October 14, 2019

The auto emissions war against California

[Cross-posted from the Daily Journal]

By Richard M. Frank

Blatantly illegal. Vindictive. Retaliatory. Spiteful. Or, as California Gov. Gavin Newsom aptly described it, a "weaponization of the USEPA."
All these terms accurately characterize the Trump administration's recent action to eliminate the state of California's longstanding authority under the federal Clean Air Act to adopt auto emission standards for California that are
more stringent than the national standards set by the federal government.
That action is bad news not only for California, but also for the environment as well as the consumers and automobile industry that the Trump administration's action purports to aid.
California, other affected states and numerous environmental organizations have already filed lawsuits against Trump's Environmental Protection Agency, seeking judicial intervention to nullify the EPA's "waiver withdrawal." And it's likely that they'll prevail in that legal challenge.
To understand the current dispute, a bit of historical background is required. When Congress passed the Clean Air Act in 1970, it included a provision that generally preempts states from adopting their own tailpipe emission standards for cars and trucks. However, beginning in 1966 California was already adopting its own tailpipe emission standards to address severe air pollution problems those emissions were causing in the Golden State -- especially the Los Angeles metropolitan area. Recognizing that history and expertise, Congress expressly granted California -- and only California -- continuing authority to adopt its own, more stringent tailpipe emission standards under the CAA. State officials were required under Section 209(b) of the CAA to seek a "waiver" of the national standards each time California sought to adopt its more stringent tailpipe standards and, conversely, the same CAA provision gave the EPA very limited grounds upon which to deny California's waiver request.
Over the subsequent half-century, this congressional exercise of cooperative federalism generally worked smoothly and well. California sought and received over 100 separate waivers from the EPA to adopt its more stringent tailpipe standards to curb "conventional" air pollutants such as carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide. The results have been outstanding: despite the steady increase in the number of cars and trucks on its roads in the past 50 years, California's air pollution levels attributable to vehicular sources have
declined by approximately 95%.
This arrangement worked so successfully that Congress chose to expand it when it amended the CAA in 1977. Congress added Section 177, allowing other states the ability to "opt into" California's more exacting tailpipe standards, rather than be subject to the EPA promulgated national limits. Over the past 42 years, a large number of states have done just that: for example, some 13 other states have opted into California's greenhouse gas tailpipe and zero emission vehicle standards. When added to California's 12% of the national automotive market, these "section 177" states account for over 35% of all affected motor vehicles sold in the United States -- some 15 million vehicles annually.
But things became more complicated and fractious after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in its landmark 2007 Massachusetts v. EPA decision that greenhouse gas emissions are "pollutants" subject to regulation under the CAA. California promptly sought a waiver from the George W. Bush administration to implement the first-in-the-nation GHG tailpipe emissions standards that California regulators had adopted in 2004. For the first time in CAA history, the EPA initially denied the waiver request in 2008, finding that California's tailpipe standards were not necessary to meet "compelling and extraordinary conditions" relating to state climate change concerns. Then-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, represented by then-Attorney General Jerry Brown, promptly sued the Bush administration, challenging the waiver denial.
That litigation was rendered moot with the 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama. The Obama administration promptly reconsidered and ultimately granted California's waiver request to implement its own GHG tailpipe emission standards, expressly concurring in California's position that it desperately needs those standards to meet the state's compelling and extraordinary challenges from climate change. The Obama administration then went further, striking a three-way agreement with California and the automobile industry to "federalize" California's GHG tailpipe standards on a nationwide basis and join them with the federal government's own, stringent mileage (CAFÉ) standards for passenger vehicles through the 2025 model year. (Under applicable federal law, only the federal government can adopt CAFÉ standards -- a fact California officials have never contested.)
That brings us to President Trump's war on the environment, and his vengeance on California. Since taking office, Trump has pledged to repeal the Obama/California GHG tailpipe emission standards, as well as the Obama administration's CAFÉ standards. (That, of course, is only part of Trump's multifaceted efforts to repeal Obama-era environmental rules.) Almost immediately, California officials announced their own plan to retain and enforce their own state GHG tailpipe standards, per the previously granted USEPA waiver.
Trump's efforts to repeal the existing federal standards have at least temporarily stalled; his minions have struggled mightily to construct plausible legal, technical or scientific rationales for its rollback initiatives under the CAA and related federal laws, in the face of promised lawsuits by the state of California and numerous other stakeholders. Meanwhile, in July California announced an historic agreement with Ford, Honda and two other major automakers in which the companies pledged to follow California's stringent GHG tailpipe emission standards prospectively.
This latter agreement reportedly enraged the president, who quickly retaliated against both California and the automakers. Trump directed his Department of Justice to launch an antitrust investigation of those four companies, claiming their pollution control agreement with California "might" violate federal antitrust laws. (Antitrust experts roundly criticize this argument as patently frivolous.)
Meanwhile -- and also under marching orders from President Trump -- on Sept. 19, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced he was revoking the federal government's previously granted waiver allowing California to implement its GHG tailpipe emissions standards. The Trump administration bases its revocation decision on four stated rationales:
• Withdrawal of California's waiver will allow automakers to build and market cars and trucks that are cheaper, safer and therefore better for consumers;
• Automakers need this waiver revocation and related federal rollbacks in order to remain in
business;
• The nation needs a uniform set of fuel economy standards; and
• California should not be allowed to "dictate" environmental rules to the rest of the nation, because that violates the CAA's intent.

Each of these stated justifications is utterly without merit.

