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California Environmental Law & Policy Update
January 11, 2019


Trump nominates acting EPA head Andrew Wheeler to run agency

REUTERS - Jan 9 President Donald Trump on Wednesday nominated acting U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Andrew Wheeler to run the agency permanently, the White House said, placing a former lobbyist for Murray Energy Corp, the nation’s leading underground coal mining company, at the helm of the nation’s top environmental regulator. Wheeler has overseen a number of deregulatory efforts since his predecessor Scott Pruitt’s departure in July 2018, including proposals weakening Obama-era rules limiting carbon and mercury emissions from power plants and an initiative to lift a summertime ban on higher ethanol blends of gasoline that was enacted to curb smog. Wheeler has said the EPA under his leadership would follow the same course as under Pruitt, prioritizing cleaning up industrial Superfund sites and financing investments in water infrastructure.

California regulation would broaden wetlands rules

AG ALERT - Jan 9 The State Water Resources Control Board (Board) last week unveiled final draft procedures defining what the state considers a wetland and laying out permitting requirements for discharges of dredged or fill material to state waters. The Board said its draft procedures "will protect all waters of the state at a time when the current federal administration is proposing to dramatically reduce the scope of federal Clean Water Act jurisdiction." If adopted, the state's rule would expand the permitting jurisdiction of regional water boards and impose additional regulatory requirements on certain farming activities and operations. Whereas the federal definition of a wetland requires a prevalence of wetland vegetation under normal circumstances, the state definition will authorize state regulation of both vegetated and unvegetated wetlands. The Board said it plans to consider adopting the procedures on February 5 in Sacramento.

San Diego County to appeal ruling on county climate plan and carbon offset program

SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE - Jan 9 The San Diego Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday in closed session to appeal a court ruling in favor of the Sierra Club and other environmental groups, which nullified the county’s third attempt at a Climate Action Plan that included a provision allowing developers to purchase carbon offset credits anywhere in the world in lieu of fully addressing the carbon footprints of new housing developments in-county. In late December, San Diego Superior Court Judge Timothy Taylor found the county’s Climate Action Plan lacked oversight and violated the county's 2011 general plan update, which called for drafting a plan that reduces greenhouse gases locally. Due to the court’s ruling, there are about 10,000 planned units now in legal limbo that would rely on carbon credits to offset nearly 80 percent of resulting greenhouse gas emissions. In an interesting twist, the Sierra Club on Tuesday invited the county to discuss with developers the potential for using carbon offsets to fund mitigation projects located within the county.

EPA backs down from plan that could have allowed youth farmworkers to handle pesticides

LOS ANGELES TIMES - Jan 10 The U.S. EPA has abandoned plans to roll back a set of protections for farmworkers, including a proposal to ease Obama-era regulations requiring anyone working with dangerous pesticides to be at least 18 years old and another regulation setting limitations on where pesticides can be used, preventing workers’ direct contact with toxic chemicals. The reversal in the Trump administration's effort to scale back these environmental and health regulations disappointed industry organizations and pleasantly surprised environmental and farmworker advocacy groups. EPA had announced in late 2017 that it was reconsidering the minimum age requirements, opening the door to the possibility that it might lower the age limit or do away with it entirely, citing as justification an executive order signed by the president calling for “reducing regulation and controlling regulatory costs.” At least for now, age limit and other Obama-era regulations protecting farmworkers will remain intact.

Proposed Clippers arena in Inglewood clears legal obstacle

LOS ANGELES TIMES - Jan 8 In an opinion issued in late December, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff found that the three-year exclusive negotiating agreement (ENA) between Inglewood and a Clippers-controlled company to explore building a new basketball arena did not violate the California Environmental Quality Act. A group of residents sued Inglewood in 2017 alleging that the city should have conducted an environmental review before approving the ENA. The court rejected the argument, ruling that the ENA did not commit the city to a definite course of action, and finding that an environmental impact report would be premature because the ENA lacks project specifics, including the arena’s exact location and height, rendering any analysis "wholly speculative and essentially meaningless." At least five other lawsuits have been filed over the project, which is in the midst of an 18-month environmental review process.

Fiat Chrysler to pay up to $800 million to settle emissions lawsuits

BLOOMBERG - Jan 10 Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV will pay up to $800 million in fines and costs related to recalling and fixing thousands of vehicles under civil settlements announced this Thursday by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ). The DOJ filed a civil lawsuit against Fiat Chrysler in May 2017, accusing the company of using so-called defeat devices to mask pollution levels of its vehicles so they would pass government tests. California, which joined the litigation by filing suit the night before the settlement was formally announced, will receive $78.4 million as part of the settlement. The settlement marks the second major case brought by U.S. officials against an automaker for Clean Air Act violations stemming from diesel vehicles equipped with pollution controls prohibited by U.S. law. In January 2017, Volkswagen AG pleaded guilty to criminal charges and agreed to pay some $4.3 billion in U.S. penalties over similar allegations.

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