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Allison Smith focuses her practice in environmental and energy law. Her experience includes CEQA and land use litigation, conducting environmental due diligence, and permitting solar, wind, biomass, geothermal and gas-fired energy facilities. Allison also counsels companies on federal and state air quality and greenhouse gas regulations.

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The world continues to shift for the energy sector in California. On Monday, U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy announced the highly anticipated proposed CO2 standards for existing power plants in the U.S.  The proposed rules would affect existing power plants undertaking changes, as well as those not contemplating any modifications.  What’s more, states can meet the proposed standards through implementation of

In Trisha Lee Lotus v. Caltrans (Jan. 30, 2014), the First District Court of Appeal reversed a Humboldt County Superior Court decision, and ruled that a California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) environmental impact report (EIR) failed to adequately analyze the significance of the project’s impacts to old-growth redwood root systems in a state park.

Caltrans prepared the EIR for the realignment of a 1-mile segment of U.S. Route 101 that passes through Richardson Grove State Park, which is home to old growth California redwoods.  The project’s goal is to accommodate standard-sized trucks that have been restricted from using the road due to its size and configuration.  Petitioners-appellants, including the Environmental Protection Information Center, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Californians for Alternatives to Toxics (jointly, “Lotus”), challenged the adequacy of the EIR on several grounds, and won on appeal on one issue.Continue Reading Caltrans EIR Analysis of Impacts to Redwoods Found Inadequate

Governor Brown released a summary of his proposed 2014-2015 budget this week, including details on proposed environmental protection and natural resources spending.  The Governor’s budget provides $3.6 billion in funding for the California Environmental Protection Agency, including $3.1 billion in State funds and $54 million from the General Fund.  Proposed funding of CalEPA programs include:

  •  $850 million

The Second District Court of Appeal has issued a decision in Comunidad en Accion v. Los Angeles City Council (case no. B240554 (Sept. 20, 2013), finding that the petitioner’s failure to timely request a hearing under the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) was excusable neglect.  The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s ruling dismissing the petitioner’s suit on this basis.[1]

Comunidad en Accion challenged the City of Los Angeles’ approval of new and expanded solid waste facilities at the Bradley Landfill in Sun Valley, where the real party in interest, Waste Management, proposed building a new solid waste transfer station and expanded recycling and green waste processing facilities. Comunidad failed to comply with Public Resources Code section 21167.4 by filing a request for a hearing within 90 days of filing the lawsuit, however, and Waste Management filed a motion to dismiss on this basis shortly after the 90-day deadline ran. 

The trial court granted the motion to dismiss Comunidad’s CEQA claims and denied its request for relief under Code of Civil Procedure section 473, which permits relief from dismissal due to mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect.  Comunidad’s attorney averred that he had inadvertently omitted the 90-day hearing request from his personal calendaring system and that this mistake was compounded when he was out of state for two weeks prior to the deadline due to family illness.  The trial court distinguished case precedent that found a calendaring error warranted discretionary relief under section 473, concluding that calendar shortcomings in the age of electronic litigation calendars, was not excusable neglect. 

Upon review, the Court of Appeal reversed, finding that the trial court abused its discretion in denying Comunidad relief.

[1] In addition to the CEQA claims, Comunidad challenged the siting of the waste facilities under state antidiscrimination laws.  On this issue, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s summary judgment in favor of the City.Continue Reading Second District Court of Appeal finds Failure to Request a CEQA Hearing within 90 Days is Excusable Neglect

This week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its decision in Rocky Mountain Farmers Union v. Corey, ruling on the constitutionality of California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS).  The Court of Appeals reversed the District Court’s holdings in large part, in particular finding that the LCFS does not on its face violate the

Putting uncertainty to rest for a variety of different stakeholders in California, Southern California Edison (SCE) announced today that the utility will permanently retire the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS).  In addition to SCE’s press release, Governor Jerry Brown, California Public Utilities Commission President Michael Peevey, and California Energy Commission Chairman Robert Weisenmiller have issued statements this

Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) and Center for Biological Diversity (Center) filed suit on May 29, 2013 to challenge the constitutionality of a provision of California law that requires appeal directly to the California Supreme Court of any decision on a thermal power plant license by the California Energy Commission.  The Supreme Court has discretion whether to take such appeals.  The lawsuit, filed May 29, 2013 in Alameda Superior Court, alleges that California Public Resources Code 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.  The complaint also alleges that section 25531(b) restricts a court’s ability to review the facts of such challenges, in violation of the separation of powers. 

Section 25531 is part of the Warren-Alquist Act, which governs the Energy Commission and grants the Commission exclusive jurisdiction over the permitting of all thermal power plants in California that are 50 MW or larger.  For other electrical generating facilities, such as wind and solar farms and thermal power plants of less than 50 MW, legal challenges to agency decisions are filed in state superior court and go through the normal appeals process.

Plaintiffs have named the State Controller’s Office, as well as the Energy Commission, as defendants.  The complaint requests declaratory relief, that Section 25531(a) violates article VI, section 10 and Section 25531(b) violates the separation of powers doctrine.  Plaintiffs also seek injunctive relief, to enjoin the state from expenditure of funds to implement these provisions of the Warren-Alquist Act.Continue Reading New Lawsuit Challenges the California Supreme Court’s Original Jurisdiction over Power Plant Siting Cases

The South Coast Air Quality Management District has scheduled its fifth working group meeting on the District’s proposed Rule 1304.1 for May 8, 2013.  The proposed Rule would impose substantial new fees for the replacement or repower of electrical generating facilities within the District, by charging developers who obtain air emissions offsets from the District’s