First, economic studies indicate that the California tailpipe standards, if left in effect as part of the Obama administration's GHG and CAFÉ standards that Trump now seeks to nullify, would save American consumers more than $1.7 trillion in fuel prices through 2025. And Trump is trotting out the same, tired canard that the auto industry invoked for decades: that mileage and pollution control standards will make vehicles less safe. However, rates of automobile deaths and serious injuries have actually declined dramatically over the years as technology improvements have made vehicles safer as well as less polluting and more efficient.
Second, the auto industry is on record as opposing the drastic GHG emission and CAFÉ rollbacks that the Trump administration is proposing. As noted above, four of the world's largest automakers have expressly embraced the California GHG emission limits that Trump & Co. are trying to nullify. And, critically, not one major automaker has expressed public support for the administration's withdrawal of California's waiver. Indeed, several of them are already complying with California's projected tailpipe emission limits.
Third, and as noted above, California has never attempted to set fuel economy standards, either for itself or the nation as a whole. All concerned agree that this role is left exclusively to the federal government. (California and other critics of Trump's proposed CAFÉ standard rollback have had the temerity to note that such federal action will result in the discharge of 6 billion tons of additional GHG emissions over the expected lifetimes of the affected vehicles.) And the U.S. Supreme Court and lower federal courts have repeatedly held that the existence of CAFÉ standards does not displace the need for -- and government's obligation to consider -- pollution control measures to abate GHG emissions.
The fourth justification of the Trump administration's waiver withdrawal is the most specious of all: Congress expressly authorized California to adopt its own, more stringent tailpipe emission standards in 1970, and explicitly allowed other states to adopt California's standards as their own a few years later. Conversely, California has never attempted to impose its emission limits on any other state or the federal government.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is leading a broad coalition of 24 states challenging the Trump administration's attempted waiver revocation in court. That challenge should succeed. As noted above, the Trump administration's justifications for the waiver revocation are fake news. Equally important, the CAA contains no statutory authority whatsoever for the federal government to revoke a waiver request by California that it has previously granted.
In sum, the Trump administration's waiver revocation is unwanted by anyone but President Trump (along with, perhaps, Big Oil, which alone stands to benefit financially from higher polluting, less efficient vehicles). That revocation, meanwhile, is the automobile industry's worst nightmare, creating regulatory uncertainty that will extend for years and disrupt its manufacturing and marketing efforts. And it's bad news for consumers in California and other "opt-in" states, who desire cleaner vehicles that are cheaper to own and operate.
Finally, the waiver revocation, if upheld, erodes the ability of California and other affected states to meet their ambitious but necessary GHG reductions from the transportation sector -- the single largest generator of GHG emissions -- in sthe face of federal retrenchment and resistance on the climate change front.
Fight on, California, fight on.

August 12, 2019

For Toxic 'Forever' Chemicals, We Need More Than a Temporary Fix

[Cross-posted from Undark]

For much of the 20th century, asbestos — dubbed a “miracle mineral” for its strength and fire resistance — was ubiquitous in buildings, homes, and consumer products. But beginning in the 1970s, as the material was shown to cause cancer and respiratory illnesses, a combination of tort liability and regulation curbed its use in the U.S. For many, that awakening has been too little, too late. Thousands of Americans continue to die each year from asbestos-related diseases.

Today, we may be facing the next asbestos: Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. Stain resistant, waterproof, and grease repellant, PFAS are widely used in nonstick cookware, food packaging, clothing, furniture, and fire retardants. Their best-known applications include Teflon, Scotchgard, and GORE-TEX. But for more than a decade now, PFAS have been linked to increased cancer risk, reduced fertility, immune system suppression, and stunted growth and learning.

Known as “forever chemicals” because they do not easily break down, PFAS have found their way into drinking water supplies and into a variety of foods, and almost all Americans have detectable levels of PFAS in their blood. Yet federal regulators have taken few measures to protect citizens from PFAS’s harms — and when they have acted, they’ve been seemingly a step behind at every turn. That must change.

To their credit, manufacturers have taken some steps to respond to concerns regarding PFAS. Industry largely phased out two of the most commonly used and extensively studied PFAS — perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) — by 2002 and 2015, respectively. But both of these substances continue to seep from contaminated sites into the drinking water supplies of millions of Americans. And, for the most part, manufacturers simply replaced PFOA and PFOS with other PFAS chemicals that have similar structures, similar characteristics, and — scientists fear — similar health risks.

In theory, several environmental statutes — including the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Toxic Substances Control Act — could be used to address at least some aspects of the problem. However, federal regulators have been slow to respond. In 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency advised drinking water system operators to take action whenever combined PFOA and PFOS concentrations exceed 70 parts per trillion. Operators were advised to conduct further sampling, inform consumers of the elevated concentrations and potential dangers, and limit the public’s exposure to tainted water supplies. But the agency’s advisories govern only those two chemicals and are not enforceable. In February 2019, the EPA announced that, by the end of the year, it will start the process for developing enforceable standards for PFOA and PFOS levels in drinking water, though it’s unclear when the work will be completed.

As the EPA drags its feet, some states have begun to develop their own regulatory standards — and to file lawsuits against industry and the U.S. Department of Defense, which owns or operates hundreds of sites contaminated by PFAS-containing firefighting foam. In Congress, bipartisan support for legislative action is building. More than 30 PFAS-related bills have been introduced on the Hill, including proposals requiring the Defense Department to address water contamination at military bases and EPA to establish enforceable standards for PFOA and PFOS in drinking water within two years.

Although these developments are encouraging, PFAS contamination is a multifaceted problem that calls for a multifaceted response. So, as Congress pursues legislative solutions, there are several things it should keep in mind.

First, because PFAS comprises thousands of substances, a chemical-by-chemical approach to regulation is likely to fail. Hundreds of scientists have concluded that the structural similarities between PFOS and PFOA — for which the evidence of toxicity is clear cut — and other PFAS warrant caution in the use of all PFAS. Regulation of the various PFAS chemicals should not require definitive evidence of each individual substance’s toxicity.

Second, Congress should address not only the threat of present-day exposure to PFAS, but also harms from past exposure and risks of future exposure. It will be essential to identify and redress harms to those who have already been exposed to PFAS, to clean up contaminated sites and secure safe water supplies, and to prevent future contamination. In the cleanup process, establishing drinking water standards is only a first step. Water suppliers will likely require financial and technical assistance to achieve those standards — and basic fairness suggests that the companies responsible for the contamination should bear the costs. To prevent future contamination, Congress should limit PFAS use and promote non-PFAS alternatives.

Third, although drinking water contamination is the most pressing and significant pathway for PFAS exposure, people can also be exposed to PFAS through their work environments, contaminated foods, foods wrapped in PFAS-treated packaging, and various consumer products. It will be important to assess the risks associated with these alternative pathways and to develop strategies to deal with them.

