US rendering facility Baker Commodities sues air pollution agency over shutdown order

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/DNY59
© GettyImages/DNY59

Related tags rendering lawsuit California

A California-based animal rendering facility has filed a lawsuit against an air pollution agency that had ordered the company to stop operations over violations of air quality rules and permit conditions.

Baker Commodities Inc. filed the US$200m lawsuit against The South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) in Los Angeles Superior Court last week, as reported by CBS News​.

SCAQMD, formed in 1976, is the air pollution agency responsible for regulating stationary sources of air pollution in the South Coast Air Basin and the Coachella Valley portion of the Salton Sea Air Basin, in Southern California.

At the end of September 2022, SCAQMD’s hearing board ordered Baker to stop operations at its rendering operations in Vernon, California, until it was able to comply with air quality rules and permit conditions.

The facility, which employs around 200 people, converts animal material collected from meat processing plants, supermarkets, and butcher shops into animal feed and other products.

Baker's lawsuit, meanwhile, accuses SCAQMD and four members of the district hearing board of "shameful and shocking conduct"​ during a reportedly “biased hearing​” on the district's bid for an abatement order to shut down the facility, noted the local media outlet. 

The renderer also alleged that its due process rights were violated, that it was not allowed to put on a viable defense.   

The lawsuit is seeking US$200m in damages and an injunction directing SCAQMD to vacate its order.

When asked for a response to the filing, a spokesperson for the air pollution regulator told FeedNavigator that, typically, the agency does not comment on pending litigation. 

Reported violations

In a statement​ issued on September 30, 2022, SCAQMD said the decision to order the facility shutdown was based on evidence that showed multiple ongoing violations of its rule designed to reduce odors.

It ordered the plant to stop all rendering and wastewater operations including, receiving, and processing raw material and removing all wastewater from the open-air pit within seven days of the order. Additionally, the agency said the facility must wash all exposed surfaces of animal matter at least once a day and provide a timeline within seven days of the order on how it will address and fix all ongoing violations. The site, it continued, should not reopen until all operations or equipment required by the order were within either a permanent total enclosure or a closed system.

“The facility has had years to comply with our rules,”​ said Wayne Nastri, SCAQMD executive officer, back then. “Shutting down the facility is the only acceptable step until proper controls are implemented that will protect the nearby communities that have long been impacted by rendering odors.”

Baker, claimed the air pollution regulator, has committed multiple violations by failing to keep its facility clean and in good operating condition and not enclosing portions of its facility including a butcher trimmings receiving area and certain wastewater operations including an open-air pit. Additionally, SCAQMD maintained that the facility did not properly seal or close other processing areas to minimize leaks and prevent odors from escaping.

Enclosures must be completed within certain deadlines after construction permits are approved, said the agency. Baker was required to complete its enclosures and/or closed systems by March 9 and April 22, 2022, which, according to the SCAQMD’s order of September 29, the operator had failed to do.

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