California Environmental Law & Policy Update - October 2017 #2

by Allen Matkins

Environmental and Policy Focus

Metropolitan Water District of Southern California approves Delta tunnels project

Sacramento Bee - Oct 10 Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) on Tuesday committed more than $4 billion toward the Delta tunnels project, Governor Jerry Brown’s $17.1 billion effort to re-engineer the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and improve water deliveries to south state cities and farms. Representing 19 million residents from San Diego to Riverside, MWD became the largest agency to commit to the project, officially known as California WaterFix. MWD's vote to commit funding—which was opposed by the L.A. and San Diego MWD delegates—came three weeks after the farmers of the Westlands Water District in the San Joaquin Valley dealt the project a near-fatal setback by refusing to contribute. MWD’s support alone won’t get the tunnels built given the multibillion funding gap resulting from Westlands' rejection, but it will give the Brown administration time and some momentum to develop a scaled-down version of the tunnels if Westlands doesn’t change its mind.

EPA announces repeal of major Obama-era carbon emissions rule

New York Times - Oct 9 The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Tuesday announced that Scott Pruitt, the chief of the agency, had signed a measure to repeal President Barack Obama’s signature policy to curb greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, setting up a bitter fight over the future of America’s efforts to tackle global warming. Pruitt said in a news release that his predecessors had departed from regulatory norms in writing the Clean Power Plan, which was finalized in 2015 and would have pushed states to move away from coal in favor of sources of electricity that produce fewer carbon emissions. Even in the absence of the rule, many utilities across the country have opted to shift to natural gas, wind, and solar, driven by cost concerns and state-level policies. Many states, including California and New York, are already moving beyond the targets set by the Clean Power Plan as they develop their own climate policies.

Landmark compromise aims to boost environment, spur development in San Diego

San Diego Union-Tribune - Oct 9 San Diego government officials, local developers, and conservation groups are set to unveil a new plan that aims to both protect vernal pools—ponds that play a crucial role in San Diego’s ecosystem by providing habitat and food sources for several threatened animals and plants—while easing project approvals by clarifying how developers can build on sites that contain the ponds. San Diego and federal officials have been crafting the proposed rulebook, known as a "Habitat Conservation Plan," for nearly a decade. It will be presented this month to the San Diego Planning Commission and could get City Council approval by the end of the year. Under the plan, federal officials would cede authority over projects that would destroy local vernal pools to San Diego officials. In exchange, the city would agree to protect many vernal pools and abide by a clear set of rules endorsed by federal officials. Potential stumbling blocks include Federal Aviation Administration concerns about how the plan would affect local airports, and criticism that the plan is not protective enough of the ponds.

The Cadiz desert water project is facing a new hurdle

Los Angeles Times - Oct 8 The California State Lands Commission (SLC) is throwing a new hurdle in front of Cadiz Inc.’s plans to turn a remote desert valley into a lucrative water source for Southern California. In a September 20 letter, the SLC informed the company that its proposed water pipeline crosses a strip of state-owned land and therefore requires a state lease. The SLC letter is the latest twist in the long, convoluted history of the company’s attempts to build a 43-mile water pipeline in an existing railroad right-of-way (ROW) that crosses mostly federal land. In 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) told Cadiz it could not use the ROW because the proposed project did not further a railroad purpose. Cadiz would instead need to seek U.S. approval to cross public lands, which would trigger federal environmental review. Once BLM rescinds the decision, the SLC still would need to decide whether to issue a lease before the project could proceed.

Governor Brown vetoes bill to fund purchase of Martins Beach path

San Jose Mercury News - Oct 9 Governor Jerry Brown has vetoed a bill that would have created a state fund for the eventual purchase of a 6.5-acre right-of-way to Martins Beach, over private property owned by venture capitalist Vinod Khosla in Half Moon Bay, California. In his veto message on Sunday, Brown said the bill failed to carry out the intent of the author and instead constrained the state’s ability to effectively deal with public access issues by precluding the use of eminent domain in this instance and limiting the state's options. The governor deferred to the California Coastal Commission, the State Lands Commission, and the courts, which are currently adjudicating the matter, saying those processes need to be given ample latitude to play out. A hearing on Surfrider Foundation's claim that the coastal access has already been dedicated to the public will be held in San Mateo County Superior Court on Oct. 30.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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