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California Environmental Law & Policy Update
March 3, 2017

Environmental and Policy Focus

Trump directs rollback of Obama-era water rule

The Washington Post - Feb 28 President Trump on Tuesday instructed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) to review and reconsider the 2015 “Waters of the United States” rule (Clean Water Rule), by which those agencies proposed to define the limits of federal jurisdiction over surface water bodies throughout the country. The directive could have tremendous implications for the agricultural, real estate, gravel, sand, and ranching sectors, as well as for critical habitats for aquatic species and migratory birds. It could take well over a year for the directive to be carried out; it will likely trigger a new round of rulemaking and also could lead to extensive litigation as the agencies seek to redefine federal restrictions on what accounts for 60 percent of the nation’s water bodies. The Clean Water Rule had not yet taken effect, following the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals’ imposition of a stay on the rule last year. A senior administration official said that Trump’s directive will instruct the attorney general to ask the Sixth Circuit to continue to stay the litigation pending the agencies’ review of the Clean Water Rule. The official further noted that the directive instructs EPA and the Corps to “consider thinking about” a decision by now-deceased Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in the 2006 Rapanos case, in which Scalia suggested dramatically curtailing federal jurisdiction over smaller water bodies.

White House eyes plan to cut EPA staff by one-fifth and eliminate key programs

The Washington Post - Mar 1 The White House’s Office of Management and Budget has suggested deep cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) budget that would reduce its staff by one-fifth in the first year, from 15,000 to 12,000 employees, and eliminate dozens of programs, according to a document reviewed by The Washington Post. The proposal calls for cutting about $2 billion from the EPA’s annual $8.2 billion budget, including a 30 percent cut to grants issued to states under the EPA’s air and water programs, and eliminating 38 separate programs in their entirety. Programs designated for zero funding include: grants to clean up abandoned industrial sites known as brownfields; a national electronic manifest system for hazardous waste; environmental justice programs; climate change initiatives; and funding for Alaskan native villages. Any proposed budget cuts would have to be codified through the congressional appropriations process and would likely face resistance from some lawmakers.

EPA withdraws Obama-era request for data on oil and natural gas

New York Times - Mar 2 The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said Thursday it is withdrawing an Obama-era request that oil and natural gas companies provide information on methane emissions at oil and gas operations. The EPA’s November 2016 request was sent to more than 15,000 owners and operators in the oil and gas industry and required them to provide information on the numbers and types of equipment at onshore oil and gas production facilities, and on methane emissions at the sites. Methane, the key component of natural gas, has a global warming potential more than 25 times greater than that of carbon dioxide. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said the withdrawal is effective immediately, adding that he wants to assess the need for the information the agency has been collecting since November.

California Supreme Court expands endangered species removal tools

ABC News - Feb 27 The California Supreme Court on Monday ruled that petitioners seeking to remove from the state's endangered species list a subset of coho salmon that inhabit streams south of San Francisco could present new evidence to argue the listing was wrong. The court’s unanimous ruling overturned a lower court decision that said petitioners seeking to remove the salmon and other species could only argue that the listing was no longer necessary. The decision stems from Big Creek Lumber Co. and the Central Coast Forest Association’s petition to remove the salmon species from the endangered species list on the basis that the fish were not native to the area and were introduced and maintained there artificially using hatcheries. The California Fish and Game Commission listed the subset of salmon as endangered in 1995.

California water supplies to improve for some Central Valley Project customers

Sacramento Bee - Feb 28 U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Bureau) officials announced Tuesday that select groups of Central Valley Project (CVP) contractors, including municipalities along the American River and two groups of agricultural water districts in eastern San Joaquin Valley, can expect to receive their full CVP water allocations due to heavy rain and snow this winter throughout California. In a departure from usual practice, the Bureau said it will delay announcing allocations to all other CVP contractors until mid-to-late March, when it can get a better read on the water situation. Those CVP contractors who will not be notified of their allocations until March include most farm districts in the Sacramento Valley and much of the west side of the San Joaquin Valley. The State Water Project, a parallel network of reservoirs and canals operated by the State of California, has said its cities and farm customers can expect to receive 60 percent of their water allocations, a figure likely to grow in the coming weeks. 

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