The broad bipartisan support for action on PFAS reflects the urgency and importance of the substances’ known health hazards. Congress must act quickly — and wisely — to make sure PFAS doesn’t become the next asbestos.

April 1, 2019

California must act to protect state's remaining wetlands from Trump's destructive plans

[Cross-posted from Sacbee.com, and co-written by David Mogavero]

California’s wetland resources provide an abundance of human and environmental benefits: flood protection, filtration of water pollutants, surface and groundwater supplies, wildlife habitat, open space, public recreational opportunities and more.

Sadly, historical filling and development projects have reduced our wetlands to a mere 10 percent of their original extent. The loss of coastal wetlands is even more alarming: 95 percent of the formerly abundant lagoons and marshes along California’s coastline have been destroyed.

In 1972, Congress enacted the Clean Water Act, which included a program designed to preserve the nation’s dwindling wetlands. This federal program has never been wholly successful in achieving that goal. In recent decades, litigation over the extent of federal authority to protect wetlands, federal regulators’ failure to delineate clearly that authority and, now, the Trump administration’s overt plans to open wetland areas to development have combined to threaten America’s few remaining wetlands.

California has the ability to fill this alarming regulatory gap, at least here in the Golden State. California’s State Water Resources Control Board possesses independent power to protect and preserve the state’s remaining wetlands. Indeed, it has broader authority to do so than do federal regulators. Years ago, Gov. Pete Wilson announced a “no net loss” goal for California wetlands, but the board is only now considering a specific policy to do just that.

In January, the board released a final draft of its proposed state wetlands policy. Earlier this month, it held a well-attended public workshop to receive public testimony. Real estate interests and land speculators have expressed their opposition to that proposal on three main grounds. They say:

The board plan is rushed and premature.

The draft policy unduly elevates environmental concerns over economic considerations.

Adoption of the plan would undermine California’s efforts to address its current housing crisis.

Each of these criticisms is utterly without merit.

First, industry’s claim that the water board is rushing to judgment is patently false. In fact, the board has been debating its wetlands policy for nearly a decade in a transparent and publicly-inclusive process that has involved no less than a dozen opportunities for public engagement and comment.

Second, the draft policy is measured and moderate. That’s underscored by the fact that 11 of California’s most respected environmental organizations have filed formal comments with the board complaining that the draft wetlands policy is too lax and urging the board to consider strengthening it. We agree that the board’s draft wetlands policy is, if anything, too weak rather than too stringent. We certainly do not believe that this policy should be weakened any further.

Finally, industry’s claim that adoption of the proposed wetlands policy will undermine achievement of the state’s affordable housing goals is its most cynical and specious. That’s because there are literally hundreds of thousands of acres of undeveloped or underdeveloped properties currently available for building new housing across California.

These properties are generally located in existing communities close to jobs, shopping, schools and transit, thus allowing Californians to substantially reduce their commutes and costs, and consequently shrink their cost of living.

Focusing new housing in existing communities also accomplishes multiple other important public policy objectives, such as reducing state greenhouse gas emissions, encouraging investment in existing communities and increasing the tax base to pay for existing infrastructure maintenance.

Conversely, building in remote, currently undeveloped regions of the state is the only type of housing project that endangers California wetlands. It also contradicts the explicit state policy of encouraging infill development. It’s precisely the type of housing that polls indicate most Californians no longer want.

The water board’s proposed wetlands policy is measured, reasonable, critically needed and long overdue. The board should adopt it without further delay.

Richard M. Frank is professor of Environmental Practice and director of the California Environmental Law & Policy Center at U.C. Davis School of Law. David Mogavero is senior partner of Mogavero Architects in Sacramento.

Read more here: https://www.sacbee.com/opinion
/op-ed/article228596469.html#storylink=cpy
Read more here: https://www.sacbee.com/opinion/op-ed/article228596469.html#storylink=cpy

 

February 4, 2019

Commemorating a Major Environmental Disaster–One With a Transformative Legacy

By Rick Frank

[Cross-posted from LegalPlanet]

1969 Santa Barbara Oil Spill Sparked the Beginning of America's Modern Environmental Era

This week marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most serious and consequential environmental disasters in American history–the Santa Barbara offshore oil spill of 1969.  On January 28, 1969, an offshore oil rig (Platform A) owned and operated by the Union Oil Company and operating in federally-controlled waters in the Santa Barbara Channel off the California coast, blew out.  Over the next 10 days, between 80,000-100,000 barrels of crude oil spilled into the Channel and onto California beaches, stretching from San Luis Obispo County south to San Diego–though the majority of the spill-related damage occurred in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties.  That oil spill killed approximately 3,500 seabirds and an unknown but substantial number of marine mammals including dolphins, elephant seals and sea lions.  The spill was not completely capped until early 1970

A half century later, the Santa Barbara oil spill remains the third largest oil spill in U.S. history, after only the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico (2010) and the Exxon Valdez oil spill in the ocean waters of Alaska’s Prince William Sound (1989).

In many ways, however, the January 1969 Santa Barbara spill remains the most consequential and transformative environmental disaster in American history.  That’s true for several related reasons.  First, it was the inaugural such environmental disaster captured and broadcast into millions of U.S. households on the evening news.  For weeks, the major TV networks provided gripping, daily accounts of the biological damage and adverse economic effects produced by the Platform A blowout.  And that had a profound effect on the national psyche, with televised footage of dead and dying animals, fouled beaches and oil-saturated ocean waters underscoring in the most stark way the myriad costs associated with oil and gas development in coastal waters.

Second, the Santa Barbara oil spill provoked a strong and immediate response from government leaders.  Local officials complained bitterly to the media and public about the lack of adequate environmental controls and oil spill response efforts, noting presciently that the federal government that had issued the oil and gas leases–thereby earning substantial royalties from the oil companies’ offshore development activities–had an inherent conflict of interest when it came to regulatory oversight of those same activities.  Federal officials had a more muted reaction to the spill: President Richard Nixon visited the area to view the spill and cleanup efforts on March 21st, telling the assembled crowd, “…the Santa Barbara incident has frankly touched the conscience of the American people.”  But on April 1st, a hastily-adopted, temporary federal drilling ban was lifted, and oil and gas development in federal waters resumed off the California coast.

