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California Environmental Law & Policy Update
December 29, 2017


U.S. EPA officials are leaving in droves

The New York Times - Dec 22 More than 700 employees have left the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) since President Trump took office, a wave of departures that puts the administration nearly a quarter of the way toward its goal of shrinking the agency to levels last seen during the Reagan administration. Of the employees who have quit, retired, or taken a buyout package since the beginning of the year, more than 200 are scientists and 96 are environmental protection specialists, a broad category that includes scientists as well as others experienced in investigating and analyzing pollution levels. Most of the employees who have left are not being replaced. The cuts deepen a downward trend at the agency that began under the Obama administration in response to budget constraints imposed by Congress that left the agency with about 15,000 employees at the end of his term. The reductions have accelerated under President Trump, who campaigned on a promise to dramatically scale back the EPA, leaving only what he called “little tidbits” in place. 

Department of Interior to repeal hydraulic fracturing rule

The Hill - Dec 28 The Trump administration will take its final step to repeal the Obama administration’s 2015 rule setting standards for hydraulic fracturing on federal land. A formal notice from the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) making the repeal final was posted publicly on Thursday and is due to be published in the Federal Registertoday. The rule mandated that companies disclose the chemicals they use during hydraulic fracturing, required them to cover surface ponds where hydraulic fracturing fluids are stored, and set standards for the construction of oil and gas wells at which hydraulic fracturing was conducted. The BLM’s notice of rulemaking did not address the question whether it ever had legal authority to enforce the regulation, an issue that had been litigated in federal court.

Department of Interior reinterprets federal law previously applied to prosecute accidental killings of birds at energy facilities

The Washington Post - Dec 26 The U.S. Department of the Interior has rolled back an Obama-era policy aimed at protecting migratory birds, stating in a solicitor’s opinion that it will no longer prosecute oil and gas, wind, and solar operators that accidentally kill birds. The new interpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), which was issued on December 22, marks a win for energy interests that described the federal government’s previous position as overreaching. On January 10, before President Trump’s inauguration, the Interior Department had issued an opinion declaring that operators could face legal liability under the MBTA for the incidental deaths of birds ensnared by uncovered oil-waste pits or unmarked transmission lines. The MBTA, enacted in 1918, makes it illegal to “pursue, hunt, take, [or] capture” migratory birds without a permit. The recent solicitor's opinion rests on a narrowed interpretation of the meaning of “take.” 

SoCal Gas cited for 'public nuisance' over new leak at Aliso Canyon natural gas facility

Los Angeles Times - Dec 22 Air quality officials last Friday cited Southern California Gas Co. (SoCal Gas) for a 50-minute gas leak at its Aliso Canyon storage facility early last week, charging the utility with causing a public nuisance by exposing nearby residents to foul odors. The South Coast Air Quality Management District said it received 15 odor complaints from residents in the Porter Ranch neighborhood of Los Angeles after the leak began at 4:55 p.m. on December 18, when a SoCal Gas methane monitor at the facility’s fence line measured concentrations of up to 66 parts per million — more than 30 times the typical level of 2 ppm, according to the air district.

North Orange County groundwater contamination named cleanup priority by U.S. EPA

The Orange County Register - Dec 24 The EPA has added a plume of contamination in North Orange County’s groundwater basin to a list of priorities for cleanup, a step some officials say brings it closer to federal Superfund status, which may give the EPA enforcement authority to clean it up, or to compel responsible parties to clean it up, and potentially to provide access to federal funding. The 5-mile-long plume, located mainly beneath an industrial area of Fullerton, includes manufacturing chemicals that Orange County Water District officials say migrated there from industrial sites over a period of years. A groundwater basin that serves 22 north county cities, including Anaheim, Fullerton, and Placentia, is threatened by the plume, but drinking water wells are constantly monitored and are safe at present, officials say. Nine companies have signed settlements and paid $21.4 million toward groundwater cleanup efforts, and some businesses have been cleaning up their own sites. The cost of full cleanup of the basin could exceed $100 million. 

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