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California Environmental Law & Policy Update
July 28, 2017

Environmental and Policy Focus

California Supreme Court ruling bolsters bullet train foes

ABC News - Jul 27 Federal law does not completely preempt application of California’s strict environmental regulations to state-owned rail projects, the state Supreme Court said Thursday in a decision that ensures further legal complications for the planned $64-billion high-speed rail project connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco. The high court overturned a lower court ruling and gave renewed hope to those who wish to rely on the California Environmental Quality Act to challenge the project. The ruling came in a lawsuit that challenged plans to introduce freight trains on a Northern California rail line. The suit did not directly involve the high-speed rail project, but farmers and the rail authority said in legal briefs filed in the case that the Supreme Court's decision could apply to that controversial project.

EPA to seek comments on Obama water rule repeal

The Hill - Jul 26 The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is accepting public comment on its proposal to repeal the Obama administration’s controversial "Waters of the United States" rule. Notice of EPA's proposal was published in the Federal Register on Thursday, opening a 30-day period for public comments. EPA's proposed action would reverse the 2015 rule, which was intended to clarify the extent of federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act and which would have extended federal jurisdiction to small bodies of water like headwaters, wetlands, and ponds that had previously not been subject to the Clean Water Act. The 2015 rule never took effect, having been stayed by a federal court. The EPA is separately working on a replacement rule that would utilize an alternative definition of federal jurisdiction that is less expansive than the 2015 rule.

Trump administration proposes eliminating Obama-era hydraulic fracturing rule

The Guardian - Jul 25 The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is moving to eliminate a 2015 federal hydraulic fracturing regulation on the ground that it duplicates state rules and “imposes burdensome reporting requirements and other unjustified costs” on the oil and gas industry. The rule requires that hydraulic fracturing operations on public land be properly constructed so that pollutants do not leak into water supplies. Companies performing hydraulic fracturing are also obliged to make public disclosure of the chemicals used in the process. Although the rule was finalized two years ago, it never went into effect due to a series of court challenges by the fossil fuel industry and several states. Publication of the rule repeal proposal in the Federal Register on Tuesday kicked off a 60-day public comment period.

EPA to create Superfund “top 10” list

San Jose Mercury News - Jul 25 EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt on Tuesday said the EPA is creating a “top 10 list” of Superfund sites where nearby residents are in harm’s way so that the agency can aggressively address those locations. In recent memos to staff, he said that Superfund cleanup efforts would be “restored to their rightful place at the center of the agency’s core mission,” that his approach would target sites where decontamination is estimated to cost $50 million or more, and that he would be personally involved in trying to fix the problems at these sites. There are 1,300 Superfund sites nationwide, and more than 100 have languished for at least five years with no formal remedy plan. Some critics question EPA's commitment to cleaning up Superfund sites, citing Pruitt's defense of a White House budget proposal that would cut EPA's funding by 34 percent for fiscal 2018 and would reduce funding for Superfund sites by $330 million annually.

Chevron settles with state regulators over 2012 Richmond refinery fire

East Bay Times - Jul 24 Chevron Corp. has reached a settlement agreement with the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) stemming from the 2012 fire at its Richmond refinery. Under the settlement, Chevron will be required to spend about $20 million to improve safety at the facility. The agreement calls for Chevron to replace all carbon steel piping carrying corrosive liquids with chrome-alloy piping, which has better corrosion resistance, at an estimated cost of $15 million. It also calls for Chevron to spend an estimated $5 million to develop and implement criteria and procedures to monitor equipment in order to alert operators when equipment should be replaced. Under the settlement announced Monday, Cal/OSHA agreed to withdraw nine of 17 violations stemming from the fire; and to amend five others. 

Comment period extended for review of national marine sanctuaries and monuments

Santa Rosa Press Democrat - Jul 26 The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has extended the deadline for public comment on a federal review of expansions to national marine sanctuaries and national monuments to August 14. Environmental organizations and public officials from coast to coast had urged people to submit comments by 8:59 p.m. this Wednesday, the original deadline. Citing “public interest and requests for additional time,” NOAA said it was extending the deadline. In April, President Trump ordered a review of the expansions to 11 sanctuaries and monuments, including four that protect the Channel Islands, as well as other locations along the California coast from San Luis Obispo County to Point Arena in Mendocino County, from oil drilling.

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