Environmental and Policy Focus
The Guardian - Jan 18 During a combative Senate confirmation hearing this week, Scott Pruitt, Donald Trump’s pick to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), claimed there is still “some debate” over the role of human activity in climate change and defended his relationship with the fossil fuel industry. Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general, has sued the agency he is now set to lead 14 times over the EPA’s smog, mercury, and other pollution regulations. Several of these cases are still ongoing, and Pruitt said he would recuse himself in dealing with these cases if instructed to do so by the EPA’s ethics board. Pruitt said he wanted a better partnership with the states, which he said had been subject to “duress and punishment” from the EPA. He said the states had the “resources and expertise” to safeguard America’s environment but accepted that pollution does cross state lines.
Bloomberg - Jan 13 U.S. government scientists copying climate data they fear will disappear under the Trump administration may get extra time to safeguard the information, courtesy of a novel legal bid by the Sierra Club. The environmental group is turning to open records requests to protect the resources and keep them from being deleted or made inaccessible, beginning with information housed at the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy. Last Thursday, the organization filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests asking those agencies to turn over a slew of records, including data on greenhouse gas emissions, traditional air pollution, and power plants. The record-seeking alone could prevent files from being deleted quickly, as federal laws and regulations generally block government agencies from destroying files that are being considered for release.
San Jose Mercury News - Jan 17 State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) staff recommended this Tuesday that statewide water conservation rules be kept in place through at least May, when they can be re-evaluated after the winter rainy season is over. If this recommendation is adopted, communities across California that dropped strict watering rules, fines, and other penalties this fall will not have to reimpose them. Areas that kept rules in place due to tight supplies are likely to keep them in the short term, although in some cases they may drop drought rules if they can demonstrate that recent rains filled their reservoirs and brought their local conditions back to normal. The SWRCB is scheduled to discuss the proposal Wednesday at a public workshop in Sacramento, with a final vote by the board set for Feb. 7.
Los Angeles Times - Jan 17 The troubled Aliso Canyon underground gas storage field near Porter Ranch is safe to reopen at a third of its original size, state regulators announced Tuesday, even though the cause of the methane gas leak, which lasted four months and was the largest in U.S. history, has not been determined. The leak sickened many residents and effectively doubled the methane emissions rate of the entire Los Angeles Basin. The next step in the process will be two public hearings on reopening the Southern California Gas Co. facility, which are scheduled for Feb. 1 and Feb. 2 in Woodland Hills. After those hearings, the state will make a final decision on when the site can reopen. State utility regulators say they intend to restrict the size of field for safety reasons.
San Diego Union-Tribune - Jan 13 The Sierra Club and the Cleveland National Forest Foundation last Friday sued the county of San Diego over the Board of Supervisors’ December 14 approval of a general plan amendment that changed land-use designations for more than 71,000 acres in the Cleveland National Forest backcountry. The Sierra Club lawsuit contends that the county has improperly rezoned private lands within the forest, setting the stage for property owners to subdivide lots and usher in a wave of rural development. The Cleveland National Forest Foundation lawsuit alleges that environmental impacts associated with the loss of open space, fragmentation of animal habitat, wildfires, water quality, and air pollution weren’t properly addressed. The lawsuits come amid broader, ongoing legal wrangling between the Sierra Club and the county over whether any large backcountry development projects should proceed before the Board of Supervisors adopts an updated climate action plan. A draft of that document is due out this summer.
- Jan 18 The California Supreme Court rejected a request that it stop construction on the Golden State Warriors' new $1 billion San Francisco basketball arena. This order all but ended the Mission Bay Alliance's legal options in its quest to terminate the project, and cleared the way for construction to continue. The Alliance, which is made up primarily of University of California, San Francisco staff, and allies, objected to the location of the arena and challenged the project several times in court based on its environmental impact review. The group still has another pending legal action involving the mitigation of traffic to and from hospitals near the arena site.