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Date sent:      28 Dec 1998 09:47:42
Send reply to:  Conference "env.justice" 
From:           [email protected]
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

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

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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