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California Environmental Law & Policy Update
March 10, 2017

Environmental and Policy Focus

Southern California regulators approve smog plan with tougher refinery rules, voluntary measures for goods movement facilities

Los Angeles Times - Mar 3 The South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) last Friday approved a 15-year smog-reduction plan that will guide efforts to reduce emissions as required to meet federal health standards in the nation’s smoggiest region. But it will rely on only voluntary measures from ports, warehouses, and rail yards. Successful implementation of the $16-billion plan would require boosting local, state, and federal spending on cash incentives for cleaner vehicles to $1 billion a year — a tenfold increase — at a time when the Trump administration is moving to slash environmental regulations and impose sweeping cuts to the budget of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. SCAQMD will seek cooperation from goods-movement hubs that attract large numbers of trucks, ships, and locomotives, asking them to make their own pollution reductions. The air district will pivot to a rulemaking mode only if the facilities fail to agree to adequate measures within a year. The plan now goes to the California Air Resources Board for consideration and must then be approved by the EPA to become enforceable under the federal Clean Air Act.

Trump Administration set to roll back federal fuel-efficiency requirements

ABC News - Mar 7 The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is close to an announcement reversing a decision made in the waning days of the Obama administration to lock in strict gas mileage requirements for cars and light trucks through 2025. Automakers asked EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to discard a Jan. 13 decision that requires cars with model years 2022 to 2025 to achieve an average fuel efficiency standard of 36 miles per gallon. The automakers said the new standards could add thousands of dollars to the price of new cars and cost more than a million jobs. Changes to the standards, however, could take years to fully implement. A decision to review the Obama EPA's rule sets up a potential legal battle with California and other states that have adopted tough tailpipe standards for automobiles. California has received a waiver allowing the state to enforce its standards, which have also been adopted by 12 other states, including New York and Massachusetts.

Federal appeals court sides with Agua Caliente tribe in landmark water case

The Desert Sun - Mar 7 The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has sided with the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians in a landmark water case, upholding a ruling that the tribe has a federally granted “reserved right” to groundwater beneath its reservation in the Coachella Valley. The appeals court said in its opinion that the creation of the Agua Caliente Reservation in the 1870s "carried with it an implied right to use water from the Coachella Valley aquifer.” The decision is a setback for the Coachella Valley Water District and the Desert Water Agency, which had argued the tribe holds the same right to use groundwater under state law as all other landowners in California. The water districts could appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Bill seeks to preserve state NEPA review of California transportation projects

Sacramento Bee - Mar 7 California’s last legislative session ended with hundreds of bills left on the table, including measures to preserve a decade-old arrangement with the federal government that speeds up California transportation projects. The pact expired Dec. 31, and now the administration of Gov. Jerry Brown and lawmakers are racing to revive it and keep billions of dollars in planned projects on schedule. Assemblyman Jim Frazier, D-Oakley, has proposed a bill, Assembly Bill 28 (AB 28), that would allow the state to continue assuming federal responsibilities under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for road projects. Unless AB 28 becomes law by March 31, Caltrans will have to start asking the U.S. Federal Highway Administration (FHA) to approve each project’s environmental review under NEPA. Because the FHA reduced its available staff resources for environmental reviews after California and several other states assumed that responsibility, however, sending projects to FHA now to achieve NEPA compliance will create a backlog of work that is likely to slow project review and approvals. The Senate Appropriations Committee is expected to hear the bill next week, followed by the full Senate. 

LA County sues California regulators, citing earthquake risk at SoCalGas natural gas field

Los Angeles Daily News - Mar 8 Los Angeles County sued state regulators Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court, seeking an order requiring the California Department of Conservation's Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) to conduct a public environmental review process, including preparation of an environmental impact report under the California Environmental Quality Act, before allowing Southern California Gas Co.’s Aliso Canyon natural gas storage field to reopen. Citing an alleged failure of a well at Aliso Canyon, adjacent to Porter Ranch, during the devastating 1994 Northridge earthquake, the plaintiffs contend that DOGGR must consider seismic safety risks before approving the re-opening of the Aliso Canyon storage field. A bi-partisan bill seeking to accomplish the same goal as the lawsuit, Senate Bill 57, is now moving through the state Legislature.

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