California Environmental Law & Policy Update - March 2015 #2

Allen Matkins

Environmental and Policy Focus

California renewable energy zone plan gets revamp after criticism

Reuters - Mar 10

An ambitious plan to put California's renewable energy projects in areas where the environment will face the least harm is getting a major overhaul after years of delays and criticism from developers, environmentalists, and counties. Started in 2008 under then Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan aims to identify 22.5 million acres of land for solar, wind, and geothermal projects to meet California's ambitious goal of sourcing one-third of its electricity from renewable sources. It assumes that 20,000 megawatts of renewable energy projects could be built in the California desert by 2040. In a joint announcement on Tuesday, federal and state agencies said a major portion of the plan would go back to the drawing board as counties fear losing control over what happens on their turf, conservationists demand more wildlife protection, and companies seek quick approvals of development permits.

9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejects challenge to SCAQMD emission fees program

Courthouse News Service - Mar 12

On Wednesday, a federal court of appeals rejected a challenge to the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) program for payment of fees for emissions of pollutants that form ground-level ozone (smog). A provision of the Clean Air Act requires that major emitters, including power plants and refineries, pay emission fees in parts of the South Coast Air Basin. The SCAQMD substituted an alternate program that draws on other financial sources, including state and federal grants. In 2013, after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved the alternate program, the National Resources Defense Council and Communities for a Better Environment filed a petition of review, arguing that the SCAQMD program did not do enough to reduce pollution from stationary sources in the South Coast Air Basin, comprised of Orange, Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties. SCAQMD counsel Barbara Baird said that a ruling in the groups' favor would have required about 300 major stationary sources to pay combined emission fees of $30 million to $50 million.

EPA begins testing air in homes near Superfund sites in southwestern LA County

Los Angeles Times - Mar 9

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last month began testing the air inside dozens of homes near two Superfund sites in the South Bay area of Los Angeles County. The testing was prompted by concerns that pollutants from the Del Amo and Montrose Chemical Corporation sites could enter nearby residences through a pathway known as vapor intrusion, a process by which contaminants in soil or groundwater migrate in vapor form through the soil and into overlying structures through openings like foundation cracks, plumbing chases, and the like. Local residents and community activists had pleaded with the EPA in recent years to test their homes for contaminated soil vapors.

New Carlsbad power plant placed in doubt

U-T San Diego - Mar 6

An administrative law judge at the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) issued a recommendation on Friday that a major new natural gas power plant at Carlsbad, slated to replace the aging Encina Power Station, should be put on hold pending exploration of more clean energy options. New Jersey-based power plant operator NRG Energy was to operate the proposed plant, and San Diego Gas & Electric would underwrite its construction. To take effect, the judge's recommendation must be endorsed by a majority of the five-member CPUC. The controversy over this plant is part of Southern California's larger struggle to decide how to replace power from the recently retired San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station without compromising state goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

California officials review underground wells for risks

Sacramento Bee - Mar 10

California officials detailed plans Tuesday to ensure that wells exposed to potentially harmful oil field wastewater comply with federal drinking water standards. John Laird, state secretary for natural resources, told a state Senate hearing that the state Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources is reviewing underground injection wells while prioritizing those that pose the greatest risk of contaminating aquifers used for water supplies. Nearly two dozen wells have been voluntarily closed or ordered shut down, and the state has secured agreements with oil producers to conduct water quality testing, Laird said. He discussed the state’s comprehensive plan, which sets a 2017 deadline for compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Lumber Liquidators faces class action lawsuits over flooring materials

Courthouse News Service - Mar 9

In eleven class actions filed in courts from California to Florida, plaintiffs have alleged that Lumber Liquidators falsely advertises that its Chinese-made laminate flooring complies with state and federal formaldehyde limits. According to a March 6 federal complaint filed in Sacramento, the products exceed state and federal standards by as much as 1,300 percent.

Written by:

Allen Matkins

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