Longer term, however, the Santa Barbara spill would have a direct and positive effect on American environmental policy and law.  Later that year, Congress would enact the National Environmental Policy Act (also a half century old this year).  And NEPA was but the first in a torrent of environmental legislation passed by Congress over the next decade–including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act–that to this day remains the basic framework of federal environmental law.

Environmental activism is another direct outgrowth of the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill.  The next year, U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin led efforts to organize the first Earth Day, an annual celebration of the environment and environmental values that continues to this day.  Additionally, local, state and national environmental organizations saw their membership ranks swell in the wake of the Santa Barbara oil spill.

The Santa Barbara oil spill also catalyzed a state government response that quickly made California a national and international leader when it comes to environmental policy and law.  In the immediate wake of the disaster, the Republican-dominated California Legislature created an interim Committee on Environmental Quality, directing it to develop recommendations for state environmental legislation.  The most important outgrowth of that initiative was passage in 1970 of the California Environmental Quality Act; modeled on but significantly stronger than NEPA; CEQA remains California’s most important, cross-cutting environmental law, as well as the most powerful “little NEPA” statute in the nation.  And when the California Legislature balked at passing a law specifically designed to prevent ocean and coastal damage exemplified by the Santa Barbara oil spill, state voters responded by enacting an initiative measure in 1972 creating the California Coastal Commission and the most powerful system of coastal regulation and preservation in the nation.

Last but not least, the Santa Barbara spill had a transformative on academia and education.  In direct response to an environmental disaster that severely damaged its own coastal campus, the University of California, Santa Barbara immediately created the nation’s first environmental studies program, featuring such luminary professors as human ecologist Garrett Hardin and environmental historian Roderick Nash.  Fifty years later, environmental studies programs are an essential part of the curriculum at most of the nation’s colleges and universities.  Similarly, environmental law is a key area of specialization at U.S. law schools, and environmental law centers and clinics play a critical role at many of America’s top law schools–including the three University of California law schools that contribute to this blog site.

To be sure, the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill was a major environmental disaster, one that caused considerable environmental damage to the ocean environment and economic havoc to California’s coastal communities.  But the silver lining (if one can call it that) to that disaster from a half century ago is that it–perhaps more than any other single event–brought the need for ecosystem protection and environmental regulation to America’s collective consciousness and ushered in the modern era of environmental law, policy and advocacy.

As we reflect on the 50th anniversary of the Santa Barbara spill, that’s a most welcome legacy of a truly horrific event.

January 22, 2019

Newsom’s picks for environmental protection and water chiefs will reveal his priorities

By Rick Frank

[Cross-posted from the San Francisco Chronicle]

One of the keys to former Gov. Jerry Brown’s success as California’s chief executive over the past eight years was the stellar group of individuals he recruited as his top environmental and water officials. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s initial, senior environmental appointments suggest that he is wisely following in Brown’s footsteps. Californians can only hope his water leadership team turns out to be equally strong.

Newsom’s first two environmental appointments are his most important, and his choices are impressive indeed.

Jared Blumenfeld will serve as his secretary for environmental protection. Blumenfeld and the governor have a long history together: After working in Newsom’s mayoral administration as San Francisco’s director of the environment, Blumenfeld served with distinction as Region IX (West Coast/Pacific Rim) administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the Obama administration. In his new state role — a Cabinet position in the Newsom administration — Blumenfeld will oversee the sprawling California Environmental Protection Agency, supervising California’s pollution control, toxic waste management and water rights programs.

Wade Crowfoot was named secretary for natural resources. Crowfoot, another alum of Newsom’s mayoral administration, also previously served as deputy Cabinet secretary and senior adviser to Brown. Most recently, Crowfoot has been the chief executive of the Water Foundation, a think tank focused on water issues in California and the American West. At the Natural Resources Agency, Crowfoot will lead California’s natural resource management efforts, including the state’s climate change adaptation planning initiatives.

Also, California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols — perhaps the single most high-profile and widely respected environmental official in the Brown administration — has agreed to continue in that role for at least the first phase of Newsom’s administration. That’s very good news, especially because it assures Nichols’ continuing leadership in achieving California’s ambitious, pioneering greenhouse gas reduction goals. Nichols has guided the air board since 2007 and served an earlier stint in the 1980s.

Far less settled is how Newsom will fill his administration’s most important positions regarding state water policy. One of Newsom’s key tests confronts him immediately: State Water Resources Control Board Chair Felicia Marcus’ term expires this week. Newsom should reappoint Marcus to another term as chair of the water board, which both oversees California’s multifaceted water pollution control programs and administers the state’s always fractious water rights system. She’s done a masterful job over the past six years — most prominently in leading California’s successful efforts to respond to the unprecedented 2012-2017 drought. Marcus has the experience, leadership ability and people skills to continue to lead the board effectively in the coming years as the state works to craft regulations to protect cities, farms and fish.

Another critical decision for the new governor is whom to appoint as director of the state Department of Water Resources. In the past, the department director’s most important job was to oversee operation of the State Water Project. In recent years, that role had become more complicated — and contentious — because of Brown’s support of California Water Fix (also known as the delta tunnels) project. Brown proved unable to get his legacy water initiative to the finish line. It’s still an open question whether Newsom will continue to pursue or abandon the controversial tunnels.

In either case, Newsom’s water resources director will be the state’s point person in addressing a State Water Project that’s in precarious shape — both as an unreliable water delivery system and because of its undisputed, deleterious effect on a delta ecosystem in a state of ecological collapse.

The Department of Water Resources recently has taken on an increasingly prominent role under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, a law passed in 2014 that sets in motion a plan to manage the state’s groundwater basins, which supply a significant amount of the state’s water. That landmark legislation gives the department a lead role in assisting regional “groundwater sustainability agencies” to formulate plans to make California’s chronically over-drafted groundwater basins sustainable in the future. It will be the department’s job to evaluate those plans over the next several years to ensure that the water pumped out doesn’t exceed the amount recharged by nature or man.

