California Environmental Law & Policy Update - July 2016

by Allen Matkins

Environmental and Policy Focus

Judge invalidates long-fought Delta management plan

Sacramento Bee - Jun 24 In a decision that could delay or complicate Governor Jerry Brown’s plan to build two huge tunnels in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael P. Kenny ruled last Friday that the Delta Plan, a comprehensive management plan for the estuary, is no longer valid. Judge Kenny ruled that the entire plan must be “set aside” until the Delta Stewardship Council corrects the plan’s failure “to promote options for water conveyance and storage systems” in the Delta other than the tunnels project and to “include quantified or otherwise measurable targets associated with achieving reduced Delta reliance” for the state’s water supply. State officials say they plan to appeal. With the plan in flux and an appeals process underway, the already lengthy approval process for the Delta tunnels could face significant delays. The ruling also could hinder habitat restoration work and development protections that the plan calls for to shore up the Delta’s declining ecosystem, said Keith Coolidge, a spokesman for the Delta Stewardship Council.

Oakland bans coal shipments in a blow to planned export facility

Los Angeles Times - Jun 28 Oakland city leaders voted this Monday to ban the storage and handling of coal within city limits, dealing a blow to developer Phillip Tagami's effort to build what would be the largest coal export terminal in California on the San Francisco Bay adjacent to the Bay Bridge. Under city policy, the ban will not receive final approval unless it is passed in a second vote, to be held July 19. Supporters of a ban cited studies showing pollution risks, including to industrial West Oakland, which already suffers from severe rates of child asthma, cancer, and other pollution-related disease, and also claimed the ban would limit the burning of fossil fuels in Asia, the intended market for the coal. Opponents said environmental concerns were overstated and that the terminal would bring much-needed jobs to a struggling, heavily African American community. A lawyer for Tagami’s company, California Capital and Investment Group, said in a letter that the company would appeal the ban if approved. 

New study finds California has three times more groundwater supply than previously thought

San Jose Mercury News - Jun 28 A new Stanford study published on Monday contains the most detailed picture yet of the vast aquifers that exist under California, estimating that 2,700 cubic kilometers of fresh groundwater lie beneath the Central Valley, nearly triple previous estimates. Using a public database of California's oil and gas wells to map the aquifers, Stanford researchers were able to examine underground water at levels more than five times deeper than had previously been studied. However, water experts not involved in the study claim this is not a new source but water of very low, nonpotable quality that may not be economically or environmentally feasible to extract.

California nets $1.2 billion of VW settlement

Courthouse News Service - Jun 28 California received a larger slice of the Volkswagen emissions cheating settlement due to its higher air quality standards and role as the first state to uncover the German automaker's deceit, state officials said this Tuesday. Of the $14.7 billion nationwide settlement, California will receive nearly $1.2 billion to invest in the state's zero-emissions vehicle program, replacement of old equipment and reduction of nitrogen oxide emissions. About 71,000 Californians purchased diesel Volkswagen vehicles equipped with defeat devices. If Volkswagen fails to buy back or modify at least 85 percent of affected vehicles within two years, it must pay California an extra $13 million for each percentage point it comes up short. The deal does not foreclose the possibility that Volkswagen will face criminal charges for misleading American consumers and regulators.

Shasta water release plan has no cutbacks to farmers – for now

Sacramento Bee - Jun 29 The National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a plan this Wednesday for operating Shasta Dam that stays the course for giving farmers more water deliveries than in recent years, following weeks of uncertainty and pressure from members of Congress. For more than a month, federal agencies have debated over how to manage water releases from California’s largest reservoir this summer, balancing the needs of California farms and two endangered fish species. Federal fisheries officials had been weighing whether to hold back substantial volumes of water at Shasta Lake into the summer to protect juvenile winter-run Chinook salmon. A companion proposal called for letting more water flow to the Pacific Ocean through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta during summer for the benefit of the Delta smelt. Both plans met with forceful opposition from Central Valley farmers, who rely heavily on Shasta water deliveries for irrigation. The Shasta operating plan must now be approved by the State Water Resources Control Board.

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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