California Environmental Law & Policy Update - May 2017

by Allen Matkins

Environmental and Policy Focus

EPA, clean energy spared Trump's ax in $1.1 trillion budget deal

Bloomberg - May 1 Environmental programs marked for termination or deep cuts by President Donald Trump got a reprieve in the government funding deal revealed early Monday by congressional leaders -- at least for now. The Environmental Protection Agency, targeted for $247 million in cuts for this year’s funding under Trump’s proposal, instead escaped with a budget trimmed by $81 million -- or 1 percent -- and no staff reductions. Research divisions within the Department of Energy received increases despite calls by Trump to slash their budget or eliminate them.

Ambitious new California cap-and-trade program proposed

MIT Technology Review - May 1 State Senator Bob Wieckowski, a Democrat representing part of the Bay Area, introduced an amended version of SB 775 this week that would replace the state’s troubled cap-and-trade program, and eventually establish one of the highest prices for carbon dioxide in the world. Around 90 percent of the revenue from the program, which is expected to raise several billion dollars annually and climb steadily over time, would go back to California citizens in the form of a "climate dividend rebate." The proposal would establish a so-called price collar that sets both a floor and ceiling for the price of a metric ton of carbon dioxide. The ceiling would immediately be higher than the price of carbon in most European nations, and would quickly exceed the roughly $37 tax proposed in Canada starting in 2022. Passage of the new measure will require two-thirds majority approval in both branches of California’s legislature.

Environmental groups sue Trump administration over decisions on offshore drilling

Washington Post - May 3 A coalition of environmental groups on Wednesday sued the Trump administration in a federal court in Alaska over President Trump’s executive order aimed at jump-starting offshore drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans and assessing whether energy exploration can take place in marine sanctuaries in the Pacific and Atlantic. The lawsuit alleges that Trump’s actions violate the president’s legal authority, threaten a multitude of wildlife, and could harm the fishing and tourism industries. The policy could open millions of acres of federal waters for oil and gas leasing, just months after President Barack Obama withdrew the areas from possible development. 

State Supreme Court deliberates on seawall case

San Diego Union-Tribune - May 4 The California Supreme Court on Thursday heard arguments in a seawall dispute that could impact ocean-front homes throughout the state. Two homeowners in Encinitas are challenging whether the California Coastal Commission (Coastal Commission) has the authority to impose a 20-year expiration date on a permit for a new seawall the pair built after a decades-old structure collapsed during a 2010 storm. The Coastal Commission argues that this question is not relevant because the property owners waived their right to sue over the matter by accepting the permit and building the new wall. If the court finds the homeowners waived their rights, it could choose not to rule on whether the 20-year time limit violates the state’s constitution — the question central to the Coastal Commission’s authority over some of the most prized properties in the state.

Exxon Mobil's outdated equipment and procedures led to Torrance explosion, agency says

Los Angeles Times - May 3 Exxon Mobil Corp. (Exxon) relied on outdated procedures and aged equipment, which the U.S. Chemical Safety Board concluded in an extensive report released Wednesday led to a February 2015 explosion at the Torrance refinery, endangering 150,000 nearby residents due to the presence of highly toxic hydrofluoric acid on the site. The report recommends that Exxon and other refineries update and review safety procedures; provide the guidelines in writing to appropriate plant personnel; and identify and evaluate all critical safety equipment. The refinery was sold to PBF Energy in July 2016, and the agency identified various incidents since then. A PBF Energy spokesman commented that it is “investing more than $100 million in a maintenance turnaround at Torrance to improve the refinery’s operational reliability.” The Torrance refinery supplies 10% of the state’s refined gasoline capacity and 20% in Southern California.

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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