To fulfill these responsibilities, Newsom’s director of water resources will have to command the respect of state water agencies, agribusiness and environmental groups. That, in turn, will require technical ability, vision, leadership and extraordinary diplomatic skills.

Newsom’s selection will serve as an early indicator of the governor’s water policy priorities.

 

January 7, 2019

Assessing–and Celebrating–California Governor Jerry Brown’s Environmental Legacy

By Rick Frank

[Cross-posted from LegalPlanet]

Governor Brown Easily Ranks as the Top Environmental Governor in State History

Don’t it always seem to go

That you don’t know what you’ve got

`Til it’s gone

        –Joni Mitchell (“Big Yellow Taxi”)

On this, the last day of Jerry Brown‘s tenure as California’s governor, it’s appropriate to reflect on Governor Brown’s environmental legacy.  And a most formidable legacy it’s been.

Brown has, quite simply, been the most environmentally conscious and effective governor in California’s 169-year history–by a wide margin.  While he’s served four full four-year terms as Governor, it is over his most recent two terms (2011-19) that Brown’s environmental leadership and achievements have been most prominent.

To a considerable degree, the success of Governor Brown’s administration can be attributed to the assemblage of top leaders he recruited and appointed to the state’s most important environmental positions.  Here’s a brief list:

California Secretary for Environmental Protection Matt Rodriquez has been the most effective CalEPA Secretary in the history of that office.  Leading a sprawling cabinet-level agency, Rodriquez has ably led California’s pollution control and water resource management efforts.  One of his most important achievements has been directing California’s successful efforts to transform environmental justice from an aspiration into a tangible set of goals and programs.

Secretary for Natural Resources John Laird has been quietly effective in directing California’s natural resource management agencies, implementing the California Environmental Quality Act and leading the state’s climate change adaptation efforts.  One of Laird’s first challenges was to address–successfully–some longstanding problems the Brown Administration inherited at the state Department of Parks and Recreation and the Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil and Gas.  Once those reforms were implemented, the Natural Resources Agency has operated smoothly and well under Laird’s direction.

The Brown Administration’s most high-profile environmental official is Mary Nichols, Chair of the California Air Resources Board.  Nichols actually served as Governor Brown’s CARB Chair twice–in his first administration in the 1970’s and `80’s, and then again during his most recent two terms as governor.  Under Nichols’ stellar leadership, CARB has emerged as the nation’s most respected and effective regulatory agency concerning both conventional air pollution control and in implementing California’s pioneering greenhouse gas emission reduction goals.  (Fortunately, Nichols has agreed to continue her leadership role at CARB for at least the first phase of Governor-elect Gavin Newsom’s incoming administration.)

Similarly, Felicia Marcus has proven to be a most effective leader of the influential State Water Resources Control Board.  The Board oversees California’s myriad water pollution control efforts, and also administers the state’s complex (and always-controversial) water rights system.  A veteran environmental lawyer and policymaker, Marcus has been especially effective in leading California’s drought response efforts during Governor Brown’s recent tenure.  The five-member Water Board appointed by Governor Brown is the most progressive in the history of the Board.  (One of incoming Governor Newsom’s most consequential, initial personnel decisions will be whether to reappoint Marcus as Chair of the Water Board.  He should.)

Ken Alex has worn two environmental hats in the Brown Administration over the past eight years: as Director of the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, he has revived a previously-moribund office, led the state’s land use planning efforts and chaired California’s Strategic Growth Council, which is responsible for coordinating the state’s multifaceted climate change programs.  Alex also has been Governor Brown’s most prominent day-to-day environmental advisor “inside the horseshoe.”  One of his most outstanding achievements has been leading Governor Brown’s efforts to forge greenhouse gas reduction agreements with scores of subnational governments around the world.

Another excellent Brown appointee has been Chuck Bonham, Director of California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife.  Once a backwater agency primarily responsible for issuing fishing and hunting licenses and setting fish and game limits, the Department in more recent years has been delegated a wide array of environmental responsibilities: administering California’s Endangered Species Act; oil spill response; CEQA consultation; and ecosystem management.  The Department of Fish and Wildlife has in the 21st century been one of the “lightning rod” agencies of California state government.  But under Bonham’s steady leadership, the Department has prospered and earned widespread respect.

Governor Brown also deserves kudos for his thoughtful appointments to numerous other state boards and commissions responsible for environmental policymaking.  His appointees to the California Public Utilities Commission have dramatically improved the policies and culture of that previously-troubled agency.  Brown’s appointees to the California Energy Commission and California Coastal Commission have similarly made those bodies more effective and respected.  And Governor Brown’s appointments to the bistate Tahoe Regional Planning Agency include Clem Shute and Bill Yeates, two of California’s most well-respected and thoughtful environmental lawyers.

Ultimately, however, it all comes back to Governor Jerry Brown.  And Governor Brown’s environmental accomplishments go well beyond making a stellar batch of executive appointments.  Over the past eight years, Brown has demonstrated a commanding and prescient vision when it comes to energy policy, water issues and–most importantly–climate change policy.  That vision has been especially critical over the last two years of Brown’s governorship, when he’s emerged as a state bulwark against the misguided and unprincipled environmental policies emanating from Washington, D.C.  Finally, Governor Brown’s environmental leadership extends to serving as California environmental educator-in-chief: he’s been willing to speak directly and clearly to 40 million Californians about climate change, renewable energy, finite state water supplies and wildfire response.  And he’s done so most effectively over the past eight years.

To be sure, Governor Brown’s environmental record is not perfect: for example, he’s received criticism from environmental groups for his policies regarding oil drilling and fracking.  In recent months, Brown has seemed too willing to bend environmental rules to direct more water to California’s agribusiness interests.  And he leaves office without having been able to forge strong public support behind one of his legacy projects, bringing a high speed rail system to California.

But it would be a mistake to let the perfect be the enemy of the good when it comes to Governor Brown’s environmental legacy.  There’s little doubt that history will view Brown as the most visionary and effective environmental governor in state history.  And that, to this observer, is a most accurate assessment.

As Joni Mitchell aptly observed, you don’t know what you’ve got `til it’s gone.  As he departs the Governor’s Office, let’s take a moment to reflect on and celebrate Jerry Brown’s environmental record.

