Trump infrastructure plan would speed up pipeline permitting, cut environmental reviews

Reuters - Feb 12 The Trump administration’s $1.5 trillion infrastructure proposal released on Monday would speed up the permitting process for natural gas pipelines. The proposal would give the Secretary of the Interior authority to approve pipelines that cross the country’s national parks, changing the requirement that Congress authorize such projects. The plan also aims to speed up the time a state has to issue Section 401 water quality certifications required under the federal Clean Water Act, which are needed for the construction of interstate natural gas pipelines. The Trump administration is seeking to tackle what it calls a duplicative environmental review process for major infrastructure projects by trying to amend bedrock environmental laws like the decades-old National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Water Act, and Clean Air Act. The administration says it wants environmental reviews for major projects to take no longer than 21 months – instead of years – and to be directed by one federal agency rather than several different agencies.

Trump administration seeks to repeal Obama-era regulations limiting methane emissions from oil and gas wells on public lands

The New York Times - Feb 12 The U.S. Interior Department on Monday moved to repeal an Obama-era regulation known as the methane waste rule, which targets accidental gas leaks and the process of “flaring” leaked gas from oil and gas wells on public lands. The regulation has been the subject of intense court battles and delay efforts. Methane, which is about 25 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide, accounts for nine percent of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions; about a third of those emissions are estimated to come from oil and gas operations. Under the rule, oil and gas companies would have been required to capture leaked methane, update their equipment, and write new plans for minimizing waste when drilling on government property. The agency is expected to publish its proposal to repeal the rule in the Federal Register, which will kick off a 60-day public comment period. A final repeal of the rule would come after that.

Southern California water agency eyes possible control of Delta tunnels project

Sacramento Bee - Feb 13 In a dramatic twist on the Delta tunnels saga, Southern California’s powerful Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) is exploring the feasibility of owning the majority stake in the controversial project, a move that raises fears of a “water grab.” Under the plan floated Monday by three MWD board members, the water district would pour an extra $6 billion or more into the tunnels plan beyond what it has already pledged, enabling the twin tunnels to be built at the same time. Last week, facing a significant funding shortfall, the Brown administration announced it was scaling back the project to just one tunnel for now. An MWD board member, Brett Barbre, said Tuesday the water district’s increased involvement could ensure that both tunnels are constructed. The water district could then sell some of its surplus water to San Joaquin Valley agricultural districts that, to this point, have refused to pledge any dollars to the tunnels project because of its high cost.

Judge sides with critics of World Logistics Center planned for Moreno Valley

The Press-Enterprise - Feb 9 A Riverside County judge ruled last week that the environmental impact report prepared for the huge warehouse project known as the World Logistics Center in Moreno Valley is flawed, and granted requests of environmental groups on a number of issues raised in their lawsuits challenging the project. The plaintiffs challenged the project’s environmental impact report on a number of issues, from air quality to increased traffic to increased noise, asking the judge to block the project from proceeding until it fully complies with the California Environmental Quality Act. Moreno Valley and developer Highland Fairview may need to do more environmental studies that would further delay the project, which has been on hold since its 2015 approval. The proposed warehouse complex—the size of 700 football fields—would be one of the nation’s largest.

Water conservation slipping statewide as dry weather returns

The Mercury News - Feb 14 California residents are dropping conservation habits they developed during the last drought, steadily increasing their water use with each passing month. A new analysis of state water records by The Mercury News found that California’s urban residents used 13.7 percent less water last year in the first eight months after Governor Jerry Brown declared an end to the drought emergency than they used in the same eight-month period in 2013. During that same period in 2017, the water savings dropped from 20 percent in May to 2.8 percent in an unseasonably dry December. The water wasting rules imposed by the state during the drought, prohibiting activities such as hosing off sidewalks, which carried fines of up to $500 for violators, lapsed in November 2017 when their emergency status expired. The state water board is scheduled to vote February 20 to make those rules permanent, and two bills in the Legislature would give all cities the power to enforce them.