California Environmental Law & Policy Update - March 2019 #5

Allen Matkins
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Department of Interior sues California to block Bay-Delta Plan

■Sacramento Bee - March 28

The U.S. Department of Interior on Thursday sued to block California's ambitious plan to reallocate billions of gallons of river water to benefit salmon and other struggling fish species. The State Water Resources Control Board (Board) voted in December 2018 to reallocate flows of the San Joaquin River and its tributaries in order to help steelhead and salmon, thereby reducing deliveries to San Joaquin Valley farmers and to cities, including San Francisco, that rely heavily on the river’s tributaries. In the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Sacramento, Interior alleges that the Board’s plan would violate California’s own environmental laws and interfere with the federal government’s ability to deliver water from New Melones reservoir on the Stanislaus River to member agencies of the Central Valley Project.

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Monsanto ordered to pay $80 million in Roundup cancer case

■San Francisco Chronicle - March 27

A San Francisco federal court jury on Wednesday awarded more than $80 million in damages to a Sonoma County man who alleged that he developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after spraying Monsanto’s Roundup on his property for 26 years. The six jurors unanimously found that Monsanto had failed to warn users that its product was dangerous. The case was the first of three bellwether trials scheduled before U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria, and verdicts in the cases could establish guidelines for the settlement of more than 11,000 similar suits against Monsanto. California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment lists the herbicide’s active ingredient, glyphosate, as a chemical known to cause cancer. But the EPA has found glyphosate to be a safe product, and it remains legal in the United States and Europe.

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State and local agencies to investigate partial shutdown at Valero's Benicia refinery

■KQED - March 26

California's Division of Occupational Safety and Health, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), and Solano County health officials are investigating the release of petroleum coke dust from Valero's Benicia refinery last weekend, which led to a temporary partial shutdown of the facility and a warning for nearby residents with respiratory problems to stay indoors. Earlier this month, BAAQMD issued eight notices of violation against Valero following the release of petroleum coke dust, a byproduct of the oil refining process, due to an equipment malfunction. Local air quality and health officials said that the initial malfunction had been fixed and the coke dust releases were gradually coming to an end, but on Sunday, fire officials detected high levels of fine particulate matter, known as PM10, around the refinery and issued a health advisory.

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Governor Newsom declares wildfire emergency, waives environmental rules to expedite projects

■Los Angeles Times - March 22

Governor Gavin Newsom last Friday declared a state of emergency in California and waived environmental regulations to expedite nearly three dozen local forest management projects to protect communities from deadly wildfires. The projects, which will cost $35 million, respond to the report published by Cal Fire in late February which concluded that forest management efforts by the state, federal government, and private landowners were “inadequate to improve the health of millions of acres of forests and wildlands” that require maintenance. The agency reported that up to 15 million acres of California forest need some form of restoration.

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Officials will study health impacts of 2015 Aliso Canyon gas leak

■L.A. Daily News - March 22

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health is rolling out a $25 million multi-year study of the health impacts of the 2015 gas leak at Aliso Canyon on residents living in Porter Ranch and surrounding communities. The funding for the study was part of the $119.5 million settlement reached by government officials earlier this year with Southern California Gas Co., the entity responsible for the gas leak. Officials will collaborate with a community advisory group and a scientific oversight committee, which will include experts and representatives from local, state, and federal agencies. County health officials believe at least 10,000 households were affected by the blowout, which released more than 100,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas into the air. Health officials admit one of the main challenges will be to figure out what chemicals were released during the four-month gas leak.

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Interior nominee intervened to block report on endangered species

■New York Times - March 26

David Bernhardt, President Donald Trump’s nominee to become Secretary of the Department of the Interior (Interior), blocked the release of a Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) report on three widely used pesticides in 2017 when he served as Deputy Secretary of the Interior. The FWS found that two pesticides, malathion and chlorpyrifos, would “jeopardize the continued existence” of more than 1,200 endangered birds, fish, and other animals and plants, a conclusion that could lead to tighter restrictions on use of the chemicals. Bernhardt, a former lobbyist and oil-industry lawyer whose confirmation hearings began in the Senate this week, directed staff members to block the release of the study and set in motion a new process intended to apply a narrower standard to determine the risks of the chemicals.

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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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