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California Environmental Law & Policy Update
February 10, 2017

Environmental and Policy Focus

California extends emergency drought regulations despite heavy rain and snow

Sacramento Bee - Feb 8 The State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) on Wednesday voted to keep statewide emergency drought controls in effect, even as most of California sees historic amounts of rain and snow. The drought regulations, which have been greatly relaxed in recent months, will be in effect for another 270 days unless the SWRCB votes to terminate them earlier. After ordering urban agencies to reduce consumption by an average of 25 percent in 2015, the board lifted the mandate last spring for those agencies that could show at least three years’ worth of water on hand—a test 80% of the agencies said they met. Water agencies have been urging the SWRCB to lift the rules altogether, arguing that they are losing credibility with customers by pleading drought in a wet winter.

Media watchdog sues Trump EPA pick to disclose contact with energy companies

Reuters - Feb 7 The Center for Media and Democracy filed suit on Tuesday to compel Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma’s Attorney General and President Donald Trump's pick to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, to release records detailing his communications with energy companies ahead of a Senate vote to confirm his nomination. The lawsuit, filed in an Oklahoma court, claims that the refusal to release the requested emails violates that state's Open Records Act. The lawsuit also seeks to compel a response to the nine open-records requests dating back to January 2015, which also seek copies of emails between Mr. Pruitt’s office and energy companies.

$8.5 million Aliso Canyon gas leak settlement includes $1 million health study

Los Angeles Daily News - Feb 8 The Southern California Gas Co. on Tuesday agreed to pay $8.5 million to settle a lawsuit filed last year by the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) for the significant emission of methane from the utility’s Aliso Canyon gas storage facility over a period of three months in 2015. The settlement specifies that $1 million will be designated for a health study sponsored by SCAQMD, $5.65 million will pay for emission fees related to the leak, and about $1.85 million will reimburse SCAQMD for air monitoring costs and legal fees. Although the health study will include “an enhanced assessment” of residents’ exposure to air pollution from the leak, a community health survey, and an analysis of potential links between reported health effects and exposure to air pollutant, the settlement has been sharply criticized by county health officials, local residents and politicians who argue the $1 million is not enough to perform an adequate study of the human health effects from the gas release.

Coastal Commission objects to replacement of San Diego Bay restaurant

San Diego Union-Tribune - Feb 7 The $13 million replacement for Anthony’s Fish Grotto, which closed last week after 71 years on San Diego Bay, ran into objections on Tuesday from the California Coastal Commission (Commission) that could delay the project for months if not years. Commission staff declared a 10-day appeal period to last year’s approval by the San Diego Unified Port District (Port) of the Portside Pier, a three-restaurant project by Brigantine Restaurants. Commission staff raised issues as to public access, architectural design and additional coverage over the bay and are in a dispute with the Port over whether the Commission has jurisdiction to review restaurant approvals.

Assemblyman Gray proposes legislation to overhaul state’s water management system

Merced Sun-Star - Feb 8 Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, on Monday introduced legislation to restructure the state’s water management system, saying that the State Water Resources Control Board’s (SWRCB) authority to write regulations, enforce them, and prosecute offenders poses a conflict of interest. The bill, AB 313, would restructure the administration and enforcement of water rights and the State Water Project to transfer the SWRCB’s authority over water rights administration, water rights hearings, and implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) to other entities. As proposed, the Department of Water Resources would oversee SGMA and water rights administration, while the state Office of Administrative Hearings would handle water rights hearings and SGMA enforcement proceedings.

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