Here’s offering a tip of the cap, Governor Brown.  When it comes to California’s environment, you will be most sorely missed.

 

October 30, 2018

Supreme Court Stays Upcoming Juliana Trial

By Richard M. Frank

[Cross-posted from Legal Planet]

The presently constituted U.S. Supreme Court doesn’t seem to care for climate change litigation or regulation.

On Oct. 19, the Supreme Court took the extraordinary step of freezing pending discovery and the scheduled October 29th trial date in the closely-watched Juliana v. United States litigation.  In a brief order, Chief Justice Roberts stayed all district court proceedings in the Juliana case and ordered the plaintiffs to file a response by Oct. 24 to the Trump administration’s just-filed petition to the Supreme Court seeking to dismiss the case.

Chief Justice Roberts

I’ve previously written about the Juliana case in 2015 when the litigation was first filed in U.S. District Court in Oregon and more recently here and here.  Briefly, in 2015, 21 children from around the United States–-acting under the auspices of the non-profit organization Our Children’s Trust–-filed suit against the United States in U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon. They contend that the federal government has violated the children’s legal rights by failing to take far more dramatic steps to reduce the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions and address urgent climate change concerns.

After U.S. District Court Judge Anne Aiken denied the federal government’s motion to dismiss and scheduled the Juliana case for trial later this month, the Trump Administration’s Justice Department mounted repeated efforts in the appellate courts to stay or dismiss the district court proceedings.  The Ninth Circuit rejected those attempts in separate opinions issued in May and July of this year.  The federal government appealed the Ninth Circuit’s July 2018 decision to the Supreme Court, but in a brief July 30th order Justice Anthony Kennedy rejected the government’s appeal as premature while noting that the breadth of the Juliana plaintiffs’ constitutional and public trust-based claims were “striking.”  In his capacity as the Supreme Court justice serving as “Circuit Justice” for the Ninth Circuit, Justice Kennedy in his order urged Judge Aiken to “take those concerns into account in assessing the burdens of discovery and trial…”  (Notably, Kennedy’s July 30 order in the Juliana case was his last official act as a U.S. Supreme Court justice before retiring the next day.)

Justice Kennedy is now gone, replaced by Brett Kavanaugh, who can be expected to be relatively less sympathetic to “impact” climate change litigation exemplified by the Juliana case.  But today’s remarkable order in the Juliana case is the product of a far less publicized transition at the Supreme Court: Chief Justice Roberts replaced Justice Kennedy as the Circuit Justice assigned to the Ninth Circuit with…himself.  (In recent years, statistics show that the Ninth Circuit is the most frequently-reversed federal circuit court in the nation; this trend may well account for Roberts’ particular interest in the Ninth Circuit’s decision-making.) That’s why Roberts’ name was on today’s order staying proceedings in the Juliana case pending consideration by all nine justices of the Trump Administration’s petition to stay or dismiss the case.

And with the conservatives justices now commanding a solid five-member majority on the Court, I’m not optimistic that the Juliana plaintiffs will ever see the trial of their claims come to pass.

Of course, this is not the first time the U.S. Supreme Court has taken extraordinary and previously-unprecedented steps to sidetrack efforts to address climate change concerns.  In February 2016, the Supreme Court by a 5-4 vote ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to halt enforcement of the Clean Power Plan promulgated by the Obama Administration in late 2015–the first time the Court had ever stayed a federal regulation before a decision by the lower federal courts.

So it would appear that these days the U.S. Supreme Court isn’t hospitable to either innovative climate change litigation or major climate change regulatory initiatives by the Executive Branch.  That leaves Congress.

Yikes.

September 10, 2018

California court finds public trust doctrine applies to state groundwater resources

[Cross-posted from Legal Planet]

The California Court of Appeal for the Third Appellate District has issued an important decision declaring that California’s powerful public trust doctrine applies to at least some of the state’s overtaxed groundwater resources.  The court’s opinion also rejects the argument that California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) displaces the public trust doctrine’s applicability to groundwater resources.

The Court of Appeal’s opinion in Environmental Law Foundation v. State Water Resources Control Board decides two key issues of first impression for California water law: first, whether the public trust doctrine applies to California’s groundwater resources; and, second, if it does, if application of that doctrine has been displaced and superseded by the California Legislature’s 2014 enactment of SGMA.  A unanimous appellate panel answered the first question in the affirmative, the second in the negative.

The facts of the Environmental Law Foundation are straightforward and undisputed: the Scott River is a tributary of the Klamath River and itself a navigable waterway located in the northwestern corner of California.  The Scott River has historically been used by the public for recreational navigation and serves as essential habitat for migrating salmon listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Critically, there are groundwater aquifers adjacent to the Scott River in Siskiyou County that are hydrologically connected to the surface flows of the Scott River.  Local farmers and ranchers in recent years have drilled numerous groundwater wells and pumped ever-increasing amounts of groundwater from those aquifers.  As a direct result, the surface flows of the Scott River have been reduced, at times dramatically.  Indeed, in the summer and early fall months, the Scott River has in some years been completely dewatered due to the nearby groundwater pumping.  The adverse effects on both the Scott River’s salmon fishery and recreational use of the river have been devastating.

Environmental groups and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, relying on California’s venerable public trust doctrine, initially responded to this environmental crisis by petitioning Siskiyou County and the State Water Resources Control Board to take administrative action to limit groundwater pumping in the Scott River watershed.  Both the Board and the County declined to do so.

Plaintiffs responded by filing suit, arguing that groundwater resources that are interconnected with the surface water flows of the Scott River are subject to and protected by the state’s public trust doctrine.  Siskiyou County disputed that claim, arguing that the public trust doctrine is wholly inapplicable to groundwater and that the country has no duty to limit groundwater pumping, even in the face of the resulting environmental damage to the Scott River ecosystem. (The Board, by contrast, eventually reconsidered its position, ultimately adopting plaintiffs’ view that groundwater resources interconnected with surface water flows are indeed subject to the public trust doctrine.)

