California Environmental Law and Policy Update - June 5, 2013

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Environmental and Policy Focus

California Senate unanimously backs changes to CEQA

The Sacramento Bee - May 29

"Unanimous" and "CEQA" (the California Environmental Quality Act) are two words not often found in the same sentence, but May 29th was an exception as the California Senate unanimously voted to pass the CEQA Modernization Act. The 39-0 bipartisan vote approved Senate Bill 731, authored by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento. Among the bill's many provisions, unsubstantiated opinion would no longer be allowed as new evidence in court, and project aesthetics would not be taken into consideration as a part of CEQA review. The bill also seeks to speed up legal challenges and standardize state thresholds for environmental impacts.

California bills to halt fracking fail to win support

San Jose Mercury News - May 31

Attempts to place a moratorium on the controversial oil drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," failed as the Legislature hit its first bill-passing deadline, but the industry may face stringent regulations as a result of other legislation currently under consideration. An Assembly bill to temporarily halt fracking did not win enough support to pass that chamber. A Senate measure will be amended to remove its proposed moratorium. Instead of halting the practice as many environmental groups sought, lawmakers are seeking regulations that would require the disclosure of chemicals used in the process, oversight of wastewater disposal, and increased public notification.

$4.5 Billion LAX Upgrades Challenged in Court

CourtHouse News - Jun 3

Three cities and a county, a union, and a citizens' coalition sued Los Angeles and its Airport Board, challenging a $4.5 billion upgrade of Los Angeles International Airport. The plaintiffs filed three complaints in Superior Court. In virtually identical language, the complaints claim a city-approved plan to move part of a runway closer to homes violates California environmental laws, and understates its adverse impacts. They ask the court to vacate the city's recent approval of the $652 million runway construction and enjoin the city from breaking ground on the project.

Energy Commission sued over location of new natural gas plants

Rewire - May 31

The California Energy Commission (CEC) is facing a lawsuit over its siting of natural gas-fired power plants in the state of California. Plaintiffs argue that compared to other state agencies, the CEC's siting decisions are almost immune from citizen legal challenges, even if those decisions are badly flawed. Because of a law enacted in 2001, California Public Resources Code section 25531, the CEC siting decisions, unlike decisions by other state agencies, can only be challenged in the State Supreme Court and the evidence citizens and their attorneys can introduce is more limited than in other cases. Citizens and environmental groups claim that the statute sets up the CEC as a quasi-judicial agency answerable only to itself, a violation of the state's Separation of Powers law.

EPA to look at standards to curb ocean acidification

eNewsUSA - May 30

In response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), U.S. EPA is beginning an in-depth study about combating ocean acidification and reducing pollution which CBD claims is having a dramatic impact on corals, shellfish and other sea life. CBD indicated in a release that the decision marks the first time EPA has launched a formal workgroup to identify national water quality standards that can be used to detect the effects of ocean acidification marine life.

UC Davis Study Highlights Climate Change Impact on Ethanol Production

Biz Journal - Jun 4

A study involving the University of California Davis suggests climate change will make it impossible to develop enough biofuel from corn in coming decades. In 40 years, rising temperatures would cut the amount of yield from corn grown for ethanol by 7 percent, while increasing how much irrigation would be needed by 9 percent.