A Note to Our Readers: Although the coronavirus and its many disruptions are dominating the news, we will continue to publish the California Environmental Law and Policy Update so long as there are newsworthy developments in the environmental arena. Please stay safe and healthy.
EPA eases environmental enforcement during outbreak
Reuters – March 26
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Thursday issued a memorandum setting forth a new, temporary policy, retroactive to March 13, 2020, easing enforcement of environmental regulations to help the regulated community cope with impacts from the coronavirus outbreak. Stating that challenges resulting from staff shortages due to illness, travel limitations, and social distancing may directly impact the ability of regulated facilities to meet all federal regulatory requirements, the EPA said that it does not plan to fine polluting industries for violating certain monitoring or enforceable limitations on air emissions and water discharges during the outbreak where the EPA agrees that COVID-19 was the cause. The EPA will also work with the U.S. Department of Justice to “exercise enforcement discretion” related to penalties previously assessed. By its terms the policy memorandum does not apply to Superfund sites, or to corrective action sites under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA); the memo remarked that additional COVID-19 guidance may be forthcoming with respect to these programs. Also, according to the memorandum, “[t]he EPA will assess the continued need for and scope of this temporary policy on a regular basis and will update it if the EPA determines modifications are necessary,” and will post a notification at https://www.epa.gov/enforcement/enforcement-policy-guidance-publications, at least seven days before terminating the policy.
Concord lets weapons station developer walk away amid labor dispute
East Bay Times – March 24
Almost four years after selecting the real estate development firm Lennar to develop the first phase of the 2,300-acre Concord Naval Weapons Station mixed-use project, the Concord City Council on Tuesday terminated exclusive negotiations with the developer, effectively sending the project back to the drawing board. The impasse was triggered by a labor dispute between Lennar and the local trades council. After a two-day City Council meeting which drew crowds of union workers, housing advocates and community members, the council essentially told both sides to try working out their differences. The project was already stalled by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to require the U.S. Navy to assess the site for poly-fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS, an assessment the Navy estimates will take about two years to complete.
Opponents of Oakland A’s waterfront ballpark turn to courts to slow the project down
San Francisco Chronicle – March 22
Opponents of the Oakland A’s waterfront ballpark filed suit on March 16 in Alameda County Superior Court seeking to derail the team’s bid for an exemption authorizing streamlined environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). If applied, the exemption, under the state law known as AB 734, would require that lawsuits challenging the A’s environmental impact report be adjudicated within 270 days, if possible. Without the exemption, legal challenges to the ballpark development could go on for years. Ballpark opponents contend that the large crowds and traffic generated by the 34,000-seat stadium and adjacent hotel, housing and office development will damage business and operations at the Port of Oakland. The development site is on a piece of port land called Howard Terminal. The suit, brought by the Pacific Merchants Shipping Association and others, was filed after the A’s and the California Air Resource Board (CARB) resolved a dispute between them regarding methods of counting greenhouse gas emission reductions mandated by AB 734, and just as CARB put the team’s application for the exemption out for final public comment.
San Onofre nuclear plant continues waste transfers amid coronavirus restrictions
The San Diego Union-Tribune – March 25
Southern California Edison (SCE), the operator of the shuttered San Onofre nuclear power plant, announced Wednesday that transfers of heavy canisters filled with used-up nuclear fuel will continue following the recent "safer at home" directive from Governor Gavin Newsom. The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station was permanently retired in 2013, and workers last month started the eight-year effort to raze all but a few structures and storage sites at the facility that occupies an 84-acre parcel of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. SCE has argued that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s list of crucial infrastructure sectors – exempt from the "safer at home" order – includes operating as well as decommissioning nuclear plants and transferring used-up nuclear fuel.
Kern County environmental groups sue San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District over air monitoring rules
The Bakersfield Californian – March 25
A coalition of Kern County environmental groups last Wednesday sued the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (District), claiming a new District regulation arbitrarily exempts many local oil refineries from testing for toxic emissions. A state law passed in 2017 requires petroleum refineries to monitor air pollution that crosses into nearby communities, subject to certain exemptions. The two exemptions at issue in the lawsuit exempt refineries not specifically engaged in refining crude from the monitoring requirements and limit the number of pollutants that must be monitored for refineries with a capacity for 40,000 barrels per day or less. The District says it will oppose the lawsuit, but welcomes public input from interested members of the public.