County of Butte v. Dept. of Water ResourcesAnnotate this Case
The Department of Water Resources (DWR) applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC or Commission) to extend its federal license to operate Oroville Dam and its facilities as a hydroelectric dam, the “Oroville Facilities Project.” A Settlement Agreement (SA)) by which the affected parties agreed to conditions for extending the license. “ DWR filed a programmatic (informational) Environmental Impact Report (EIR) as the lead agency in support of the application pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Plaintiffs challenged the sufficiency of the EIR, and the failure to consider the import of climate change, in the state courts and sought to enjoin the issuance of an extended license until their environmental claims were reviewed. The trial court denied the petition on grounds the environmental claims were speculative. In an earlier opinion the Court of Appeal held that the authority to review the EIR was preempted by the Federal Power Act (FPA), that the superior court lacked subject matter jurisdiction of the matter, and ordered that the case be dismissed. Plaintiffs petitioned for review in the Supreme Court, review was granted, and the matter was transferred back to the Court of Appeal with directions to reconsider the case in light of Friends of the Eel River v. North Coast Railroad Authority, 3 Cal.5th 677 (2017). The Court determined the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act (ICCTA), at issue in Eel River, was materially distinguishable from the FPA. Therefore, the Court concluded Eel River did not apply in this case. The plaintiffs could not challenge the environmental sufficiency of the program because review of that program lied with FERC and they did not seek review as required by 18 Code of Federal Regulations part 4.34(i)(6)(vii) (2003). The plaintiffs could not challenge the environmental predicate to the Certificate contained in the CEQA document because that was subject to review by FERC. The plaintiffs could not challenge the Certificate because it did not exist when this action was filed, and they could not challenge the physical changes made by the SWRCB in the Certificate until they were implemented. For these reasons the parties did not tender a federal issue over which the Court of Appeal had state CEQA jurisdiction. Accordingly, it dismissed the appeal with directions to the trial court to vacate its judgment and dismiss the action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.