Exclusive Jurisdiction by the California Supreme Court Over Judicial Review of Thermal Power Plant Licenses Held Unconstitutional

The Alameda Superior Court recently declared portions of the Warren-Alquist Act unconstitutional in Communities for a Better Environment v. Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission (CBE v. Energy Commission).  The Court found that California Public Resources Code section 25531(a) and a portion of section 25531(b) ― provisions of the Warren-Alquist Act concerning judicial review ― void and enforceable.  The Warren-Alquist Act governs the Energy Commission and grants the Commission exclusive jurisdiction over the permitting of all thermal power plants in California that are 50 megawatts (MW) or larger.

Plaintiffs Communities for a Better Environment and Center for Biological Diversity originally filed their complaint in 2013, alleging that section 25531(a) violates article VI, section 10 of the California Constitution by restricting the judicial forums available to citizens to challenge Energy Commission decisions to the California Supreme Court.  Plaintiffs also challenged the constitutionality of section 25531(b), arguing that it restricts a court’s ability to review the facts of such challenges, in violation of the separation of powers.  Our past blog posts, available here and here, detail the allegations in the underlying complaint, as well as the Court of Appeal decision declaring plaintiffs’ allegations ripe for review, reversing and remanding the case back to the Superior Court.

The decision hinges on the unique interplay between the authority of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and the Energy Commission, and provisions of the California Constitution that previously allowed for exclusive jurisdiction of review of CPUC decisions by the California Supreme Court.  Before energy deregulation in 2001, thermal power plant developers had to obtain a certificate of public convenience and necessity from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) as well as an Energy Commission license for a thermal power plant 50 MW or greater, with judicial review of both the license and certificate proceeding directly to the California Supreme Court.  Article XII of the California Constitution gives the Legislature authority to establish the manner and scope of judicial review of CPUC decisions, unlimited by other provisions of the Constitution, including Article VI, section 10, which gives superior courts original jurisdiction in all cases except those specifically reserved to the California Court of Appeal or California Supreme Court in section 10.

With energy deregulation in California, certificates of public convenience and necessity were no longer required for privately-developed power plants, and the Warren-Alquist Act was revised accordingly to remove the link between Energy Commission licenses and CPUC certificates.  The provisions granting the California Supreme Court exclusive judicial review of Energy Commission licenses remained the same, however.  By this time, the Legislature had also shifted review of CPUC decisions from the California Supreme Court to the California Court of Appeal.  The Alameda Superior Court concluded here that the only nexus allowing for direct challenge of Energy Commission decisions to the California Supreme Court was this defunct link to California Supreme Court jurisdiction over CPUC decisions.  Thus, California Supreme Court precedent dating to 1985 that had previously upheld California Public Resources Code section 25531(a) against a similar constitutional challenge was outdated, and overturned here.

The Supreme Court has routinely declined to hear appeals of Energy Commission decisions on power plants.  This decision by the Alameda Superior Court means that Public Resources Code section 25903 now governs judicial challenges to power plant approvals from the Energy Commission and sets judicial review in superior court.

Oil & Gas Related Bills Introduced in the 2019-2020 Legislative Session

The 2019-2020 California Legislative Session has officially reached its first deadline. February 22, 2019 marked the deadline by which bills could be introduced for the first half of the Session. Lawmakers will begin Spring Recess April 12 and reconvene April 22. The last day for bills to be passed out of the house of origin is May 31, 2019.

Below is a list of some of the key bills Stoel Rives’ Oil & Gas Team will be monitoring throughout the Legislative Session.

AB 255 (Limòn, D) and SB 834 (Jackson, D): State lands: leasing: oil and gas.

Status: Introduced January 23, 2019; referred to Committee on Natural Resources February 7, 2019.

The Lempert-Keene-Seastrand Oil Spill Prevention and Response Act authorizes the administrator for oil spill response to offer grants to a local government with jurisdiction over or directly adjacent to waters of the state to provide oil spill response equipment to be deployed by a certified local spill response manager, as provided. This bill would provide that Native American tribes and other public entities are also eligible to receive those grants.

AB 353 (Muratsuchi, D): Oil and gas: Definitions: additive.

Status: Introduced February 4, 2019; awaiting referral.

Under current law, the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources in the Department of Conservation regulates the drilling, operation, maintenance, and abandonment of oil and gas wells in the state. Current law defines various terms for those purposes, including “additive.” This bill would make a non-substantive change to that definition. Continue Reading

2018 IGP Amendments – Everything You Need to Know

On November 6, 2018, the State Water Resources Control Board adopted an amendment to the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System General Permit for Storm Water Discharges Associated with Industrial Activities (General Permit). The General Permit Amendment addresses the implementation of previously-adopted Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs), the new federal Sufficiently Sensitive Methods Rule, and statewide Compliance Options. These changes take effect on July 1, 2020. Continue Reading

Sixth Circuit Limits Scope of CWA, Breaking with Fourth and Ninth Circuits

On September 24, 2018, in two separate decisions, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals found that coal ash wastewater that enters groundwater and eventually travels to navigable waters through the groundwater is not regulated under the Clean Water Act (“CWA,” or the “Act”).  In these decisions, the Sixth Circuit expressly disagrees with recent holdings from the Fourth and Ninth Circuits, paving the way for potential Supreme Court review.

