California Environmental Law and Policy Update - April 11, 2013

by Allen Matkins

Environmental and Policy Focus

Court rules CEQA streamlining provision unconstitutional

CourtHouse News - Apr 3

A section of a California law aimed at streamlining construction projects by moving jurisdiction to the appellate courts is unconstitutional, a state judge ruled Friday. Ruling from the bench, Judge Frank Roesch of Alameda County Superior Court struck down Public Resources Code 21185 of Assembly Bill 900, which modified the review process for certain projects under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law AB 900 and its companion bill SB 292, which proposed the building of a massive football stadium in downtown Los Angeles, on Sept. 27, 2011. Both bills took effect last January. AB 900, the Jobs and Economic Improvement Through Environmental Leadership Act, creates a fast-track judicial review process meant to get major construction projects off the ground sooner.

Northern District Court rules that BLM violated NEPA in Monterey shale oil leases

CNBC - Apr 9

Federal land managers violated a key environmental law when they auctioned off the rights to drill for oil and gas on 2,500 acres of prime public lands in Monterey County, home to one of the largest deposits of shale oil in the nation, a judge ruled. U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Grewal said in a ruling posted Sunday that the Bureau of Land Management should have conducted a comprehensive environmental review of the potential impacts caused by fracking before accepting bids for the drilling rights, in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act.

LADWP lake plan stirs up mixed reactions

Inyo Register News - Apr 6

Mixed reviews are coming in for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s proposal to develop a workable plan for long-term dust and habitat control on Owens Lake. Interested individuals and organizations have said the LADWP’s proposal is a way to end controversial dust control decisions on the lake while cutting water use (which could mean more water for the Owens Valley). Others say the department’s move is simply a way to cut through bureaucracy and get work done. Still others say the LADWP is developing its own plan as a way to access groundwater on the lake and circumvent the Master Plan Committee, comprised of more than a dozen members, and develop a plan that will serve its needs while ignoring those of other members. The LADWP announced last week that it planned to take the work done by the Master Plan Committee and draft a long-term plan for the lake that would meet the department’s needs and those of other member agencies, something the first draft plan, which was released in 2011, failed to do.

SF lawmaker hits speedbump in CEQA reform

San Francisco Examiner - Apr 8

Supervisor Scott Wiener’s effort to change how The City handles an environmental appeals process was slowed down Monday as a competing measure is being introduced. The proposed changes to the appeals process related to the California Environmental Quality Act, commonly called CEQA, have sparked tensions at City Hall, creating divisions among labor unions, community groups and housing advocates, and filling up supervisors’ inboxes with hundreds of emails from residents on both sides of the conflict. Developers complain about the unpredictability and endless battles in the existing process, while neighborhood activists worry proposed changes would diminish their influence.

Southern California begins drafting own air rules for fracking

Ohio Drilling - Apr 6

In the absence of statewide regulations for hydraulic fracturing, Southern California air-quality officials have enacted their own reporting rules for the controversial extraction process driving the country's oil and gas boom. On Friday, the governing board of the South Coast Air Quality Management District adopted a rule that requires oil companies to notify the air agency 10 days to 24 hours before beginning drilling operations, including "fracking," which involves injecting large volumes of chemical-laced water and sand deep into the ground to break apart rock and release oil. That notice, including the location of the well, will then be posted on the agency's website . Under the new rule, companies are also required to disclose all the chemicals they use, a provision that sparked opposition from oil industry trade groups and Halliburton, one of the world's largest oil field service companies and a pioneer of hydraulic fracturing.

Judge dismisses some environmental concerns for Santa Margarita Ranch project

San Luis Obispo Tribune - Apr 4

After more than three years of legal wrangling over the environmental impacts of developing an agricultural residential cluster on 3,778 acres of the Santa Margarita Ranch, a tentative ruling by Judge Jac A. Crawford is somewhat of a split decision in the ranch owners’ favor. Although several environmental issues will have to be addressed before building permits can be issued, Judge Crawford dismissed the bulk of other environment-oriented concerns.

Utility pole preservative OK, court rules

SF Gate - Apr 9

Pacific Gas & Electric and Pacific Bell did not need clean-water permits before coating thousands of utility poles with a powerful, government-approved wood preservative that can wash into Bay Area waterways, a federal appeals court has ruled. The Ecological Rights Foundation claimed pentachlorophenol from the poles has caused harmful pollution of the bay and other waters since the U.S. Environment Protection Agency approved its use in 2008. The foundation said the two utilities should have sought permits from regional water boards that can impose limits on water-borne pollutants. But the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said the preservative's use on poles is not covered by the Clean Water Act, which requires permits for discharges of industrial pollutants into waterways, or by another federal law regulating pollution by solid wastes.

US judge rejects Chevron subpoena of advocacy group in Ecuador case

CNBC - Apr 3

A U.S. judge has rejected efforts by Chevron Corp to secure documents from a California environmental advocacy group in a fraud case related to a $19 billion award for rainforest pollution in Ecuador. Magistrate Judge Nathanael Cousins on Wednesday quashed Chevron's subpoena for a deposition and documents from Amazon Watch, which the group's own lawyer described as the U.S. oil company's "sharpest critic." The subpoena was related to a case scheduled to go to trial on Oct. 15 in which Chevron accuses Ecuadorean residents, their lawyers and advisers of fraud in obtaining a multi-billion dollar judgment from a local court. Cousins said he had to weigh the free speech rights of Amazon Watch under the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment against the possibility of Chevron uncovering evidence for its case.

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Allen Matkins

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