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California Environmental Law & Policy Update
August 11, 2017

Environmental and Policy Focus

New California law gives air quality officials power to quickly shut down industrial operations

Los Angeles Times - Aug 7 Governor Jerry Brown on Monday signed legislation, effective January 1, 2018, that will permit local air quality officials to issue orders requiring immediate cessation of industrial operations when air emission violations pose an "imminent and substantial" danger to public health. Such orders would be temporary, pending a hearing before an administrative board. Currently, air regulators seeking orders to curtail operations that violate rules and threaten public health must first obtain authorization from an administrative hearing board. The process can take months, while the alleged violations continue unabated. The new air district powers come as state lawmakers are imposing requirements on local air districts to do more to monitor and reduce toxic pollutants. Last month, Brown signed legislation aimed at improving neighborhood-level air quality as part of a deal to extend the state’s cap-and-trade program to fight climate change.

Two Sacramento water districts seek $1.4B from U.S. for polluting drinking water supplies

Sacramento Bee - Aug 8 Two water districts near the old McClellan Air Force Base in Sacramento are suing the federal government for $1.4 billion to clean up the carcinogenic chemical hexavalent chromium, known as chromium-6, from the area’s groundwater supplies. The lawsuits, filed by the Sacramento Suburban Water District and the Rio Linda Elverta Community Water District, name as defendants the U.S. Air Force and 10 major companies that are alleged to have supplied chromium products and chemicals to the base for decades. District officials say the water they are providing is safe, but argue that they will need $1.4 billion to clean up polluted wells, install treatment equipment, and replace wells that have been decommissioned because of the presence of the chemical.

EPA and State approve waiver extension for San Diego wastewater treatment

San Diego Union-Tribune - Aug 8 Federal and state water quality regulators have cleared the way for the City of San Diego to avoid costly upgrades to an outdated wastewater treatment plant, as long as local officials continue to pursue a $3 billion water recycling program, known as Pure Water San Diego. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board on Monday approved the city’s permit application to operate the Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant for another five years despite the fact that it is the only facility of its kind not to meet federal clean water standards. The so-called permit waiver is part of a longstanding deal between city officials, regulators, and members of the environmental community aimed at freeing up money to pay for the Pure Water San Diego program.

10 states back California agencies in dispute with tribe over groundwater

The Desert Sun - Aug 8 Ten states from Nevada to Texas on Monday filed a brief in the U.S. Supreme Court to support two California water agencies—the Desert Water Agency and the Coachella Valley Water District—in their dispute with the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians over control of groundwater beneath the tribe's reservation in the Palm Springs desert. The water agencies are challenging a decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled the Agua Caliente tribe has a federally-established right to groundwater dating to the creation of its reservation in the 1870s. If the Supreme Court agrees to hear the case, it would have a rare opportunity to settle the question of whether tribes hold special federal "reserved rights" to groundwater as well as surface water, and to define more clearly the boundaries between state-administered water rights and federal water rights. In their "friend-of-the-court" brief, the states argue that the appellate court’s ruling that the tribe has a priority right to groundwater "is literally a watershed opinion washing away the authority and control that states have traditionally exercised over groundwater resources."

Under pressure from regulators, San Diego cracks down on water pollution from construction sites

San Diego Union-Tribune - Aug 9 Developers in the City of San Diego are facing tougher government enforcement at construction sites that have the potential to pollute rivers and streams, as the result of a settlement between San Diego officials and the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board (Regional Board), announced Wednesday. The settlement, which will require the city to pay $3.2 million and step up policing of development, was reached after the Regional Board brought a civil liability complaint against the city for alleged violations of its stormwater permit last year. Some contractors for years performed little to no erosion control at job sites even when city inspectors identified problems, according to a multi-year investigation by the board. As part of the settlement, the city will pay more than $1.6 million to the State Water Resources Control Board Cleanup and Abatement Account and spend an equal amount on several environmental projects.

Court orders tech billionaire to open up Martins Beach

San Jose Mercury News - Aug 10 A Silicon Valley billionaire who locked the gates at a popular Northern California beach must open them to the public, a state appeals court ruled on Thursday. In a decision that could have far-reaching impacts on other coastal access cases, the First District Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled 3-0 that venture capitalist Vinod Khosla violated the California Coastal Act when he ended decades of public access for fishing, surfing, and other recreational activities, after he purchased the property surrounding Martins Beach, south of Half Moon Bay. Reaffirming a 2014 ruling by the San Mateo County Superior Court, in a 50-page ruling the appellate court ordered Khosla to open the gates immediately. The decision is a major blow to Khosla and other wealthy landowners who have increasingly tried to buy up the internationally celebrated beaches along the California coast and turn public lands into private property.

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