California Environmental Law & Policy Update - April 2019 #2

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California sues Trump Administration for auto emissions data

■San Francisco Chronicle - April 5

The California Air Resources Board sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in federal district court last Friday, seeking an order under the Freedom of Information Act compelling the agencies to release requested information supporting their claim that weakening auto emissions standards would reduce traffic deaths by about 1,000 per year. Trump Administration officials have contended that stricter emissions and fuel-efficiency standards would make new cars so expensive that many Americans who would otherwise buy a new car will instead keep their older vehicles, which are heavier and less safe. In reliance on this argument but without disclosing data or studies supporting it, the EPA introduced regulations last August to roll back fuel-efficiency standards adopted during the Obama Administration that would require new cars and light trucks to achieve an average fuel efficiency standard of 54 miles per gallon by 2025. The EPA also proposes to repeal a waiver that has allowed California and 13 other states to set stricter fuel efficiency standards than those applicable elsewhere in the United States.

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Senate confirms ex-industry lobbyist to lead U.S. Department of the Interior

■Guardian - April 11

The U.S. Senate has voted to confirm David Bernhardt, an attorney and former oil and gas and water lobbyist, as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Interior. Bernhardt, who also served as the Department’s Solicitor during the George W. Bush Administration and who was confirmed as deputy secretary in July 2017, has been Acting Secretary since Ryan Zinke stepped down in December in the wake of alleged ethics violations. As a private attorney and lobbyist, Bernhardt represented mining, oil and gas, water utilities, and other clients that have business before the Interior Department.

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President Trump signs orders to speed up oil and gas pipeline construction

■New York Times - April 10

President Donald Trump signed two executive orders on Wednesday that he says will speed up construction of pipelines and other projects to enhance production of oil and natural gas and transport of these products between states and across international borders. One of the orders directs the EPA to review and tighten rules to make it more difficult for states to scuttle pipeline projects by invoking provisions of the Clean Water Act. The other would transfer authority for approving the construction of international pipelines from the Secretary of State to the president, eliminating a lengthy State Department review process. Observers commented that the orders are unlikely to have a significant immediate impact and are likely to attract legal challenges.

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Congress approves seven-state Colorado River drought contingency plan

■The Hill - April 8

The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives both voted to approve the seven-state Colorado River drought contingency plan on Monday night. The plan was crafted through years of negotiations and is designed to reduce use of water from the parched Colorado River by drought-stricken Western states. The Colorado River is a water source for roughly 40 million people in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. But reservoirs along the river are increasingly drying up: Lake Mead and Lake Powell sit below 40 percent capacity. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation threatened to impose its own water restrictions on the states if they did not come to an agreement by the end of January.

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San Francisco wants to prepare for extreme weather, turns to climate scientists for help

■San Francisco Chronicle - April 10

As Bay Area storms become supercharged in an era of climate change, San Francisco is turning to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory for detailed information about the impacts to San Francisco and its unique vulnerability at the edge of the continent. The city’s half-million dollar deal with the lab is expected to help local officials decide where to direct millions of dollars in future infrastructure investments, from fortifying San Francisco International Airport to upgrading highway drainage to re-engineering seawalls. The municipality may be the first in the nation to seek such localized guidance on future weather extremes. Currently, most of the planning that cities and states do to prepare for global warming is based on national and even international climate models.

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Plan unveiled to cut Borrego Springs water consumption by 75 percent

■San Diego Union-Tribune - April 4

In March, officials released a nearly 1,000-page draft groundwater sustainability plan for the community of Borrego Springs in San Diego County, calling for a reduction in water use by nearly 75 percent by 2040. Borrego Springs is completely dependent on groundwater because there is no economically feasible way to bring water via aqueduct or pipes to the remote area. The plan states that most of the 3,000 acres of citrus farms in the area, which account for roughly 70 to 75 percent of the region’s water usage, will eventually have to be fallowed. Water-conservation programs will also be required for golf courses, businesses, and individual customers of the local water district. A final version of the plan will be submitted to the state at the beginning of 2020. The public review period for the draft plan is now in progress.

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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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