California and Imperial Irrigation District reach agreement on Salton Sea access and liability
■Desert Sun - May 7
The Imperial Irrigation District board of directors voted Tuesday to allow state access across its land for projects designed to suppress dust emissions and protect wildlife habitats at the Salton Sea. In exchange, the state will bear project costs, including regulatory compliance and litigation. The vote clears a key hurdle to implementation of the stalled ten-year pilot Salton Sea Management Plan intended to address increasing public health concerns and wildlife losses at California's largest inland water body.
Judge rules EPA must enforce Obama-era landfill methane regulations
■The Hill - May 7
Judge Haywood Gilliam, Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled Monday that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must begin enforcing greenhouse gas emission regulations that were established for landfills under the Obama administration, siding with California and seven other states. Landfills are the third largest source of U.S. emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Judge Gilliam said the EPA, which began reconsidering and delaying implementation of the regulations shortly after President Trump took office, was long overdue in meeting its obligations.
Coastal Commission assesses record penalties against owner of upscale Santa Monica hotel
■Los Angeles Times - May 8
The California Coastal Commission on Wednesday levied a $15.6-million penalty—the largest in the commission’s 40-year history--against Sunshine Enterprises, the owner of the upscale Shore Hotel in Santa Monica, because it was built without proper permits and violated California Coastal Act requirements for more affordable lodging in the area. Although Sunshine had received approval to replace two lower-cost motels on the site with another more affordable facility, it never obtained that permit and instead demolished the motels and built the pricey Shore Hotel. An “after-the-fact” permit for the hotel was sought by Sunshine in 2015 and was denied by the commission, and that decision was upheld in court. As part of the current consent decree, commission staff had recommended that Sunshine pay $9.5 million in “mitigation fees” to obtain an “after-the-fact” permit, but the commissioners rejected that proposal and refused to issue the permit pending further evaluation as to whether affordable lodging at the Shore Hotel should be included as part of the mitigation.
California to block food pesticide that Trump administration saved from nationwide ban
■San Francisco Chronicle - May 8
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration said Wednesday that it would ban the agricultural use of chlorpyrifos—a widely-used pesticide linked to serious health problems, including brain and neurological damage in children who inhale it—after the U.S. EPA failed to ban the chemical on a nationwide scale once President Trump assumed office. The U.S. EPA under President Barack Obama had announced plans in 2015 to ban all use of chlorpyrifos by March 2017. The California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) now intends to cancel the registration that currently allows chlorpyrifos to be sold to businesses in California. The chemical has long been banned for household sale. DPR said cancellation could take as long as two years. In the meantime, it will order county agricultural commissioners to ban aerial spraying of the pesticide and allow its use only when no safer alternatives are available.
Dispute arises over lithium mining at the edge of Death Valley
■Los Angeles Times - May 7
The Australian firm Battery Mineral Resources Ltd. has asked the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for permission to drill four exploratory wells to see if the brine beneath the floor of the Panamint Valley near Death Valley contains economically viable concentrations of lithium. The metal is a key component of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries and is crucial to the production of electric and hybrid vehicles. The BLM, under federal law, is obligated to not only preserve public lands, but also make them productive, which can include setting some land aside for mining. In a formal response to the drilling proposal, a dozen environmental organizations expressed concerns about the effects on groundwater and surface water if exploration leads to an industrial-scale mine. They worry approval of the plan could trigger a “white gold rush” across the deserts of Southern California. Already, nearly 2,000 lithium claims have been staked across 30,000 acres of public land administered by the BLM in California. The BLM is expected to make a final decision on Battery Mineral Resources’ request later this year.