Friends of the San Juans scores legal victory with implications for Southern Resident killer whales

Posted March 15, 2022 at 2:15 pm by

Friends of the San Juans shares news about the out­come of legal pro­ceed­ings involv­ing Phillips 66 and a pro­posed expan­sion of its refin­ery in Ferndale.

Friends of the San Juans, a small envi­ron­men­tal non­prof­it based in the San Juan Islands, recent­ly scored a deci­sive legal vic­to­ry against fos­sil-fuel giant Phillips 66, rep­re­sent­ing an impor­tant win for crit­i­cal­ly endan­gered South­ern Res­i­dent killer whales. On Feb. 28, the Wash­ing­ton State Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Friends in a law­suit regard­ing Phillips 66’s expan­sion of its Fer­n­dale, WA, refinery.

In 2019 Phillips 66 applied for a per­mit to expand its fos­sil-fuel stor­age facil­i­ties in Fer­n­dale. But in its per­mit appli­ca­tion, Phillips 66 neglect­ed to include pre­dic­tions of how many addi­tion­al ves­sels would vis­it the refin­ery. Since sci­en­tif­ic data clear­ly show that increas­es in ves­sel traf­fic across the Sal­ish Sea result in greater risks to the endan­gered South­ern Res­i­dents killer whales, or orcas, such pre­dic­tions are required in facil­i­ty-expan­sion per­mits. On that basis, Friends, along with mul­ti­ple com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers, object­ed to the per­mit. Friends of the San Juans pur­sued legal actions to ensure that pro­tec­tions for the orcas were upheld by What­com County.

The legal action has been ongo­ing for sev­er­al years. In the most recent pro­ceed­ing, an appeal by a team of Phillips 66 attor­neys, Friends of the San Juans was rep­re­sent­ed by Earth­jus­tice attor­ney Shana Emile. “Earth­jus­tice was thrilled to bring our exper­tise in envi­ron­men­tal law and appel­late pro­ceed­ings to bear in this prece­dent-set­ting case,” said Ms. Emile. “When the Court reject­ed Phillips 66’s appeal, they agreed with each argu­ment made by Friends of the San Juans and What­com Coun­ty. That was great news not only for the endan­gered orcas, but for every­one in the Pacif­ic North­west who cares about the health of the Sal­ish Sea.”

Friends of the San Juans pri­or­i­tizes the impacts of ves­sel traf­fic when engag­ing in the review of refin­ery per­mit appli­ca­tions. The organization’s Marine Pro­tec­tion and Pol­i­cy Direc­tor, Lov­el Pratt, not­ed, “This deci­sion is impor­tant, in part, because it states that ‘Phillips 66 has con­ced­ed that envi­ron­men­tal con­cerns, includ­ing harm to killer whales, could arise if ves­sel traf­fic increas­es.’” In addi­tion, Ms. Pratt con­tin­ued, “This deci­sion rein­forces per­mit agen­cies’ abil­i­ty to use mon­i­tor­ing con­di­tions to hold per­mit appli­cants account­able. Phillips 66 stat­ed that the new stor­age tanks would not increase ves­sel traf­fic. If the project is per­mit­ted, ongo­ing ves­sel traf­fic mon­i­tor­ing will ensure that the project does not increase ves­sel traf­fic, and that it does not increase impacts to the South­ern Res­i­dents and the Sal­ish Sea.”

“I couldn’t be more pleased with this result,” said Friends Exec­u­tive Direc­tor R. Brent Lyles. “The fos­sil-fuel indus­try needs to under­stand that small envi­ron­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions like ours will stand up to them; big com­pa­nies don’t get to ignore the rules and threat­en the endan­gered South­ern Res­i­dent orcas just because their pock­ets are deep. The Friends mis­sion is to pro­tect and restore the San Juan Islands and the Sal­ish Sea for peo­ple and nature. Togeth­er with our mem­bers and part­ners, we’ve been fight­ing for the pro­tec­tion of the orcas, salmon and the entire Sal­ish Sea for over 40 years, and we’ll still be here anoth­er 40 years from now.”

For more infor­ma­tion about this case and to read the Court’s most recent deci­sion, please vis­it the Friends of the San Juans web­site.

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