California Environmental Law & Policy Update - January 2015 #3

Allen Matkins

Environmental and Policy Focus

Rail case heading to state Supreme Court

Willits News - Jan 27

The Supreme Court of California has accepted review of a lower court decision holding that federal law implemented by the Surface Transportation Board, an agency within the U.S. Department of Transportation, preempts state law review of rail projects under the California Environmental Quality Act. The case to be reviewed by the Supreme Court arises from a dispute about a proposed rail project in the North Coast, but the Court's decision may have an impact on other rail projects, notably, the state's high speed rail project. In 2014, another state appellate court held that the federal law at issue did not pre-empt CEQA. The Supreme Court's decision is likely to resolve this conflict.

State to examine oil and gas potential of Monterey shale

Contra Costa Times - Jan 23

The oil and gas potential of the vast Monterey shale formation, underlying the San Joaquin Valley and parts of Monterey County, is the focus of a study currently underway by an independent panel of scientists operating under direction of the state Legislature. The first volume of the study, which is part of an upcoming report on the practice of hydraulic fracturing, was released last week. In 2011, the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimated the area held 15.4 billion barrels of untapped oil, more than any other area in the U.S. But in 2014, the agency dramatically lowered its estimate to 600,000 million barrels. In the recently released first volume, however, the study found both estimates to be unreliable.

Oil producer drops drilling project in Carson

Los Angeles Times - Jan 26

Citing the recent decline in crude oil prices, California Resources Corp., a former subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum, is pulling the plug on a massive oil drilling project in the Los Angeles area city of Carson. The project, first put forth by Occidental in 2012, includes the drilling of more than 200 wells, some more than 2 miles deep, in northern Carson near the campus of California State University-Dominguez Hills and a number of residences. The decision was welcomed by activists and nearby residents who had fought the project for years.

Federal agency's biological report imperils Shasta Dam water storage project

Santa Cruz Sentinel - Jan 27

Less than three months after California voters approved a water bond that contains $2.7 billion for new water storage, one of the leading projects under consideration has suffered a potentially fatal setback. Biologists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have concluded they cannot endorse a $1.1 billion plan to raise the height of the dam at California’s largest reservoir, Shasta Lake, because of its impact on endangered salmon. In a 349-page draft report completed in late November, the Service concluded that it is “unable to support” any of the five project options under consideration.

Private wells in California farm area show high uranium - Jan 26

One in four household water wells in parts of California's Central Valley contains potentially harmful levels of uranium, a U.S. Geological Survey study said. The federal study attributed the higher-than-expected uranium levels to farming in the Central Valley, which is one of the country's leading agricultural regions. According to the study, both heavy pumping of groundwater for irrigation, and man-made efforts to refill underground water aquifers, are leeching more naturally occurring uranium into underground water reserves used for drinking water supplies. The increased presence of uranium is mainly a problem in the east and south of the valley, where agricultural use of groundwater is drawing more uranium-bearing sediment out of granite formations, said Bryant Jurgens, a research hydrologist at the geological survey's Sacramento office.

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Allen Matkins

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