California Environmental Law & Policy Update - August 2016 #4

by Allen Matkins
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Environmental and Policy Focus

Lawmakers and Governor Brown claim major victory on climate change bills

Sacramento Bee - Aug 24 California lawmakers on Wednesday advanced a pair of bills to sustain the state’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. One of the measures, Senate Bill 32, would require California to cut greenhouse gas levels to 40 percent below their 1990 levels by 2030, extending the state’s authority to enact sweeping climate policies beyond an approaching 2020 limit. The other measure, Assembly Bill 197, would support those goals by granting legislators more power over the California Air Resources Board (ARB). AB 197 would create six-year term limits for ARB members, add two nonvoting legislators to the board, create a new legislative committee with oversight on climate change policies and mandate that the ARB share more data with the Legislature. Governor Brown is expected to sign both bills. The twin legislative developments presage a battle over the state’s cap-and-trade program, which compels businesses to buy permits for their greenhouse gas emissions. Encumbered by a court challenge and two subpar auctions of emissions allowances, the program's fate will likely be central to next year’s legislative session.

Monsanto beats cities' lawsuits over San Francisco Bay pollution for now

Reuters - Aug 23 A federal judge has dismissed lawsuits in which the cities of San Jose, Oakland, and Berkeley seek damages from agricultural chemical company Monsanto Co. for costs associated with reducing polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contamination in the cities' stormwater discharges to San Francisco Bay. In a decision on Monday, Judge Edward Davila ruled that the cities failed to show they have a property interest in the stormwater—which the court found to be "public water of the state" under California law, even if discharged through manufactured pipes—and therefore had no standing to assert any claims for damages for nuisance for PCBs in the stormwater. Before it shifted its business predominantly to the agricultural sector, Monsanto was the only U.S. maker of PCBs, which were banned by the federal government in 1979 and have been linked to cancer and other health problems. The court's ruling allows the cities an opportunity to amend their lawsuits to allege any additional facts that could support their standing to bring the nuisance claims.

Developer of proposed Huntington Beach desalination plant looks to streamline approval process

Los Angeles Times - Aug 24 Poseidon Water, the developer of a proposed desalination plant in Huntington Beach, announced last Friday that it is seeking to streamline the approval process for the project. Instead of having the California Coastal Commission (CCC) consider the company’s Coastal Development Permit on September 9 as planned, Poseidon and CCC staff opted to have Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board first determine whether the plant complies with the new Desalination Amendment, which requires that projects use the best available site, design, technology, and mitigation measures feasible to minimize the intake and mortality of marine life. Ray Hiemstra, associate director for Orange County Coastkeeper, an environmental organization that has been critical of the Poseidon project, said he sees the move as a "step in the right direction." The estimated $1 billion desalination plant is expected to produce 50 million gallons per day of desalinated water.

L.A. aims to ‘capture’ 5 billion gallons of water each year with new project

Los Angeles Daily News - Aug 22 Construction began Monday on a project at the Tujunga Spreading Grounds, located in northeast San Fernando Valley, which is expected to double the amount of stormwater that can be captured at the facility to about 5 billion gallons per year. The $29-million project, to be completed in 2018, will increase the spreading grounds’ current capture and storage ability from 2.5 billion gallons to 5 billion gallons, enough water each year to supply 48,000 households in Los Angeles. The additional water will be stored in the San Fernando Groundwater Basin, which will potentially reduce Los Angeles’ dependence on imported water, according to county officials.

California Supreme Court upholds ban on dredges to extract gold

ABC News - Aug 22 California's ban on the use of suction dredges to extract gold from rivers is legal and not preempted by a 19th century federal law that allows mining on federal land, the California Supreme Court ruled Monday. The court's unanimous decision was a blow to miners, who argued that the ban essentially stopped gold mining because mining by hand is labor intensive and unprofitable. Environmentalists say suction dredge mining poses risks to fish and water quality. The ruling came in the appeal of a criminal case in which a miner was convicted of a misdemeanor for suction dredge mining without a permit in 2012. California has experienced a mini-gold rush in recent years, as low water levels caused by the drought have lured amateur prospectors to riverbed spots that have been out of reach for decades.

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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