California Environmental Law & Policy Update - May 2019

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Governor Newsom issues executive order requiring drought-climate plan

■San Francisco Chronicle - April 29

Governor Gavin Newsom on Monday issued an executive order directing state agencies to review and improve policies addressing major climate and water supply issues such as California’s chronic water shortages, contaminated drinking water, unaffordable water rates, and the declining health of rivers and lakes. In particular, the order calls for finalizing a downsized version of the Delta tunnels plan, advanced by former Governor Jerry Brown, for transporting water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to Southern California and lists this plan as a priority. Another priority in the order is inducing some of the state’s biggest water agencies, including the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, to reduce claims to water diverted from the Sacramento and San Joaquin River systems so as to protect endangered salmon runs.

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Permit applications for Delta twin tunnels project withdrawn by Governor Newsom

■The Mercury News - May 2

Governor Gavin Newsom on Thursday announced that he is withdrawing permit applications that the Brown administration had submitted to the State Water Resources Control Board, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and several federal agencies in connection with the $19 billion plan to build two massive tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to make it easier to move water from the north to the south. Instead, the administration said it will begin environmental studies on a one-tunnel project, one of the priorities outlined in his executive order issued on Monday.

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California Water Board faces lawsuit over new wetlands rules

■Courthouse News Service - May 1

A coalition of several California water suppliers and the city of San Francisco sued the State Water Resources Control Board (Board) late Wednesday over the Board’s new regulations protecting wetlands, approved last month. The regulations implement a statewide wetland definition and establish procedures to be followed for dredging or filling of water bodies defined as waters of the state. The definition of wetlands in the challenged regulations is similar to that proposed at the federal level by the Obama administration, and as such is broader than the definition that the Trump administration currently advocates. The plaintiffs argue that the Board overstepped its authority by trying to impose water quality standards on waterbodies that the federal government contends should be open for development, and by mischaracterizing the placement of dredge and fill material as the discharge of “waste” and therefore subject to Board regulation under the Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act.

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EPA says weed-killing chemical does not cause cancer, contradicting juries

■The Hill - May 1

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said on Tuesday that glyphosate, the most commonly used herbicide among farmers and the key ingredient in Bayer’s Roundup weed killer, does not cause cancer, contradicting several recent jury verdicts. In its decision, the EPA reaffirmed earlier pronouncements about the chemical’s safety, even as Bayer faces thousands of lawsuits from plaintiffs who attribute their cancer to Roundup. In late March, a federal jury in San Francisco awarded a school groundskeeper $80 million after determining Roundup, which he had used for more than two decades, contributed to his developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. More than 50 U.S. cities and counties have banned the chemical, and the World Health Organization classified it as a “probable human carcinogen” in 2015.

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Pipeline firm fined $3.35 million for 2015 Refugio Beach oil spill

■Los Angeles Times - April 25

Santa Barbara Superior Court last Thursday fined Plains All American Pipeline nearly $3.35 million for a 2015 spill that released 140,000 gallons of crude oil onto Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara County. Federal inspectors found that the company had made several preventable errors, failed to detect the pipeline rupture quickly enough, and responded too slowly as oil flowed toward the ocean. Prosecutors in the case had proposed fines in excess of $1 billion. The pipeline company could face additional financial exposure in the form of restitution awards. A hearing is scheduled for July.

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IID and State near agreement on Salton Sea wetlands project

■Desert Sun - April 30

A major hurdle to restoring the southern edge of the fast-drying Salton Sea (Sea) may finally be overcome. Imperial Irrigation District (IID) general manager Henry Martinez says that he and California Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot have reached an agreement in principle that the state — not IID — will be responsible for construction and maintenance of more than 3,700 acres of wetlands aimed at controlling generation of dust and restoring wildlife habitat. In exchange, IID will grant easements for access onto lands it owns that border the Sea, which is California’s largest lake. The agreement could break a years-long impasse, enabling restoration projects at the Sea to commence. IID’s board of directors is tentatively scheduled to vote on the proposed easements on May 7.

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No health hazards found in retesting of segment of Hunters Point Shipyard

■San Francisco Examiner - April 27

San Francisco’s Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure announced last Friday that a state-led effort to retest a hillside parcel of the Hunters Point Shipyard for radioactive contamination has wrapped up, finding no health hazards for nearby residents. In October 2018, the California Department of Public Health conducted a month-long survey of the area, known as Parcel A-2, which is currently uncovered and undeveloped. A survey of a nearby residential area known as Parcel A-1 was conducted previously and also determined to be “safe” by the department. Some 10,500 homes are planned at the shipyard, a former U.S. Naval base that has been designated as a U.S. EPA Superfund site due to its long history of radioactive contamination. The development was halted following reviews by the Navy and U.S. EPA conducted last year that found up to 97 percent of data produced by Tetra Tech EC, the contractor largely responsible for the shipyard’s remediation between 2002 and 2016, to be unreliable. Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Tetra Tech EC over its work at the shipyard, claiming widespread fraud.

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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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