California Environmental Law & Policy Update - March 2019

Allen Matkins
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Andrew Wheeler confirmed to lead EPA

■New York Times - February 28

The Senate on Thursday confirmed Andrew Wheeler to be the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In his role as acting administrator since the resignation last summer of his predecessor Scott Pruitt, Wheeler, a former coal industry lobbyist, has moved to weaken two of former President Obama’s signature climate change initiatives, unwind the legal justification for curbing toxic mercury emissions from power plants, limit the scope of federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act, and dismiss a panel of independent scientific advisers. In the coming months, Wheeler is expected to take steps to roll back Obama-era tailpipe emissions standards and to revoke California's authority under the Clean Air Act to establish its own emissions standards.

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Land bill that includes protections for California’s deserts heads to President Trump’s desk

■Press-Telegram - February 26

The House of Representatives on Tuesday passed its first significant public lands conservation bill in years, designating more than 1 million acres of wilderness for environmental protection and permanently reauthorizing a federal program to pay for conservation measures. The bill, which the Senate passed earlier this month, now heads to President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it into law. The legislation includes passage of the Desert Protection and Recreation Act, authored by California Senator Dianne Feinstein, which adds 4,518 acres to Joshua Tree National Park in Twentynine Palms and 35,292 acres to Death Valley National Park, including about 1,600 acres donated by the Mojave Desert Land Trust. Other California provisions include the establishment of eight new Bureau of Land Management wilderness areas totaling 280,360 acres.

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L.A. County judge approves $120 million Aliso Canyon gas leak settlement

■Los Angeles Daily News - February 25

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Carolyn Kuhl on Monday approved a $120 million consent decree between Southern California Gas Co. (SoCal Gas) and city, county, and state officials in a dispute over SoCal Gas’ role in the largest release of methane in U.S. history. To compensate for the release of 109,000 metric tons of methane in 2015 near Porter Ranch, SoCal Gas will pay civil penalties plus $25 million for a long-term health study and $26.5 million for greenhouse gas emissions reduction projects. Residents and environmental groups have criticized the settlement plan, reached in August of 2018, arguing the deal would devote millions of dollars toward capturing methane in an area hundreds of miles away from communities that suffered during the gas leak.

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California bill aims to promote conservation efforts at wastewater treatment facilities

■Enterprise-Record - February 21

A new bill introduced last Monday by Senators Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, and Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, would require huge reductions in the volume of treated wastewater discharged into the Pacific Ocean and California estuaries. SB 332, the Local Water Reliability Act, calls on wastewater treatment facilities to step up recycling, conservation, and efficiency to meet discharge reduction targets of 50 percent by 2030 and 95 percent by 2040. The bill was advocated by the Natural Resources Defense Council and supported by the California Coastkeeper Alliance. A spokesperson for the Association of California Water Agencies, which opposed a similar bill authored by Hertzberg in 2015, said the association would wait until the bill goes to a committee before taking a position on it.

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White House to set up working group to counter climate change consensus, officials say

■Washington Post - February 24

The White House plans to create an ad hoc group of select federal scientists to reassess the government’s analysis of climate science and counter conclusions that the continued burning of fossil fuels is harming the planet, according to three senior administration officials. The National Security Council initiative would include scientists who question the severity of climate impacts and the extent to which humans contribute to the problem. The working group would not be a federal advisory committee and therefore would not be subject to the public disclosure and representative membership requirements provided for in the Federal Advisory Committee Act.

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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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