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California Environmental Law & Policy Update
January 12, 2018


Brown administration working to scale down $17 billion Delta tunnels project

The Mercury News - Jan 12 Faced with a shortage of money and political support after seven years of work, Governor Jerry Brown’s administration is working on a plan to scale back one of his key legacy projects, a $17 billion proposal to build two massive tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to make it easier to move water from Northern California to the south. Instead of two tunnels, each 40 feet high and 35 miles long, Brown’s Department of Water Resources has been negotiating with major California water agencies in recent weeks on a revised plan to build just one tunnel at slightly more than half the cost of the original project. The new approach could be announced in the next month, said Jeff Kightlinger, CEO of the influential Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which serves 20 million people in Los Angeles, San Diego, and other areas.

California and New York officials cry foul after Trump administration exempts Florida from offshore drilling plan

Los Angeles Times - Jan 9 Democratic officials in California and New York accused the Trump administration of unfair partisan treatment Tuesday after Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke exempted Florida from expanded offshore drilling — under pressure from the state’s Republican governor — without offering similar exemptions to other coastal states. The administration’s move follows a bipartisan backlash from politicians on both coasts after the administration announced plans last week to consider allowing new leases off most of the U.S. coastline for offshore oil and natural gas exploration. "President Trump has directed me to rebuild our offshore oil and gas program in a manner that supports our national energy policy and also takes into consideration the local and state voice," Zinke said in a statement. "I support the governor's position that Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver.” In response, California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra and Senator Kamala Harris each urged that the same standard should apply to the California coast.

Interior plans to move thousands of workers in the biggest reorganization in its history

The Washington Post - Jan 10 Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke launched an effort Wednesday to undertake the largest reorganization in the department’s 168-year history, moving to shift tens of thousands of workers to new locations and change the way the federal government manages more than 500 million acres of land and water across the country. The proposal would divide the United States into 13 regions and centralize authority for different parts of Interior within those boundaries. The regions would be defined by watersheds and geographic basins, rather than individual states and the current boundaries that now guide Interior’s operations. Zinke also proposes moving the location of the headquarters of major bureaus within Interior, such as the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Reclamation. The plan would require congressional authorization.

U.S. Supreme Court lets California’s ban on suction-dredge mining stand

San Francisco Chronicle - Jan 8 The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to review a challenge to California’s ban on suction-dredge mining for gold, a technique that extracts minerals from riverbeds while releasing residue that can include mercury back into the environment. The high-pressure underwater vacuums, used mostly in mountain and foothill waterways, have been prohibited by the state since 2009. The owner of a federal mining claim in the Plumas National Forest argued in a lawsuit that the state was effectively prohibiting gold mining in the area and that federal law forbids state interference with mining on federal lands. A state appeals court ruled in the claimholder's favor, but the California Supreme Court overruled the decision in August 2016, stating that federal law for at least 130 years has left environmental regulation of mining largely up to the states. 

U.S. regulators meet with California on fate of vehicle fuel rules

Reuters - Jan 8 Senior U.S. government officials held talks in mid-December with the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to discuss the goal of maintaining one set of national requirements for automakers, a move that will determine the fate of vehicle emissions rules. In 2011, CARB and the Obama administration reached an agreement with major automakers to nearly double average fleetwide fuel efficiency to more than 50 miles per gallon by 2025, but included a “midterm review” to determine by April 2018 whether the final requirements were feasible. California, joined by nearly a dozen other states, could seek to enforce its own current stricter emissions rules even if the Trump administration relaxes the 2022-2025 requirements. In a move widely seen as a preamble to loosening fuel standards, President Donald Trump announced in March he was revisiting the 2025 requirements. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it plans to issue its proposed changes, if any, for the 2022-2025 model years by March 30.

Riverside County has a new plan to fix the Salton Sea — or at least a part of it

Los Angeles Times - Jan 12 Riverside County officials on Thursday unveiled a possible $400-million remedy for some of what ails the shrinking Salton Sea: record-high salinity levels, die-offs of fish, fewer birds, and an immense "bathtub ring" of smelly playa prone to toxic dust storms. The so-called North Lake Vision proposed by Riverside County Supervisor Manuel Perez calls for creation of an in-lake barrier, or dam, on the north end of the sea that would be filled with enhanced flows from the White Water River to create what he described as “a 4,200-acre healthy lake within a much larger not-so-healthy one.” The plan, pending approval by the Riverside County Board of Supervisors, would be subsidized with taxes generated by a bond measure that may be presented to voters within a year, officials said. Perez’s proposal grew out of frustration and anger over seemingly endless disputes with the state over its inability to complete Salton Sea restoration projects even as environmental conditions steadily deteriorate at California’s largest and most troubled lake.

After Oroville disclosures, California water agency names new director

Sacramento Bee - Jan 10 Governor Jerry Brown appointed Karla Nemeth on Wednesday to serve as the Executive Director of the California Department of Water Resources (DWR). The appointment came less than a week after investigators released a scathing report on DWR’s handling of the near-failure of Oroville Dam’s emergency spillway last February. Nemeth has served as deputy secretary and senior adviser for water policy at the state Natural Resources Agency since 2014, and has been an agency employee since 2009. DWR’s outgoing director, Grant Davis, resigned barely seven months after taking over the embattled department. An independent forensic team last week criticized DWR for failing to prevent the Oroville crisis, stating that the spillway was poorly designed in the 1960s, and then poorly maintained. The panel said DWR hasn’t placed enough priority on dam safety, but it also blamed federal regulators and the dam-safety industry in general for using outdated methods of ensuring that California’s dams are structurally sound.

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