Recent amendments to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which Congress included in the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023 (FRA), aim to streamline federal environmental review by imposing time limits, clarifying the scope of review and agencies’ roles, and narrowing some key definitions. Most of the amendments simply codify regulatory definitions or agency practices already in effect, so the practical impact of the changes is likely to be limited. Nonetheless, the amendment of NEPA is noteworthy in its own right and could signal a new willingness in Congress to address a process often seen as cumbersome and prone to delay.Continue Reading NEPA Amendments Aim To Streamline Environmental Review But Largely Codify the Status Quo
On June 10, 2023, a jury in Portland, Oregon found PacifiCorp and Pacific Power (collectively, “PacifiCorp”) liable for negligence, trespass, and nuisance based on a series of four wildfires that occurred during Labor Day weekend in 2020. PacifiCorp prevailed against the plaintiffs on the claim of inverse condemnation. With respect to the tort-based claims, the jury awarded approximately $72 million in compensatory damages to 17 plaintiffs. The jury later found PacifiCorp liable for $18 million in punitive damages, or one quarter of the compensatory damages that the jury awarded to the 17 plaintiffs. The jury’s liability findings apply to a broader class of owners, whose damages will need to be individually proven in a yet-to-be defined second phase of proceedings. Post-verdict motion practice and appeals may affect the jury’s findings.Continue Reading Beyond Inverse Condemnation in Wildfire Litigation: An Oregon Jury Finds Utility Liable for Negligence, Trespass and Nuisance
It is well known that between New York’s enactment of the Marihuana Regulation & Taxation Act (commonly known as the Cannabis Law) on March 31, 2021 and the slower than anticipated adoption of regulations for adult-use cannabis retailers and implementation of the Act there have been few (and in some geographic areas of the state, no) licensed retail dispensaries opened for the sale of adult-use of cannabis and cannabis related products. As a result, there has been a proliferation of unlicensed retailers (often referred to as “sticker shops” because the sale of stickers comes with the “gift” of cannabis products) selling cannabis products and its derivatives. On May 3, 2023, however, with the conclusion of New York State’s annual budget process and the signing of the state budget bill by Governor Hochul, a series of other bills passed by the state Assembly and state Senate were signed into law by the Governor. Among those additional measures are changes to New York’s Cannabis Law which are intended to curtail, among other activities, the unlicensed sale, distribution and storage of cannabis and cannabis products throughout the state. Continue Reading New York Landlords May Get Stuck with the Bill for Unlicensed Cannabis Sticker Shops
In the City of Los Angeles, the “Homelessness and Housing Solutions Tax” (Measure ULA), commonly referred to as the “mansion tax,” went into effect on all qualifying real property transfers on April 1, 2023. Prior to Measure ULA, all real estate transfers in the City were subject to a City transfer tax of 0.45% and a County of Los Angeles transfer tax of 0.11%. Under Measure ULA, residential and commercial real property sales and transfers valued at or over $5 million, but less than $10 million, are subject to an additional tax of 4%. Sales and transfers valued at or over $10 million are subject to an additional tax of 5.5%. The Los Angeles Times noted that, based on the Multiple Listing Service, in March 2023 there were 126 homes and condominiums listed over $5 million in the City and in April, there were only two. Understandably so, in anticipation of Measure ULA, owners and developers rushed to try to close escrow prior to the April 1st effective date.Continue Reading Measure ULA May Not Measure Up
On May 19, 2023, California Governor Gavin Newsom proposed a legislative package of 10 bills reforming the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) intended to speed up construction of clean energy projects by streamlining regulations for solar, wind, and battery storage projects, transit and regional rail infrastructure projects, water storage projects, and the Delta Tunnel plan. The proposed measures were designed as mechanisms to accelerate such projects to completion in order to maximize California’s share of federal infrastructure dollars available through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and expedite the implementation of projects that meet the state’s ambitious economic, climate, and social goals.Continue Reading CEQA Reforms for Clean Energy Projects: Still Possible Despite Senate Budget Committee Rejection?
In a long-anticipated decision on the reach of the Clean Water Act (“CWA”), the Supreme Court significantly narrowed the scope of the wetlands and other waters subject to the CWA’s protections. The Court’s opinion in Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency, released May 25, 2023, limits waters of the United States (“WOTUS”) to “relatively permanent” water bodies such as streams, oceans, rivers and lakes, and to wetlands with a “continuous surface connection” to those water bodies. The Court’s holding removes a wide swath of previously-protected wetlands from the CWA’s permitting requirements, likely eliminates jurisdiction for many ephemeral and intermittent streams, and spells all but certain doom for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s recent rulemaking adopting a new definition of WOTUS for CWA purposes.Continue Reading Supreme Court Narrows Scope of Waters Protected by the Clean Water Act in Sackett v. EPA
More than 3 years ago, the State legislature adopted the Tenant Protection Act of 2019, commonly referred to as Assembly Bill (“AB”) 1482, which – among other things – generally prohibits landlords from terminating residential tenancies in the absence of “just cause.” While AB 1482 created strong tenant protections, those protections were not applicable in the City of San Diego due to the City’s own “just cause” eviction ordinance. The City ordinance, which was adopted in 2004, was considerably weaker than AB 1482, but nevertheless took precedent over the State statute. All this is about to change, however. The City is presently poised to adopt the “Residential Tenant Protections Ordinance to Prevent Displacement and Homelessness” (“SD Tenant Protection Ordinance”).
The Federal Trade Commission (the “FTC”) and Department of Justice, Antitrust Division (the “DOJ”) (together the “Agencies”) continue to carry out the Biden Administration’s stated mission to reinvigorate antitrust enforcement to “Promote Competition in the American Economy.”Continue Reading Restrictive Covenants in Real Estate: Next Antitrust Enforcement Target?
Last week, in California Restaurant Association v. City of Berkeley, the Ninth Circuit ruled the federal Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA) preempts local bans on the installation of natural gas infrastructure in new construction. Specifically, the Ninth Circuit held that EPCA’s preemption of local efforts to regulate the energy use of natural gas appliances is to be construed broadly, applying equally to regulations that affect the use of such appliances. In other words, because the City of Berkeley’s ban on natural gas pipes in new construction “render[ed] the gas appliances useless,” it had improperly infringed on the federal government’s exclusive power to regulate the use of gas appliances.Continue Reading Ninth Circuit Strikes Down Berkeley’s Ban on Natural Gas in New Construction, Dealing Blow to California’s Electrification Efforts
Last week the Office of the Attorney General demonstrated the State of California’s unwillingness to cede its enforcement of state housing laws even in the face of defiance from local governments. On April 10, in People of California v. City of Huntington Beach (OCSC, Case No. 30-2023-01312235-CU-WM-CJC), Attorney General Rob Bonta filed a Motion to Amend its Petition For Writ of Mandate and Complaint For Declaratory and Injunctive Relief (Motion to Amend), which included the proposed First Amended Petition (Amended Petition), after the City of Huntington Beach (City), again, failed to adopt its sixth cycle update to its Housing Element (6th Cycle) on April 4, 2023 – more than 16 months after the statutory deadline – in violation of the state Housing Element Law (Govt Code. § 65580 et seq.). Continue Reading California City Flouts Housing Laws, Inviting State Scrutiny