The trial court concluded that the public trust doctrine does apply to the groundwater resources of the Scott River region.  While the litigation was pending there, however, the California Legislature enacted SGMA, which for the first time creates a statewide system of groundwater management in California, administered at the regional level.  Siskiyou County seized upon that legislation to argue that even if the public trust doctrine would otherwise apply to the County’s groundwater resources, the doctrine was automatically displaced and made inapplicable to groundwater as a result of SGMA’s allegedly “comprehensive” statutory scheme.  The trial court rejected this backstop argument as well, and the County appealed.

The Court of Appeal’s decision today resoundingly affirms the trial court on both issues.  On the threshold public trust claim, the justices rely heavily on the California Supreme Court’s landmark public trust decision, National Audubon Society v. Superior Court.  In National Audubon, the Supreme Court held that the public trust doctrine, a foundational principle of California natural resources law, fully applies to the state’s complex water rights system.  Specifically, National Audubon found that the City of Los Angeles’ diversion of water from the non-navigable, freshwater streams flowing into Mono Lake, which were reducing the lake level and causing environmental damage to the lake ecosystem, could be limited by state water regulators under the public trust doctrine.

The court in the Environmental Law Foundation concluded that the rationale and holding of National Audubon are fully applicable to the facts of the Scott River case.  Rejecting the County’s argument that extractions of groundwater should be treated differently from the diversions of surface water that were found in National Audubon to be causing environmental damage to Mono Lake, the Court of Appeal declares:

“The County’s squabble over the distinction between diversion and extraction is…irrelevant.  The analysis begins and ends with whether the challenged activity harms a navigable waterway and thereby violates the public trust.”

Accordingly, the Environmental Law Foundation court concludes that the public trust doctrine fully applies to extractions of groundwater that adversely affect navigable waterways such as the Scott River.

Turning to the County’s SGMA-based defense, the Court of Appeal had little difficulty concluding that by enacting that statute the Legislature did not intend to occupy the entire field of groundwater management and thereby abolish the public trust doctrine’s application to the groundwater resources at issue.  (The County had argued that SGMA’s enactment not only relieves the County of any public trust-related duties, but also precludes the State Water Resources Control Board from acting to protect public trust resources from environmental damage resulting from excessive groundwater extractions.)  The Court of Appeal concludes:

“[W]e can evince no legislative intent to eviscerate the public trust in navigable waters in the text or scope of SGMA…We conclude that the enactment of SGMA does not, as the County maintains, occupy the field, replace or fulfill public trust duties, or scuttle decades of decisions upholding, defending, and expanding the public trust doctrine.”

Environmental Law Foundation v. State Water Resources Control Board represents an important judicial ruling concerning the public trust doctrine’s application to California’s water resources–perhaps the most important since the California Supreme Court decided the iconic National Audubon decision 35 years ago.  Additionally, Environmental Law Foundation is the first California appellate decision expressly applying the public trust doctrine to (at least some of) the state’s groundwater resources.  It’s also the first appellate decision interpreting SGMA, although that decision limits the application of the statute and harmonizes it with longstanding California public trust doctrine.

Perhaps most importantly, the Environmental Law Foundation opinion represents yet another ringing judicial affirmation of the public trust doctrine’s continuing, vital and foundational role in California natural resources law and policy.  The California judiciary has in recent years consistently given a robust interpretation to and application of the public trust doctrine.  Environmental Law Foundation is but the latest manifestation of that most welcome and trend.

(Full disclosure notice: the author of this post serves as counsel of record for the prevailing plaintiffs in the Environmental Law Foundation v. State Water Resources Control Board case.)

May 7, 2018

From the Bookshelves: From Extraction to Emancipation: Development Reimagined by Raquel Aldana and Steven W. Bender

by Kevin R. Johnson

 

[Cross-posted from ImmigrationProf Blog]

 

From Extraction to Emancipation: Development Reimagined by Raquel Aldana and Steven W. Bender


Growing out of a site visit to Guatemala in the summer of 2015 and a follow-up conference, Raquel Aldana and Steven Bender, editors, have produced an edited volume that considers Guatemala as a case study to examine broad global themes arising from development practices in emerging economies around the world, including the final theme of migration and development.  The book includes chapters by fourteen scholars from the North and South, including Raquel Aldana, Steven Bender, Karrigan Börk, Julie Davies, Patrícia Ferreira, Lauren Gilbert, Christian Gonzalez, Beto Juarez, Mario Mancilla, Marcia Narine Weldon,  Blake Nordahl,  Mario Peña Chacon, Rachael Salcido and Maria Antonia Tigre. 

 

A significant economic development strategy of emerging economies has involved the promotion of direct foreign investment and trade.  While these practices have promoted steady economic growth, the book offers important lessons to investors and policy makers on strategies to improve distributional justice and respect for the rule of law. A large focus of the book is on enhancing corporate social responsibility, recognizing the unwillingness or inability of failed democracies to regulate industry’s potential ill effects on the environment and people, and in particular indigenous peoples who comprise a significant part of Guatemala’s population and are disproportionately poor. The book also examines such global themes as climate change, labor regimes in the context of trade, and forced migration (mostly from indigenous communities), all of which have transborder implications and across-border commonalities.

 

Part V of the book looks at the phenomena of migration and development. The recent surge of Central American unaccompanied minors and children fleeing with their mothers to the United States made it imperative to confront the human face of migrants whose fates are rooted in the dire reality that the countries from which they flee cannot or will not protect them. Largely, these migrants are escaping violence perpetuated by private actors, at times by gang members or even their own parents or spouses. Their stories of flight cannot be disengaged from the broader context in which the violence occurs. Theirs is also the story of failed nations, characterized by ineptitude, weakness and, even worse, indifference or at times even complicity. This story of failed nations applies beyond the reign of private “rogues” whom everyone agrees are bad actors (gangs, drug traffickers, violent criminals). The other side of the coin is a more nuanced story about the failing role of some of these Central American nations in regulating the acts of corporations, whether owned by the oligarchy or operated by transnational actors.

