California Environmental Law & Policy Update - April 2016 #2

by Allen Matkins

Environmental and Policy Focus

Federal and state officials sign Klamath River dam removal deal

San Jose Mercury News - Apr 7 The governors of California and Oregon and several other state, federal, power, irrigator, and environmental officials joined Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell this Wednesday to sign the new Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement. The agreement proposes to remove four Klamath River dams owned by PacifiCorp by 2020 to improve river flows and benefit fisheries and river communities. While several Pacific Northwest tribes have yet to sign on to the new agreement, some tribal leaders stated that dam removal is a necessary step toward restoring the fish and habitat that are tied to their culture, economy and heritage. The agreement circumvents Congress by working to decommission the dams through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Under the agreement, PacifiCorp, a Portland-based energy company, will transfer ownership of the dams to the newly created nonprofit, Klamath River Renewal Corporation, which on July 1 will submit an application to FERC for dam removal. As a way to help Klamath Basin irrigators deal with the reintroduction of fish runs in the Upper Klamath Basin, a new, separate agreement, the 2016 Klamath Power and Facilities Agreement, was also signed on Wednesday.

Central Valley Project water allocation has winners, losers

Marin Independent Journal - Apr 1 Due to heavy rains in March that boosted the amount of water in Northern California's large reservoirs such as Shasta and Folsom, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) announced last Friday that cities will receive 55 percent of their contracted water allocations this summer -- up from 25 percent last year – from the federal Central Valley Project (CVP), California’s largest water delivery system. Farmers in the Sacramento Valley, wildlife refuges and the Contra Costa Water District will receive 100 percent of their contracted allocations. Friday's allocations were the highest since 2013 overall across the state but some San Joaquin Valley farmers will receive only 5 percent of contracted amounts -- barely up from zero last year. USBR officials attribute the low allocations to San Joaquin Valley farmers to the fact that the rain and snow this winter fell mostly in Northern California and it came in March, when endangered salmon and smelt were near massive pumps at Tracy, limiting the amount under federal law that could be pumped south into San Luis Reservoir near Los Banos. The CVP provides about 80 percent of its water to farms but in dry years cities receive priority over farms.

South Coast Air District Hearing Board approves restart of ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance despite pollution concerns

Daily Breeze - Apr 2 ExxonMobil’s Torrance refinery was given regulatory approval Saturday to produce emissions that violate clean air standards as the plant is restarted for gasoline manufacturing more than a year after it was crippled in an explosion. The South Coast Air Quality Management District Hearing Board granted approval via a narrow 3-2 vote after a marathon daylong hearing at Torrance City Hall attended by an overflow crowd of about 450. ExxonMobil also will pay about $5 million in penalties for air pollution violations. Half the penalty funds will be earmarked for projects to benefit neighborhoods around the refinery. Hearing board members had difficulty adopting a finding allowing ExxonMobil to resume gasoline manufacturing because of legal constraints should the company be found at fault for the February 2015 blast. But in the end, a majority of the hearing board concluded it was in the public interest to allow the refinery to resume operations using a method intended to reduce the likelihood of a fire or another explosion.

Federal judge grants final approval for $20 billion BP oil spill settlement

The Guardian - Apr 4

A federal judge in New Orleans has granted final approval to an estimated $20 billion settlement, resolving years of litigation over the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. US district judge Carl Barbier’s final order on the settlement was released on Monday. The settlement, first announced in July, includes $5.5 billion in civil Clean Water Act penalties and billions more to cover environmental damage and other claims by the five Gulf states and local governments. It is the largest environmental settlement in American history. The money is to be paid out over a 16-year period. Barbier had set the stage for the settlement with an earlier ruling that BP had been “grossly negligent” in the offshore rig explosion that killed 11 workers and caused a 134-million gallon spill. BP is also facing a lawsuit in Mexico stemming from this oil spill’s impacts to coastal communities there.

Fallout from Porter Ranch gas leak could trigger up to 32 days of blackouts, energy officials say

KPCC - Apr 5 Los Angeles and surrounding counties could see power outages during as many as 32 days over the coming year as a result of the troubled natural gas storage facility at Aliso Canyon, now mostly offline in the wake of a four-month gas leak that emitted an estimated 100,000 metric tons of natural gas into the air. Fourteen of those days could fall during the hottest days of summer. Those predictions came Tuesday from the heads of the California Energy Commission, the California Public Utilities Commission and the Cal-ISO and officials with the L.A. Department of Water and Power. As many as 18 power plants in the region rely on natural gas to fire turbines and generate electricity and much of that gas comes from the Aliso Canyon storage facility, which has been idled while investigators test the safety of more than 100 gas wells. Due to a state moratorium barring injections of gas, the region's supply of natural gas is extremely limited. As spring transitions to summer, energy officials are worried that heat-driven spikes in electricity demand could trigger blackouts because there won't be enough gas in the system to meet the demand.

California misses water conservation target by 1 percent

ABC News - Apr 4 Residents of drought-plagued California fell just short of the state's mandated water conservation target over the nine months that ended in February as they let lawns turn brown, flushed toilets less often, and took other strict measures, officials said Monday. Urban water users statewide used 23.9 percent less water over those nine months compared to the same months in 2013, which was just shy of the 25 percent water cut target ordered by Governor Jerry Brown last year. The state is now in the fifth year of drought, even though an El Nino weather system delivered a near-average year of rain and snow in some parts of the state and key reservoirs in Northern California are brimming. A workshop planned for later this month will consider the best approach for future conservation. Any changes to the current emergency conservation order resulting from that workshop would take effect in June.

L.A. County mulls new water policy for new developments and stormwater projects

Los Angeles Times - Apr 6 Los Angeles County will consider a "net zero" water policy for new development and look at tax options to pay for future drought planning under a pair of measures adopted Tuesday. Over the objections of business and development groups, the Board of Supervisors voted to have county staff start drafting a "net zero" ordinance that would ensure that new developments do not increase overall regional water demand. That "net zero" goal could be achieved through efficiency measures, using recycled water, or through offset fees that would go into water conservation programs. Business groups argued that the new requirements could result in less affordable housing being built but this concern was dismissed by Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. The approval authorized a yearlong process of gathering input and looking at existing policies before potentially adopting the new rules. The board also voted to convene a group of city, water agency and school officials, business leaders and advocates to develop a drought plan that would include stormwater capture and clean-up projects. County staff was also tasked with considering the best ways to pay for such a drought plan, including a potential tax initiative to be introduced in an election after November.


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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