California Environmental Law & Policy Update – May 2016 #2

Environmental and Policy Focus

Some emergency drought rules might be eased

Los Angeles Times – May 9 Governor Jerry Brown and the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) on Monday laid out a revised game plan for dealing with California’s persistent drought, making some conservation rules permanent while also moving to give communities more of a say in deciding how much water they must save. Governor Brown issued an executive order enshrining a conservation ethic in state regulations, banning permanently some wasteful water practices and ordering regulators to develop new water-efficiency standards designed to drive down long-term urban use. In doing so, the Governor made it clear that the days when Californians could use as much water as they pleased are over. At the same time, SWRCB staff recommended changes to emergency drought rules that would allow communities around the state to relax or even drop mandatory conservation targets that have been in effect for much of the last year. Under proposed revisions that the SWRCB will consider on May 18, local agencies, many of which had complained that the drought rules were too stringent, would set their conservation targets based on their ability to meet demand if there are three more severely dry years.

EPA finalizes stronger methane emission rules for the oil and gas sector

The Hill – May 12 The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Thursday finalized a new rule designed to cut methane emissions from the oil and natural gas sector. The rule sets standards for methane leaks along the natural gas production line, including drilling and pumping, at new or modified wells. If fully implemented, this rule will eliminate 520,000 short tons of methane emissions by 2025, containing an equivalent of 11 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. EPA also said it is commencing work on a rule for methane leaks at existing wells, but acknowledged that such a rule would not be finalized during the current administration. Methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is the primary component of natural gas, and drillers warn that regulations on methane will hurt an American natural gas boom that has upended the country’s energy sector. 

California court upholds large urban water transfer

Santa Cruz Sentinel – May 10 A California appeals court on Tuesday upheld plans for a large transfer of Mojave Desert groundwater to homes and businesses in Southern California. The ruling by a three-judge panel in Santa Ana moves urban districts a step closer to receiving an average of 50,000 acre feet per year for 50 years and up to 75,000 acre feet of desert groundwater per year from the Cadiz and Fenner valleys in San Bernardino County, enough to supply about 150,000 homes. In two separate rulings, the Court of Appeals determined that the project proposed by Cadiz, Inc. did not violate a San Bernardino County ordinance protecting desert groundwater, and that it complied with the California Environmental Quality Act. The rulings were a setback for environmental groups that view the project as an unwelcome incentive for suburban sprawl in a parched region and a threat to desert wildlife, including tortoises and bighorn sheep. 

Lawsuit challenges Riverside County land swap

Press-Enterprise – May 6 Environmental groups are challenging Riverside County’s plan to swap land in Lake Elsinore that’s home to two endangered plants for property that was once part of a clay mine. The groups filed a lawsuit last week contending that the 40-acre swap violates state environmental law and conflicts with a regional conservation plan. The 40 acres to be traded to a development company were part of 598 acres that Riverside County acquired in 2004 to be part of a wildlife habitat reserve for sensitive plants and animals in what was then a landmark agreement with federal and state wildlife officials. The agreement’s goal was to create an interconnected 500,000-acre wildlife reserve between the Cleveland National Forest and the San Bernardino Mountains. Reserving that land allowed developers to build elsewhere in western Riverside County. Officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Game last year submitted a strongly worded letter to Riverside County that described the land swap as “a retreat” on conservation accomplishments that help meet preservation goals for certain endangered plants.

Mountain View council endorses Bay restoration tax

Mountain View Voice – May 11 The Mountain View City Council voted last week to endorse Measure AA, a proposed parcel tax designed to clean up the San Francisco Bay. The measure on the June 7 ballot would levy a $12-per parcel tax over the next 20 years throughout the nine-county Bay Area to fund Baylands restoration. If approved by voters, Measure AA is expected to raise a total of $500 million that would be used to improve water quality, restore wildlife habitat, and open up more of the shoreline to the public, according to advocates. But the measure faces a high hurdle by requiring support from two-thirds of voters to pass. Some members of the public criticized the city’s endorsement, describing the measure as a handout to agencies already financed by taxpayers to address water quality. The council voted 6-1 to endorse Measure AA.

Legislation calls for 114 Aliso Canyon natural gas wells to be tested

Los Angeles Daily News – May 10 Governor Jerry Brown Tuesday signed legislation that requires Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) officials and state regulators to adhere to strict safety standards before the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility can be reopened following the months-long gas leak that was capped in February. The legislation, SB 380, calls for all 114 of the gas field’s wells to undergo testing developed by U.S. Department of Energy National Laboratories scientists before SoCalGas can resume injections of natural gas into the storage facility. The testing required under the bill follows standards set by Governor Brown in an emergency order, and calls for the 114 wells to pass two complementary tests and four more structural integrity tests before they can be brought back online. SoCalGas officials said earlier they support the legislation.