Company Files $200 Million Legal Action Against SCAQMD Over Shutdown Order

The hand turns the sign with the inscription open to the Closed position. The end of the working day

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) - The South Coast Air Quality Management District did not provide Baker Commodities Inc. a fair hearing when the Vernon animal rendering facility was ordered in late September to stop operations until the agency concludes it has complied with air quality rules and permit conditions, the business alleges in a $200 million legal action filed Wednesday.

The Los Angeles Superior Court petition accuses the SCAQMD and four members of the district hearing board of "shameful and shocking conduct" during an allegedly biased hearing on the district's bid for an abatement order to shut down the facility, which employs about 200 people.

The Baker petition alleges the company's due process rights were violated and that Baker was not allowed to put on a viable defense. The hearing board procedure was "orchestrated to ensure that Baker would be closed down," the petition alleges.

The district and the hearing board also wrongfully shared photos of Baker's "proprietary processes" through the hearing board's video feed, its YouTube channel and "to the entire worldwide public," according to the petition.

Along with damages, the legal action -- which alleges civil rights violation, conspiracy and trade secret misappropriation -- seeks an injunction directing the agency to vacate its order.

An SCAQMD representative told City News Service she was checking to see if the district would comment. The district previously stated that the shutdown decision was based on evidence showing multiple ongoing violations of the agency's rule that was designed to reduce odors.

The facility must stop all rendering and wastewater operations including, receiving and processing raw material and removing all wastewater from the open-air pit by Friday. Additionally, the company must wash all exposed surfaces of animal matter at least once a day and provide a timeline on how it will address and fix all ongoing violations.

The business may not reopen until all operations or equipment required by the order are within either a permanent total enclosure or a closed system.

"The facility has had years to comply with our rules," Wayne Nastri, South Coast AQMD's executive officer, said earlier. "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."

The Bandini Boulevard company converts animal material collected from meat processing plants, supermarkets and butcher shops into animal feed or other useful products. The district alleges the firm 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, the company did not properly seal or close other processing areas to minimize leaks and prevent odors from escaping, according to the SCAQMD.

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