California Environmental Law & Policy Update - July 2016 #4

by Allen Matkins

Environmental and Policy Focus

Metropolitan Water District completes $175-million purchase of Delta islands

Los Angeles Times - Jul 18 Metropolitan Water District (MWD) this Monday completed the $175-million purchase of five islands in the heart of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, the ecologically sensitive region that is a key source of water for Southern California. MWD purchased the islands from Delta Wetlands Properties, a subsidiary of the Swiss insurance company Zurich Insurance Group. The acquisition comes less than a week after the state Supreme Court lifted an order that had barred the water agency from buying the islands amidst pending litigation. The order was imposed after San Joaquin County, other local governments, and environmental groups sued to block the sale of the islands, claiming breach of contract or arguing that the water agency should have prepared an environmental impact report. The Supreme Court’s decision cleared the way for MWD to buy the islands while continuing to fight the legal challenges.

Warriors win judgment in fight over S.F. Mission Bay arena

Courthouse News Service - Jul 19 Superior Court Judge Garrett Wong on Monday sided with the Golden State Warriors in their bid to build a new arena in San Francisco's Mission Bay neighborhood. The court rejected local residents' lawsuits challenging the project under the California Environmental Quality Act, ruling that the city's Commission on Community Investment and Infrastructure sufficiently reviewed the project's environmental impacts before approving designs in November 2015. Judge Wong rejected opponents' claims that the city did not adequately review traffic, noise, and air quality effects and that the city's traffic mitigation plan inadequately addressed potential conflicts with nearby UCSF Children's Hospital and AT&T Park. The roughly 18,000-seat stadium, concert venue, and office space won unanimous approval from San Francisco's Board of Supervisors in December 2015.

Tesoro and Par Hawaii settle with U.S. over air quality violations

Reuters - Jul 18 U.S. oil refiners Tesoro Corp. and Par Hawaii Refining reached a $425 million settlement with the United States this Monday to resolve air quality violations at six refineries in Western states. The consent decree requires the companies to invest $403 million in new equipment to better control air emissions at operations in Alaska, Northern California, North Dakota, Utah, Hawaii, and Washington, the U.S. Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency said. Tesoro is required to pay a $10.45 million civil penalty and spend about $12 million to fund environmental projects in impacted local communities. The settlement addresses a variety of allegations, including leak detection, repair, and flaring violations of the Clean Air Act. 

Federal appeals court rejects Navy sonar-use rules

ABC News - Jul 16 The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit last Friday reversed a lower court decision upholding a five-year approval granted in 2012 for the U.S. Navy to use low-frequency sonar for training, testing, and routine operations in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans and the Mediterranean Sea during peacetime operations. Sonar, used to detect submarines, can injure whales, seals, dolphins, and walruses and disrupt their feeding and mating. The 2012 rules adopted by the National Marine Fisheries Service permitted Navy sonar use to affect about 30 whales and two dozen pinnipeds, marine mammals with front and rear flippers such as seals and sea lions, each year. Environmental groups filed a lawsuit in San Francisco in 2012, arguing that the approval violated the Marine Mammal Protection Act. 

Alameda County bans hydraulic fracturing

San Jose Mercury News - Jul 19 Alameda County on Tuesday became the first Bay Area county to ban hydraulic fracturing, on a 5-0 vote of its Board of Supervisors. The ban comes after a two-year effort by a coalition of environmental groups to persuade county leaders to ban hydraulic fracturing and other high intensity oil recovery practices to protect against pollution of local groundwater. While no companies use the practice in Alameda County, opponents say they want to prevent hydraulic fracturing in Livermore Valley where they claim it could threaten wine grape vineyards and tourism. Certain property owners and representatives of drilling rights owners opposed a ban, arguing that it amounts to an illegal taking of their property rights. The only oil driller in Alameda County has said it could live with the proposed ban after it was modified earlier this year to revise requirements that otherwise could have disrupted its 30-barrel-a-day operation.

San Diego approves plastic bag ban

KPBS - Jul 19 The San Diego City Council approved a ban on plastic shopping bags this Tuesday, making it the 150th jurisdiction in the state of California to pass such a law. The ordinance is intended to help reduce the estimated 700 million single-use plastic bags that are distributed in San Diego each year. Around 3 percent of the plastic bags used each year in California are being recycled. If approved on second reading in two weeks, the ordinance would go into effect 30 to 40 days later.


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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