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California Environmental Law & Policy Update
December 21, 2018


Interior Secretary Zinke resigns amid investigations

WASHINGTON POST - Dec 15 Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke submitted his resignation to the White House on Saturday after facing pressure to step down because of multiple probes into his real estate dealings in his home state of Montana and his conduct in office. Zinke was hailed by energy industry officials for relaxing Obama-era environmental rules and opening up large areas of federal land and waters for oil and gas prospecting. But environmental groups assailed his policies and conducted opposition research into his management practices and financial dealings. Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, who has steered most of the department’s key policy decisions since joining in 2017, will take over the position in the interim. In addition to Bernhardt, the GOP candidates under consideration to replace Zinke include outgoing Sen. Dean Heller (Nev.), Reps. Raúl R. Labrador (Idaho), Jeff Denham (Calif.), Cathy McMorris Rogers (Wash.), and Rob Bishop (Utah).

Merced Irrigation District challenging state’s water decision

MODESTO BEE - Dec 19 The Merced Irrigation District board gave direction Wednesday to take legal action challenging the State Water Resources Control Board's ("Board") approval last week of the Bay Delta Water Quality Control Plan, which calls for increased river flows in the lower San Joaquin River tributaries, including the Merced, Tuolumne, and Stanislaus Rivers. A series of lawsuits challenging the approval and supplemental environmental study are expected from affected irrigation districts. In a news release, Merced Irrigation District general manager John Sweigard asserted the Board lacks the legal authority to alter water rights through the plan and that the decision failed to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act and the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

Permit approved for oil drilling and wetlands restoration in Long Beach

THE PRESS-TELEGRAM - Dec 13 The California Coastal Commission last week approved a controversial land swap that could eventually restore a 150-acre Long Beach oil field to its natural state as part of the Los Cerritos Wetlands. Synergy Oil will eventually cease operations on the parcel and relinquish ownership, and also end pumping operations on 33 leased acres of city land. In return, Synergy Oil and Beach Oil Minerals will be permitted to replace 74 old wells on the two sites with 120 new wells at two nearby plots totaling 12 acres. Despite the much smaller locations, oil production could increase 80-fold. The Coastal Commission permit is contingent on Beach Oil Minerals obtaining approvals from the Army Corps of Engineers, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Regional Water Quality Control Board.

Lead emissions from Quemetco could have reached neighborhoods nearly 2 miles away

SAN GABRIEL VALLEY TRIBUNE - Dec 18 The Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) this week ordered battery recycler Quemetco to expand by up to 1.6 miles the area where soil has been tested for lead and arsenic near its City of Industry plant. Since 2016, Quemetco has tested approximately one third of the 368 residences within a quarter-mile of its facility. The DTSC described the sample size as insufficient and stated it did not demonstrate a “lack of impact from Quemetco’s operations.” The California Attorney General sued the company in October, alleging 29 violations of state law, including failures to stop hazardous waste from migrating into neighborhoods and an underground aquifer. Quemetco attributes the high concentrations of lead found in dozens of locations to other sources, such as lead paint and nearby roadways. The controversy over the potential pollutants comes as Quemetco is seeking permits to expand its operations by 25 percent.

Residents near Santa Susana Field Lab seek independent study of possible contamination

LOS ANGELES DAILY NEWS - Dec 18 When the deadly Woolsey Fire broke out last month at the Santa Susana Field Lab -- a shuttered Cold War-era rocket engine and nuclear research facility -- state officials assured residents that no high-level toxins or radiation were present at the site. Residents have nevertheless commissioned an independent study to investigate potential contamination resulting from the fire at the site. In 1959, the facility experienced a partial nuclear meltdown that left the area laced with radioactive and chemical contamination. In 2010, the U.S. Department of Energy and NASA signed an agreement to clean up their portions of the site by 2017. While that cleanup has not yet started, NASA last week released a report detailing its plan to initiate groundwater cleanup at the site.

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