Padron, a senior attorney at Earthjustice. “Paramount’s deeply flawed environmental review is full of glaring errors and omissions, ignoring the very real and harmful impacts that this project would have on the already overburdened surrounding communities. We have no choice but to take the city to court to ensure impacted residents get the meaningful environmental review that they deserve.”

FACT: Again, this process was anything but a “rubberstamping.” The two-and-a-half-year study period included partnering with the South Coast Air Quality Management District [SCAQMD], which in the end had no comments to make regarding the final report. The Executive Director of CARB urged the City to approve the project. The public engagement efforts went over and above those required in CEQA and were extensive. None of this important and sensitive process was “deeply flawed” or contained “glaring errors or omissions.”

CLAIM: The Paramount refinery began operating in the 1930s. In 2011, the refinery was idled. Crude oil production stopped and was permanently shut down in 2017. Meanwhile, the operator made modifications in 2014 and 2015 to process 3,500 barrels of vegetable oils and beef tallow per day. The proposed project would increase biofuel processing capacity more than sevenfold.

FACT: Like so much in the press release, even these easily discovered figures are incorrect. The refinery opened in the 1920s after the discovery of oil in nearby Signal Hill. The facility was not idled in 2011 and stopped using crude oil in 2014 when the current owner took over and began producing bio fuel.

Frequently Asked Questions

World Energy is one of the largest and longest-serving advanced clean energy suppliers in North America. In addition to Paramount, the other World Energy facilities are located in Texas, Mississippi, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and two in Ontario, Canada.

World Energy acquired the former Paramount Petroleum facility in 2018. Instead of refining petroleum and asphalt, we are transforming the facility into one that produces clean, renewable energy.

We can take everyday things like cooking oils and turn them into energy for planes and motor vehicles.  In Paramount, World Energy currently makes renewable diesel, renewable gasoline and sustainable aviation fuel.

Our clean energy products deliver over 75% reduction in carbon emissions and cleaner air by reducing nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter (PM), in addition to potentially reducing toxic compounds.

The gas generated by World Energy’s manufacturing process does not contain high concentrations of benzene, toluene, or xylene found in petroleum-based refinery gasses. A flare is a safety device that allows excess gases that cannot be used in the operation of the facility to be safely burned, protecting the community and the equipment.

When World Energy acquired the facility, we kept the established workforce and retrained them in cutting edge green technologies.  The full conversion of our Paramount facility into one that produces clean, renewable energy will create construction jobs as well as additional permanent high-paying jobs.

We are a member of the Paramount community, committed to safety and being a responsible neighbor.  Many of us live in the city, so being a good neighbor is naturally woven into who we are.  As we permanently shift towards a sustainable future, we are taking every step to minimize impacts to our neighbors.

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Additional Information

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