The CWA requires a permit for discharge of pollutants into navigable waters.  33 U.S.C. §§ 1251 et seq.  At issue in both Sixth Circuit cases is whether the CWA extends to regulate indirect discharge into a navigable water, through groundwater.  Rejecting the “hydrological connection” theory, the Sixth Circuit found that groundwater is not subject to regulation under the CWA because it is not a point source.  Therefore, the discharge of pollutants into groundwater, and subsequent travel to a navigable water, also does not fall within the scope of the CWA.

Continue Reading

Court Finds that Privately-Owned Industrial Stormwater Discharges Require Clean Water Act Permits

Environmental groups have obtained a favorable Clean Water Act (“CWA”) ruling from the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, which can be viewed as an expansion of jurisdiction for stormwater permitting for industrial sources.  In the Order, issued on August 9, 2018, Judge Stephen V. Wilson held that if the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) determines that stormwater discharges “cause or contribute to violations of water quality standards,” then regulators must limit such stormwater discharges under the mandates of the CWA.  EPA is required to regulate stormwater discharges through the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES”) permitting scheme, and does not have discretion to address the pollution through other methods.

Continue Reading

DOGGR Issues Revised Regulations for UIC and Idle Wells

 On July 27, 2018 the California Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (“DOGGR”) issued two notices of proposed rulemaking action applicable to oil and gas operations in the state.  DOGGR released updated underground injection control (“UIC”) regulations, as well as proposed regulations for idle well testing and management.

UIC Regulations

DOGGR supervises the drilling, operation, maintenance, and plugging and abandonment of onshore and offshore oil, gas, and geothermal wells.  Wells that inject fluid for the purposes of enhancing oil or gas recovery, re-pressuring oil or gas reservoirs, or disposing of wastewater and other byproducts associated with oil and gas production – referred to as injection wells or UIC wells – fall within DOGGR’s regulatory scope.

Continue Reading

The EPA Takes On Trichloroethylene Vapor Intrusion

Stoel Rives Summer Associate Carly Moran co-authored this post.

Ground Zero: The Silicon Valley

In an attempt to cleanup airborne toxins contaminating a large area of Mountain View, California’s North Bayshore neighborhood, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) has presented plans to update their existing cleanup strategy.  Specifically, the EPA plans to revamp their cleanup strategy for the Teledyne/Spectra Physics Superfund site, which extends  into the western side of North Bayshore. Continue Reading

OSPR Extends Rulemaking Comment Period for Inland Facilities

On May 22, 2018, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Office of Spill Prevention and Response (“OSPR”), issued a 15-Day Notice of Modifications to Text of Proposed Regulations and Addition of Documents Relied Upon (“Notice”).  The Notice extends the comment period for the following proposed rulemakings, in response to comments received during the initial 45-day comment period:

  • General Definitions & Abbreviations (Cal. Code Regs. tit. 14, § 790);
  • Certificates of Financial Responsibility (§§ 791 – 798)
  • Oil Spill Contingency Plans for Inland Facilities (§ 817.04)
  • Ratings for Oil Spill Response Organizations (§§819 – 819.07)
  • Drills and Exercises for Inland Facilities (§ 820.02)

Continue Reading

A Prop. 65 Win for Winemakers: No Separate Warning Required for Inorganic Arsenic

This post was written by Melissa Jones and Tiffanie de la Riva for Stoel Rives’ Alcoholic Beverages Law blog.

The California Court of Appeal recently handed a victory to winemakers, ruling that a specific Proposition 65 (“Prop. 65”) warning is not required regarding the presence of inorganic arsenic.  The lawsuit, Charles et al. v. Sutter Home Winery et al., was originally filed in 2015 and alleged that wines made by over 15 named defendants exposed consumers to inorganic arsenic without the correct Prop. 65 warning.

The entire post can be found here.

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA ENVIRONMENTAL UPDATE – NEW AIR QUALITY AND OIL & GAS REGULATORY DEVELOPMENTS

Our latest post provides updates on environmental and legal developments in Los Angeles and adjacent counties, as well as the Southern San Joaquin Valley.  We welcome your comments and contributions.

Legislation and Ordinances  

Implementation of AB 617, CARB’s Community Air Protection Program. AB 617 requires the California Air Resources Board (CARB) by October 1, 2018 to identify the highest priority communities affected by a high cumulative air emissions exposure burden (“impacted communities”); to establish the criteria for air monitoring and local emissions reduction programs; and to develop a statewide strategy for reducing emissions, to be updated every 5 years.  Additional timeline for required actions:

Continue Reading

LexBlog