California Environmental Law & Policy Update - April 2019

Allen Matkins
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State Water Board adopts new rules to protect California wetlands from federal rollback of Clean Water Act jurisdiction

■Los Angeles Times - April 2

The State Water Resources Control Board (Board) voted Tuesday to strengthen state safeguards for thousands of wetlands and streams that may soon lose federal protection under the Clean Water Act. Nearly 90 percent of California’s historic wetlands have been filled in or plowed under, and the state regulators have said it is vital to preserve what remains. In December, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency launched the formal process of repealing Obama Administration-era regulations that broadened the Clean Water Act’s jurisdiction over wetlands and seasonal bodies of water that are common in California and the arid West. The rules adopted Tuesday by the Board set statewide standards and define what constitutes a wetland, boosting safeguards for streams and isolated wetlands that are not wet the entire year but still provide valuable ecological services and contribute to river headwaters.

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State warns NASA it must uphold agreement to clean up its part of Santa Susana field lab

■Ventura County Star - April 1

The California Department of Toxic Substances Control has urged NASA to adhere to a 2010 agreement to fully clean up its portion of the contaminated Santa Susana Field Laboratory outside Simi Valley, after issuing a similar warning in January to the U.S. Department of Energy. The laboratory was the site of a partial nuclear meltdown in 1959 and of other events causing chemical and radioactive contamination over the years.

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Environmental group sues for data on U.S. plans for new California oil leases

■SFGate - March 28

The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) sued the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) last Thursday in a bid to obtain information about plans for new oil drilling and hydraulic fracturing leases in the Bay Area and along California’s Central Coast. The lawsuit alleges that BLM is violating the federal Freedom of Information Act by failing to provide public records CBD has sought since August 2018.

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Trump Administration's order to open Arctic waters to oil drilling was unlawful, federal judge finds

■New York Times - March 30

Judge Sharon Gleason of the United States District Court for the District of Alaska concluded late last Friday that the Obama Administration's 2015 and 2016 withdrawal from drilling of about 120 million acres of Arctic Ocean and about 3.8 million acres in the Atlantic “will remain in full force and effect unless and until revoked by Congress.” She wrote that an April 2017 executive order by President Trump revoking the drilling ban “is unlawful, as it exceeded the president’s authority.” The decision, which is expected to be appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, immediately reinstates the drilling ban. Although the decision relates specifically to a law restricting offshore drilling, it could also hamstring the Trump Administration’s efforts to erase or reduce the creation of large protected areas of public lands by previous administrations.

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California farmers lose lawsuit over designation of critical habitat for frog species

■Courthouse News Service - March 28

Nearly 2 million acres designated as critical habitat for three imperiled frog species survived a court challenge by a group of California farmers on Wednesday. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had designated the land in 2016 under the federal Endangered Species Act to protect, among other species, two high-altitude species of yellow-legged frogs. The California Cattlemen’s Association, the California Wool Growers Association, and the California Farm Bureau Federation filed suit a year later, alleging that the designation severely burdened ranchers and farmers in the area. U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden dismissed the suit Wednesday, however, for lack of standing.

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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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