Environmental and Policy Focus

Heat, drought worsen smog in California, stalling decades of progress

Los Angeles Times - Nov 10

Heat and extreme drought have worsened smog in California over the last year, stalling decades of progress toward cleaner air and increasing health risks. The state's prolonged dry spells have brought more temperature inversions, with a layer of warmer air trapping cooler air below, concentrating pollution near the ground. Mother Nature could clear away much of the bad air with rain or wind, but high-pressure systems have resulted in fewer storms, less circulation and unusually stagnant conditions. Forecasters say a weak El Niño has a 58% chance of developing in the Pacific Ocean this winter and could bring more rain to California, cleansing the air.

DOGGR sued over new Kern oil wells

Central Valley Business Times - Nov 12

Environmental groups and local residents are suing the State Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), alleging that DOGGR approved hundreds of new oil drilling permits in Kern County without analyzing the risks to air, water, and public health as required by state law. DOGGR has issued at least 214 permits since July to Aera Energy LLC to drill new oil and gas wells in the South Belridge Oil Field in Kern County without the environmental review required by the California Environmental Quality Act, the lawsuit says. Earthjustice filed the lawsuit Wednesday in Kern County Superior Court on behalf of Association of Irritated Residents, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club.

Showdown looms over pesticide use in California

SFGate.com - Nov 8

With organic food growers reporting double-digit growth in U.S. sales each year, producers are challenging a proposed California pest-management program they say enshrines a pesticide-heavy approach for decades to come, including compulsory spraying of organic crops at the state's discretion. Chief among the complaints of organic growers: The California Department of Food and Agriculture's pest-management plan says compulsory state pesticide spraying of organic crops would do no economic harm to organic producers, on the ground that growers could sell sprayed crops as non-organic instead. Many groups challenging the plan argue that it authorizes state agriculture officials to launch pesticide treatments without first carrying out the currently-standard separate environmental-impact review. But Steve Lyle, a spokesman for the agriculture department, said the outline doesn't give state crop-pest programs any power they don't already have by law.

High-Speed Rail Authority has 30 eminent domain cases pending ... and it's just getting started

Sacramento Business Journal - Nov 7

The California High-Speed Rail Authority needs approximately 1,100 parcels for its first construction segment, along the 130 mile-stretch from Madera to Bakersfield. So far, the state has sought ownership of 822 parcels, and has acquired just 106. Not all of the negotiations have gone smoothly. The state already received permission to move forward with eminent domain proceedings for 36 parcels and six of those owners have settled with the state. Of the 30 parcels that remain, 10 lawsuits are now pending in courthouses in Fresno and Madera counties. The High-Speed Rail Authority has budgeted $776 million for property acquisition along this initial stretch of track.

U.S. Chemical Safety Board calls for more stringent regulation of California oil refineries

Contra Costa Times - Nov 10

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board calls for substantial changes in the way oil refineries are regulated in California in its final regulatory report on the August 2012 fire at Chevron's refinery. The report calls on the state "to enhance its process safety management regulations for petroleum refineries to ensure a more robust and adaptive regulatory regime." Among the recommendations in the Chemical Safety Board's report are a more comprehensive analysis of process hazards; the documented use of safer systems analysis, with the goal of reducing risks to a specified target; analysis of the effectiveness of safeguards intended to control hazards; more effective process safety indicators; and more thorough inspections and audits by a technically qualified regulator.