California Environmental Law & Policy Update - January 2019 #3

Allen Matkins
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Santa Clara Valley Water District files suit challenging state plan to divert water for fish

THE MERCURY NEWS - Jan 14 The Santa Clara Valley Water District (District) has filed a lawsuit to block the State Water Resources Control Board’s (Board) plan to divert more water away from the Bay Area and toward the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, as part of a Board effort to protect endangered and threatened fish species. According to the District, the plan would leave the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) with less water, requiring its customers to rely more heavily on the District, which could strain District supplies. Last week, the San Joaquin Tributaries Authority filed a similar suit objecting to the Board’s proposal in Tuolumne County on behalf of its members, including SFPUC and the Turlock, Oakdale, and South San Joaquin irrigation districts. The Modesto Irrigation District also sued over the proposal.

U.S. sues Tetra Tech for alleged false claims in Hunters Point cleanup

SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER - Jan 15 The U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) sued Tetra Tech EC Inc. Monday, accusing the engineering company of submitting false billing claims to the U.S. Navy that were based on falsified soil and building test data in its cleanup of radiation at the former Hunters Point Naval Shipyard in San Francisco. The DOJ filed three new lawsuits in federal court in San Francisco to replace three so-called “whistleblower” lawsuits filed under seal in 2013 and 2016 by several former radiation technicians hired by Tetra Tech subcontractors. The DOJ alleges that those responsible for the fraud are not only two field supervisors who were criminally convicted in 2017, but also other higher-level managers.

GAO investigating EPA's low enforcement numbers

THE HILL - Jan 15 The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has launched an investigation into declining enforcement actions by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) against companies accused of violating EPA's pollution standards during the Trump administration. A GAO spokesperson said this Tuesday that the probe began in October 2018, with a focus on 2017 enforcement data that showed a significant drop in dollar amounts for settlements made with alleged violators. The EPA's Inspector General is also conducting an investigation into the agency's enforcement figures. Data compiled by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, and released Tuesday, found that the EPA in 2018 generated the fewest new criminal case referrals for prosecution to the Justice Department since 1988.

Kern County rescinds approval of Bakersfield refinery expansion plans

COURTHOUSE NEWS SERVICE - Jan 16 The Kern County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to rescind its approval of a project that would have allowed a Bakersfield refinery to process up to 63 million barrels of volatile Bakken crude oil a year. The vote reflects a settlement reached with Alon Energy USA, local residents, and environmental groups in a lawsuit filed in October 2014 against the county that challenged the county's approval of the project. In 2017, California’s Fifth Appellate District ruled the environmental impact report for the project did not adequately assess air pollution concerns and underestimated the likelihood of a train derailment, and ordered the county to draft a new environmental impact report. With Tuesday’s rejection of the project, the plaintiffs agreed to dismiss their suit against the county.

Union Pacific agrees to improve handling of hazardous waste in San Bernardino County

THE SUN - Jan 11 Union Pacific railroad and district attorneys in San Bernardino, San Joaquin, Placer, and Nevada Counties have reached a settlement that will require the freight carrier to pay $2.3 million and change how it handles hazardous waste at its rail yards. San Bernardino County Deputy District Attorney Rick Lal said Union Pacific violated the Aboveground Petroleum Storage Act by not having qualified employees inspecting storage tanks. Union Pacific is also alleged to have committed other violations relating to unreported spills of hazardous waste, occasional leaks from equipment, and improper labeling of hazardous waste drums.

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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