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California Environmental Law & Policy Update
February 17, 2017

Environmental and Policy Focus

Scott Pruitt confirmed to lead EPA

Los Angeles Times - Feb 17 President Donald Trump’s nominee to run the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a climate-change skeptic who has for years been an ardent critic of the agency he will now lead, received final Senate approval today after prolonged opposition from environmentalists and others. The nomination of former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt for the post has been one of the most bitterly fought since President Trump took office last month. Pruitt will be inheriting an agency of 15,000 employees where much of the workforce will likely be hostile to his agenda. More than 770 former EPA employees signed a letter imploring lawmakers to reject his nomination, and many current employees joined the ranks of activists demonstrating against him at rallies and deluging congressional offices with phone calls.

Oroville is a warning for California dams

New York Times - Feb 14 The threat of catastrophic flooding from the damaged Oroville Dam in Northern California this week — forcing the evacuation of nearly 200,000 people because of what environmental groups had asserted in 2005 was a design flaw — presented a warning sign for California, where a network of dams and waterways is suffering from age and stress. The culprit at Oroville was a faulty emergency spillway, used for the first time since the dam was opened after days of drenching winter storms that filled the reservoir to capacity. Of the 1,585 dams in California, 17 are listed in poor condition and 97 in fair condition, according to the National Inventory of Dams, which is kept by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Part of the problem is a lack of maintenance. Climate change reportedly adds to the challenges, with scientists predicting more intense and frequent storms in many regions due to the warming atmosphere. In California, where precipitation in the Sierra Nevada is the source of much of the state’s water, the warming atmosphere also means that more of the moisture in a given storm falls as water and less as snow, adding to the immediate burden on downstream reservoirs.

Effort to delay opening Aliso Canyon gas field clears a hurdle in Sacramento

Los Angeles Daily News - Feb 11 A bill to block the re-opening of the Southern California Gas Co.’s Aliso Canyon natural gas field, responsible for the nation’s biggest methane leak in history, has cleared a key state Senate committee. Senate Bill 57, sponsored by Senator Henry Stern, D-Canoga Park, passed out of the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee Thursday on a 7-2 vote. The bill would prevent energy regulators from ruling that the facility, located above Porter Ranch, is safe to use until the cause of the massive 112-day leak is known. A study of the cause of the leak is expected to be finished later this year.

Despite drought-reducing rains, central California continues to sink

San Jose Mercury News - Feb 9 Even as California struggles with surface flooding, the state's aquifers remain depleted, triggering sinking in parts of the San Joaquin Valley, according to a new NASA report released by the California Department of Water Resources. NASA satellites show that subsidence caused by groundwater pumping in Kings County has caused the California Aqueduct to drop more than 2 feet. This groundwater entered the aquifers many years ago and is not immediately replaced by rainfalls from a wet winter. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, it will take at least 50 years for the Central Valley’s aquifers to refill naturally, as rain and snowmelt from the mountains slowly seep underground. The estimate assumes that extraction of water from those aquifers ceases during the recharge period. Rainy winters such as the current one, however, create disincentives to extract more groundwater, as farmers are able to rely more on water supplies from refilled reservoirs.

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