 

Blake Nordahl’s chapter, for example, narrates Evelia’s story. Evelia, like many other Central American asylum seekers, won her case based on a compelling story of domestic violence. Nordahl’s trip to  Guatemala to study Evelia’s prior life in rural Guatemala, however, revealed to him and to readers a more complex entangled story of privatized violence that includes the historical and modern exploitation of people at the hands of Guatemala’s sugar industry. This carefully documented chapter makes a compelling case to move our own asylum and refugee laws beyond simple stories of  individualized violence and to recognize the so-called “economic refugees” from nations like Guatemala as victims of a structural persecution that also involves collusion between the state and corporations.

 

Lauren Gilbert’s chapter connects Guatemala’s story of migration and violence to both the past and the present— the civil war years to now—and to the licit and illicit actors who exploit them. Her concluding chapter examines the role of gendered violence directed at women in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras both during the political upheavals of the 1980s and 1990s and over the last decade, examining how the failure then to confront gender violence as a form of state-sponsored terrorism led to its role today in contributing to the climate of fear and instability that plagues the region. The gendered violence that propels migration today from the Northern Triangle is connected to this dark yet largely untold history. Today, the levels of violence in these countries match or surpass those during wartime. While today, Northern Triangle states largely blame private actors (e.g., gangs) for the resurgence of violence directed at women, Gilbert’s chapter shows that this new terror cannot be disentangled from these nations’ dark past with gendered state-sponsored violence.

 

In the end, both Nordahl and Gilbert look to international norms as part of the solution. Nordahl acknowledges that permanent solutions to Guatemala’s structural violence are largely a Guatemala project. However, he also documents that for the past twenty years Guatemala’s feeble attempts at land reforms and poverty alleviation through multiple policies have been largely inadequate. Thus, at least for now, Nordahl makes a compelling case that more expansive notions of persecution must be adopted as part of refugee law to recognize economic exploitation as persecution. For her part, Gilbert sees hope in international law’s evolution in recognizing gendered violence, a significant shift from when she worked as a UN Truth Commission lawyer in El Salvador more than twenty-five years ago. This new visibility and naming of gendered violence is an important first step to counter practices, including in the United States, of turning our backs on persecuted women and girls.

 

Download Introductory chapter of book


April 30, 2018

Changing the politics of housing in California

by Christopher S. Elmendorf, Richard Frank and Darien Shanske

[Cross-posted from the San Francisco Chronicle]

The recent defeat of Senate Bill 827, state Sen. Scott Wiener’s bill allowing 5-story buildings near transit hubs, was an enormous setback for California’s efforts to make housing more affordable while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Our state is now in a serious bind.

The only way to make California housing widely affordable is to build a lot more of it. We could do this with Texas-style suburban sprawl — Houston has boomed while remaining affordable — but that would sacrifice the environment. The alternative is to add residential density to existing neighborhoods, near job centers and mass transit.

California picked density over sprawl a decade ago, when it enacted SB375, a commendable law that requires local governments to plan for energy-efficient, transit-oriented development. Yet most city and county planners report that this planning mandate has had “little to no impact on actions by their city.”

The defeat of Wiener’s bill and the so far meager impact of SB375 speak to a deeper truth: California is not going to achieve large-scale, high-density development near transit unless it can change the local politics of housing.

In theory, the state might induce pro-housing political realignments with taxes and subsidies — for example, reallocating property tax revenue to cities that allow dense housing near transit and starving those that don’t. But the quick demise of SB827 suggests that serious penalties are not yet enactable, and subsidies would have to compete with many other General Fund priorities.

We think California can bolster pro-housing forces at the local level without bringing down the hammer or breaking the bank. Consider these alternatives:

1. Leverage “cap and trade” to make the climate consequences of density more transparent — and more tangible. The linchpin of California’s climate change regime is the state’s cap-and-trade program, which puts a statewide ceiling on greenhouse gas emissions from industrial sources and requires emitters to buy allowances for their releases. California could strengthen pro-housing forces in city politics by folding local governments into the cap-and-trade program.

The state would issue a formula estimating the per-dwelling climate impact of new developments, taking account of proximity to transit, size, materials and parking. When a local government permits new housing that’s more climate-efficient than the typical new unit statewide, it would be rewarded with credits to sell in the cap-and-trade market.

This would give pro-housing “YIMBY” activists a green cudgel to wield in local fights over development. Using the state’s formula, proponents could quantify the environmental benefits of each project near transit. Meanwhile, budget-minded city officials would have a fiscal incentive to upzone land near transit. The more transit-friendly development the city permits, the more allowances it would earn to sell in the greenhouse-gas market.

2. Reframe local debates with state reporting of “housing potential” along transit lines. Guardians of the status quo point out that San Francisco has increased its housing production in recent years. But the picture would look quite different if we compared current production to the city’s potential for transit-friendly housing, rather than to the city’s very modest output over the past few decades.

3. Let cities recapture the value they can create by upzoning and streamlined permitting. Opponents of Wiener’s bill called it a giveaway to developers. They had a point. Rezoning a lot from single-family use to five-story apartments increases its value tremendously. Why should the landowner keep all that profit? When local governments control rezoning, they can demand ancillary benefits such as affordable-housing units, infrastructure investments, and more. All this is standard fare — and not just for major rezonings, but for individual projects under the highly discretionary permitting rules that prevail at the local level today.

Yet project-by-project bargaining has major downsides. The uncertainties and delays, and the inefficient medium of exchange (in-kind benefits rather than money), contribute to the result we see all around us: an inadequate supply of new housing. Local officials surely understand this, but right now they have no way to profit from clear, nondiscretionary rules for development.

To encourage development on lands near transit, California should allow cities to share directly in the property value created by upzoning and permitting reforms. Cities could be authorized to impose “special assessments” for upzoning or permit-streamlining on lands within a half-mile of transit — recouping, say, 50 percent to 75 percent of the value added. The state law authorizing such value-recapture assessments would probably need to be approved by referendum vote. But once it is enacted, cities would have a fiscal incentive to supplant project-specific haggling with transparent, value-enhancing and development-enabling rules.

Our state’s housing-affordability crisis was decades in the making, and these solutions won’t work miracles overnight. But if state-mandated upzoning is off the table, and state-mandated planning is ineffectual, we had better start thinking about ways the state might intervene at the root, targeting the local politics of housing.