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California Environmental Law & Policy Update
December 1, 2017


Groups file lawsuit to undo Trump administration’s approval of Cadiz project

San Bernardino Sun - Nov 28 Three conservation and health safety groups on Tuesday filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the federal government’s approval last month of the Cadiz project pipeline, which would transfer 16 billion gallons of water annually from a remote part of San Bernardino County’s Mojave Desert to developments in Orange County and other locations. The lawsuit alleges that the Trump administration, in reversing two Obama administration decisions, incorrectly determined that construction of a 43-mile pipeline along an existing railroad right-of-way, essential for delivery of the groundwater, did not require federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) permits or approvals. The lawsuit asks the court to find that the Cadiz Project pipeline falls outside the scope of the 1875 General Railroad Right-of-Way Act and to enjoin the BLM from authorizing or otherwise allowing construction and operation of the pipeline until Cadiz obtains a valid right-of-way easement across the federal lands.

U.S. Supreme Court will not hear appeal on Coachella Valley groundwater

The Press-Enterprise - Nov 27 The U.S. Supreme Court declined on Monday to review a lower court decision in which the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians was granted rights to groundwater beneath the tribe’s reservation in the Coachella Valley. The tribe successfully sued the Desert Water Agency (DWA) and the Coachella Valley Water District (CVWD) in 2013, claiming that the agencies degraded water quality by overdrafting the groundwater aquifer. The DWA and CVWD appealed, but with their petition denied by the Supreme Court, the next legal proceedings will involve deciding how the groundwater supplies are to be divided between the tribe and other valley residents. The agencies denounced the decision in a joint statement, saying it gives the tribe “unprecedented” control over the groundwater.

Bakersfield refinery project dealt legal setback

The Bakersfield Californian - Nov 21 The California Court of Appeal, Fifth Appellate District in Fresno ruled last Tuesday that Kern County erred in certifying an environmental impact report (EIR) that would have allowed the Alon Refinery in Bakersfield to unload more than 100 rail cars of crude oil per day. The ruling stemmed from a lawsuit filed by a coalition of concerned citizens, environmental groups, and health and safety advocates which alleged that the refinery and rail project would further harm air quality in the San Joaquin Valley and subject residents to the risks of a derailment involving tanker cars filled with volatile Bakken crude oil. The court's 67-page opinion reverses a judgment by the Kern County Superior Court and compels the county to set aside its final approval of the EIR and its approval of the project, finding that the EIR underestimated the likelihood of release of hazardous materials by rail accident by fivefold and wrongly ignored the air pollution and other environmental impacts generated indirectly by the project.

DIRECTV to pay $9 million over alleged hazardous waste dumping in Alameda County, state

East Bay Times - Nov 22 The California Attorney General and Alameda County District Attorney last Wednesday announced an $8.9 million settlement with DIRECTV in connection with allegations that the satellite broadcast service improperly disposed of large amounts of hazardous waste. DIRECTV allegedly dumped hazardous batteries, electronic devices, and aerosols in dumpsters, routinely sending hazardous waste to local landfills that were not permitted to receive them. The district attorney also alleged DIRECTV’s improper disposal of hazardous wastes violated the state’s unfair competition law by giving it an unfair advantage over its competitors complying with the law. The settlement also requires DIRECTV to engage an independent auditor to perform three audits to assure the company is complying with the terms of the settlement. 

Newport council withdraws approvals for Banning Ranch development

Los Angeles Times - Nov 29 The Newport Banning Ranch development no longer has the city of Newport Beach’s endorsement. The City Council Tuesday night unanimously repealed several years-old approvals for the shelved housing, hotel, and retail project under court order after the California Supreme Court ruled in March that the city’s EIR was insufficient. The California Coastal Commission has blocked the project twice. But people invested both in development and preservation of some or all of Banning Ranch’s 401 acres of scrub and grasslands at the city’s western edge told the City Council they would be back to further their visions. If the project does go back before the city — unchanged from its most recent iteration or modified — it would need an updated EIR and another City Council approval.

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