California Environmental Law and Policy Update - December 2014

Allen Matkins

Environmental and Policy Focus

State court may tighten review process for building super-sized homes - Dec 8

In a case that could redefine the scope of California’s environmental laws, the state Supreme Court heard arguments last week on whether the rules exempting most proposed single-family homes from public review apply to a nearly 10,000-square-foot home with a 10-car garage on a steep Berkeley hillside. The Berkeley City Council approved the project in 2010, without preparing an environmental impact report, after hearing conflicting testimony from engineers about the risk of landslides. Under state law, single-family homes and “infill” projects in urban areas do not require environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) except in “unusual circumstances.” But California courts have not agreed on how to define “unusual” — whether the term necessarily includes, for example, projects that might have an impact because of their size or location. The state’s high court took up that question when it granted review of the appellate court decision that found the proposed Berkeley hillside home was not exempt from CEQA review.

Appeals court rejects San Diego transportation plan

San Diego Union-Tribune - Dec 24

A state appeals court has ruled that a transportation plan for the San Diego region lacks details about how future projects might worsen climate change and air quality — and fails to offer ways to address those problems. By a 2-1 vote, a panel of the California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District rejected the environmental analysis for a $200 billion transportation plan prepared by the San Diego Association of Governments, concluding it glossed over projections that greenhouse gases would increase sharply by 2050. The court found that the approach conflicts with state directives to lower emissions by then, and with a state law that requires agencies to disclose and reduce the environmental risks of proposed projects.

Obama administration, EPA further limit smog pollution

Los Angeles Daily News - Dec 26

The Obama administration is taking steps to cut levels of smog-forming pollution linked to asthma, lung damage, and other health problems, making good on one of President Barack Obama’s original campaign promises while setting up a fresh confrontation with Republicans and the energy industry. In a long-awaited announcement, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a rule reducing the current 8-hour ozone standard from 75 parts per billion to 65 to 70 parts per billion, but also agreed to accept comments on a more stringent standard as low as 60 parts per billion, which has been sought by environmental groups. Meeting the least stringent of the proposed new limits (70 parts per billion) will cost industry about $3.9 billion in 2025, the EPA estimated. At a level of 65 parts per billion, the EPA says the cost grows to $15 billion. But industry groups said the cost would actually be far more, and that it would be nearly impossible for refineries and other businesses to comply.

Neighbors push back against drilling plan at South L.A. site

Los Angeles Times - Dec 2

Neighbors are pressing for an environmental study of oil drilling at a South Los Angeles location close to homes, arguing that the city should scrutinize fumes, noise, and chemical usage before deciding whether to let the company drill wells at the site. The Freeport-McMoRan petroleum company wants to drill a new well and re-drill two existing wells at the Jefferson Boulevard site, located west of USC. The company argues that no study of the project is needed under the California Environmental Quality Act, saying that the project is “minimal in scope and duration” and would be done within roughly four months. But neighbors and community activists argue that drilling at the site has caused longstanding nuisances and dangers, including acrid fumes and deafening noise.

New residential water use numbers indicate conservation backslide

KQED - Dec 2

The latest year-over-year residential water use numbers are out, offering a glimpse at how much water larger cities throughout California are using and how much they are conserving. The broad view for October’s water conservation efforts isn’t good, but the gloomy news comes with warnings about comparing data 1) between cities that may have very different water needs and 2) across time when temperature could be a factor. That said, October represents a significant backslide in water conservation statewide. Water use this October was down 6.7 percent compared to the same time last year. Sounds good, but that’s also a 3.6 percent decrease in water savings compared to September 2014, which had a statewide conservation rate of 10.3 percent.

California's Republican lawmakers flex muscles with new water bill

KPCC - Dec 3

After the collapse of secret negotiations that sought to change federal policy to send more water to Central Valley farmers, California's Republican lawmakers have come up with Plan B: a completely new water bill. It's an early sign of the rising power of Republicans who will control both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives starting in January. Last week, Hanford Republican Congressman David Valadao introduced the ‘‘California Emergency Drought Relief Act of 2014.’’ The measure is designed to bring more water to Central Valley farmers over the next 18 months, but it could also affect taps in Southern California. The bill would make it easier for the Metropolitan Water District, the agency that provides water to 18 million Southern Californians in six counties, to purchase extra water in drought years. But there also is a chance the state would have to replenish some of the federal water sent to farmers.

Otay Mesa power plant opponents ask California Supreme Court to intervene

San Diego Union-Tribune - Dec 26

Opponents of a new natural gas power plant planned near the Mexican border at Otay Mesa are petitioning California's Supreme Court to intervene, after a state appeals court declined to hear the case. The project was rejected last year by the California Public Utilities Commission only to be resuscitated and approved in February in response to the early retirement of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, once the region's largest power source. In its Supreme Court petition, the environmental group Protect our Communities asserts that the utilities commission, in its second review of Pio Pico, refused to consider evidence that sufficient power resources already exist to serve the needs of the San Diego area without the new plant. San Diego Gas & Electric says it selected the quick-start Pio Pico Energy Center as the most economical option for meeting power demands while evening out fluctuations in renewable energy, including solar- and wind-generated power, on the electricity grid.

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Allen Matkins

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