California Environmental Law & Policy Update - July 2017

by Allen Matkins

Environmental and Policy Focus

California Supreme Court upholds restrictions on Encinitas seawall

San Diego Union-Tribune - Jul 6 The California Supreme Court dealt a blow Thursday to two coastal property owners, ruling that when they accepted a permit from the California Coastal Commission to build a new seawall protecting their bluff-top homes, they forfeited their right to sue over limits that were placed on it. After a storm demolished the original seawall in 2010, the commission granted a permit to repair it, but placed a 20-year expiration date on the seawall, which the homeowners alleged was unconstitutional. In its ruling, the Supreme Court did not squarely address the legality of the 20-year time limit—it addressed only the procedural question of whether the owners waived their right to challenge the permit condition by accepting the permit and building the wall in 2011. The court made clear that property owners may not reap the rewards of land use permits while rejecting undesirable permit conditions. When the permit expires, the homeowners must reapply to keep the wall—a condition they say diminishes the use and value of their homes.

Federal court blocks EPA effort to delay air pollution rule

Washington Post - Jul 3 The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Monday struck down the Environmental Protection Agency’s 90-day suspension of a 2016 rule limiting methane and smog-forming pollutants emitted by oil and gas wells. The court concluded the EPA had the right to reconsider the rule but could not delay its effective date while undertaking to rewrite the regulation. The rule in question imposes the first-ever federal limits on leaks of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from new or modified oil and natural-gas wells. Although the ruling was a setback for the administration’s domestic energy agenda, the Interior Department advanced that agenda by its launch of a new offshore-leasing planning process for 2019 to 2024, a move that could open up new areas for drilling in the Arctic, Atlantic, and Pacific oceans, as well as the Gulf of Mexico.

Plans advance to enlarge major Bay Area reservoir

San Jose Mercury News - Jul 3 Working to expand water supplies for California’s next drought, a coalition of 12 Bay Area water agencies took a significant step Monday toward an $800 million expansion of Los Vaqueros Reservoir. Located near the Alameda-Contra Costa county line, the reservoir is one of the largest in the Bay Area. On Monday, the Contra Costa Water District, which owns the reservoir, released a draft supplement to the final environmental impact report for the project and scheduled a series of six public meetings in July to discuss the report. The construction would expand the size of Los Vaqueros from its current 160,000 acre-feet capacity to 275,000 acre-feet, enough water when full for the annual needs of 1.4 million people, and make it the second tallest dam in the Bay Area.

Valero refinery sues PG&E over power outage

East Bay Times - Jul 3 The Valero oil refinery is seeking $75 million from PG&E in a federal lawsuit filed last Friday in Sacramento. In its complaint, the refinery blames the utility for an 18-minute power outage on May 5, which cut off power to two refinery transmission lines. Valero alleges that the outage disrupted gasoline production for a month, damaged equipment, and caused the emission of air pollutants that led to evacuation of a nearby industrial park and issuance by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to the oil company of at least four notices of violation.

LA to study costs, health benefits of phasing out oil drilling

San Jose Mercury News - Jun 30 The City of Los Angeles is moving ahead with a study of the public health benefits and economic consequences of phasing out oil and gas development around homes, schools, hospitals, and other public places. For years, residents of South Los Angeles and Wilmington have been complaining of health problems they claim are due to the chemical emissions associated with oil extraction. While the oil industry does not oppose the study, a spokeswoman with the California Independent Petroleum Association said phasing out oil in Los Angeles would be shortsighted because it would require imports from areas with more lax environmental protections than California has.

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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