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California Environmental Law & Policy Update
June 29, 2018
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Judge dismisses suit against oil companies over climate change costs

THE NEW YORK TIMES - Jun 25 A federal judge on Monday threw out a closely watched lawsuit brought by two California cities against fossil fuel companies, including BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, and Royal Dutch Shell, over the costs of dealing with climate change. The decision is a stinging defeat for the plaintiffs, San Francisco and Oakland, and raises warning flags for other local governments around the United States that have filed similar suits. Judge William Alsup of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California acknowledged the science of global warming and the great risks to the planet, as did the oil and gas companies being sued, but he said the courts were not the proper place to deal with such global issues. “The problem deserves a solution on a more vast scale than can be supplied by a district judge or jury in a public nuisance case,” Judge Alsup reasoned. Another Northern District of California Judge, Vince Chhabria, remanded similar cases brought by San Mateo and Marin Counties and the City of Imperial Beach to state court. That litigation is pending.


EPA Administrator seeks to limit EPA's authority to block permits to discharge to waters

THE HILL - Jun 27 U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is planning to limit that agency’s authority under the Clean Water Act to block permits issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) that allow discharges to waters regulated under the Clean Water Act. In an agency memo released Wednesday, Pruitt formally asked the EPA’s water office to propose a regulation under which officials would not be able to block a permit before it had been applied for or after the Corps has issued the permit. EPA staff in regional offices would have to get approval from EPA headquarters before trying to block a water permit, and officials would have to provide a period for public comment before blocking permits. The regulation would likely be the most significant change to how the EPA enforces the Clean Water Act’s restrictions on dredging or filling waterways in four decades.

State budget provision could fund condemnation of beach access path in San Mateo County

THE MERCURY NEWS - Jun 28 Language in the state budget signed this week by Governor Jerry Brown could force Silicon Valley venture capitalist Vinod Khosla to permanently open Martins Beach in San Mateo County to the public. Khosla bought 89 acres surrounding Martins Beach in 2008 and closed the gate to a private road that the public had used for generations to access the shoreline. A few paragraphs in the state budget would create a new $1 million account within the State Lands Commission, giving that agency a key tool to acquire a public easement over the road that runs from Highway 1 through Khosla’s property to the sand. The budget also allows the commission to acquire the easement — essentially a legal right for the public to use the road — using eminent domain if Khosla refuses to sell, and it enables private donors, foundations, and non-profit groups to contribute to the fund to help pay expenses. The Surfrider Foundation sued Khosla in 2013, arguing that he violated California’s Coastal Act when he blocked access without receiving a permit from the California Coastal Commission. In 2017, the First District Court of Appeals in San Francisco ordered Khosla to open the gate, a ruling which has been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

U.S. allows Nestle to continue extracting groundwater from national forest in Southern California

ABC NEWS - Jun 27 The U.S. Forest Service on Wednesday offered Nestlé, the maker of Arrowhead bottled water, a three-year permit to keep taking millions of gallons of water from the San Bernardino National Forest northeast of Los Angeles — but with new restrictions designed to keep Strawberry Creek, which the company has tapped for decades, flowing for other uses. The permit would allow extraction only when water is available to protect natural resources in the forest. Use could be restricted if the state's scattered drought conditions worsen. Environmental and public interest groups sued the U.S. Forest Service in 2015, arguing that it was improperly allowing Nestlé to take national forest water under a permit that expired in 1988. A court ruled that the company could continue water operations while its application to renew the permit was pending. The new permit would provide time for the company and forest officials to conduct more studies that could lead to a longer-term decision, the U.S. Forest Service said.

City of San Francisco and Santa Clara County ask state high court to bar lead paint initiative from ballot

SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER - Jun 27 Santa Clara County and the city of San Francisco have filed an emergency lawsuit on Tuesday asking the California Supreme Court to block a $2 billion initiative supported by two paint companies from appearing on the November ballot. The initiative, supported by Sherwin Williams Co. and Conagra Grocery Products Co., would provide a $2 billion taxpayer-paid state bond to finance the remediation of lead paint and other environmental hazards in houses and schools throughout the state and would release the two companies from satisfying a court judgment requiring them to pay an estimated $409 million to $730 million for removing lead paint hazards in houses built before 1951 in Santa Clara County, San Francisco, and eight other cities and counties. The proposed initiative would end the liability by declaring that lead-based paint in residences is not a public nuisance under California law, and that the change in the law applies to any cases that were pending or on appeal as of Nov. 1, 2017.

L.A. needs to be more proactive on checking oil sites, city controller says

LOS ANGELES TIMES - Jun 27 In a report released on Wednesday, the Los Angeles City Controller concluded that the city has had a “lax and reactive” approach to verifying whether oil and gas drilling sites are operating in line with city conditions and called on the city to step up its oversight. Nearly four years ago, planning officials acknowledged the need for a new system to monitor and enforce those site-by-site conditions, which are meant to address noise, smells, and other nuisances, but no such program has been created. More than 700 oil and gas wells are active across the city — some of them located close to homes or schools — and thousands more are plugged or buried.

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