A trade group representing small local oil producers is upset over changes to the city of L.A.’s drilling permit regulations and wants those changes rolled back.

The regulatory shifts came about as part of a court settlement the city reached with three environmental groups – Youth for Environmental Justice, the Center for Biological Diversity and the South Central Youth Leadership Coalition – that sued the city last year alleging it has allowed a disproportionate impact of oil drilling operations on low-income and minority communities.

The city agreed to pay the three groups a total of $230,000 and make changes to its regulations and permitting process regarding drilling operations.

One change, already implemented, was the hiring of a petroleum engineer to oversee the regulation of oil drilling. Another, contained in a memorandum from the city’s zoning administrator, is a new set of environmental impact forms specifically for new or expanded drilling operations.

Finally, the city is hiking fees for new or modified wells from the current $5,000 per well to between $90,000 and $150,000.

According to Kevin Keller, deputy director of the Los Angeles Department of City Planning, the call for new environmental impact forms is part of an overhaul in how the city regulates oil drilling.

“The city’s new zoning administrator memorandum is meant to ensure that decision-makers can better address the complexities of oil and gas projects within the existing regulations, in a way that lends clarity, consistency, and integrity to the review process,” Keller said.

But the California Independent Petroleum Association, whose member roster includes five small oil producers with operations in the city, doesn’t see it this way.

CIPA Chief Executive Rock Zierman said the zoning administrator’s memorandum goes against state law in creating a special environmental review category for oil drilling operations.

“Every development and business interest in the city that is impacted by (the California Environmental Quality Act) should be alarmed at this maneuver, as it sets a very dangerous precedent, and (is) an exertion of power beyond the city’s authority,” Zierman said in an email.

He also said the new regulations seek to transfer to oil producers much of the legal costs assumed by the city in its review process.

His group is seeking through the legal discovery process more details about the negotiations that led to the regulatory changes, though it has not filed a lawsuit.

“CIPA believes that once the truth comes out, the court will invalidate the new regulations and preclude them from being implemented against stakeholders in the city,” he said.

Hot Topic

In the flurry of bills Gov. Jerry Brown signed late last month, one that received little attention could have a big impact on many types of businesses throughout Los Angeles.

SB 1167 by state Sens. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, and Connie Leyva, D-Chino-San Bernardino, directs the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration to adopt a standard for indoor heat illness, similar to an outdoor standard that was recently toughened. The rule must be in place by January 2019.

This law could have a huge impact on warehouses, manufacturing floors, some restaurant kitchens, and other indoor workplaces that currently lack air conditioning. It even could affect air-conditioned offices where the temperature is set too warm for some workers. Both legislators come from districts with heavy concentrations of industrial warehouses.

“No regulations exist to protect indoor workers from heat exposure or heat-related illnesses, despite the fact that indoor work settings in places like factories can often reach temperatures in excess of 100 degrees Fahrenheit,” Mendoza said in a press release issued upon Brown’s signature of the bill.

During the legislative session, a broad coalition of business groups led by the California Chamber of Commerce opposed the bill, saying existing workplace safety requirements already address indoor heat illness.

Of course, the scope of this law’s impact will not become clear until Cal-OSHA crafts the regulations over the next couple of years. While the law sets as a general standard the heat stress and heat strain guidelines developed by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists, it does give Cal-OSHA discretion to set industry-specific indoor temperature standards.

Restaurant Grading Changes

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has approved changes meant to strengthen the county’s restaurant health inspection grading system.

The “A,” “B,” and “C” letter grading system remains in place, but now inspectors will no longer be able to give an “A” grade for critical violations such as no water availability, sewage problems, or vermin infestation. Also, new grading cards will include inspection dates and at-a-glance information on inspection details.

“It is important that restaurantgoers are provided with accurate and timely information so they make informed choices when dining out,” said Cynthia Harding, interim director of the county Department of Public Health.

Staff reporter Howard Fine can be reached at hfine@labusinessjournal.com or (323) 549-5225, ext. 227.

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