Date sent: 28 Dec 1998 09:47:42 Send reply to: Conference "env.justice"
From: [email protected] Subject: CBE SLAPPS BACK AT TOSCO ATTACK To: Recipients of conference For Immediate Release: Dec. 28, 1998 For more information contact: Anne Simon, Leslie Fields, Denny Larson, Richard Drury (415) 243-8373 CBE Asks Court for Sanctions Against Tosco SLAPP Suit to Protect Free Speech Rights Oil Giant Lawsuit Seeks to Bully Environmental Justice Activists Who Fight Illegal Acts Today the California environmental health and justice group, Communities for a Better Environment ("CBE"), filed a motion seeking sanctions against oil giant Tosco, claiming that Tosco's lawsuit against CBE is a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation ("SLAPP"). SLAPP suits are intended to tie-up small non-profit organizations like CBE in frivolous litigation for years to divert their attention away from their real work of cleaning up the environment. Tosco served CBE with the SLAPP suit, which was filed in Federal District Court in Los Angeles, at the end of October of this year. Tosco is one of the largest corporations in the nation - 111 on the Fortune 500 list. CBE's motion asks the Court to sanction Tosco for attorneys' fees and costs under California's "anti-SLAPP" statute. The law is intended to prevent companies from using the legal system to intimidate public interest organizations for their protected speech activities. CBE is also asking the Court to throw out Tosco's suit entirely under both state and federal law, including the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which protects the right to free speech. "CBE will not be silenced by Tosco or any other oil company that violates the law," stated Leslie Fields, Executive Director of CBE. "Instead we will answer SLAPP actions with the truth and tougher court action." CBE sued Tosco several times over the past two years for violating federal and state environmental laws. Early this year CBE won a lawsuit against Tosco for the company's illegal discharge of toxic selenium into San Francisco Bay, forcing the company to install equipment to capture the chemical, and to pay almost a million dollars for its violations. After CBE sued Tosco in a separate case, the company agreed to stop allegedly illegal toxic gas vapor emissions from its oil tanker loading facility in Wilmington. Finally, CBE sued Tosco on August 6, 1998 to force Tosco to clean up toxic MTBE that the company has leaked into groundwater throughout the state. In response to these lawsuits, Tosco sued CBE, alleging malicious prosecution, and defamation - classic SLAPP suit allegations. Although it has almost no chance of winning its frivolous SLAPP suit, Tosco probably hopes that by attacking CBE with the massive law firm of Latham & Watkins, it can force CBE to back down, or even to go out of business. Tosco's SLAPP suit contends that CBE's efforts to inform the public of the risks to the state's groundwater constitute "defamation." Nothing could be further from the truth. Tosco, and other California oil companies starting putting the toxic chemical MTBE into gasoline in the early 1990's, allegedly to make "cleaner burning gasoline." However, the oil companies were aware at the time that MTBE leaks out of underground gas tanks and into groundwater. MTBE is a suspected carcinogen, and makes water undrinkable in minute quantities. The unfortunate result of the MTBE experiment is that California now is home to over 10,000 MTBE contaminated sites. Santa Monica has lost over 50% of its water supply to MTBE. Santa Clara has over 1000 MTBE contaminated sites. Even pristine areas like South Lake Tahoe have lost several drinking water wells to MTBE. Rather than clean-up, Tosco decided to take aim at CBE. Tosco is trying to intimidate CBE and anyone else willing to take a stand against MTBE and oil company pollution. CBE is a 20-year-old environmental health and justice organization with 15,000 members in California. The group combines scientists, attorneys and community organizers to empower communities impacted by toxic pollution to win clean ups and community oversight rights. CBE has offices in San Francisco, Pittsburg, Los Angeles, and Huntington Park.
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