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2023 Press Releases

Court Approves Settlement Between Environmental Groups and Twitchell Dam Operator to Protect Endangered Steelhead

On October 12, a federal court approved a settlement agreement that will help the endangered Southern California Steelhead make a comeback in Santa Barbara County by allowing more water to flow into the Santa Maria River.

The settlement resolves a lawsuit filed in 2019 by environmental groups alleging that the operators of Twitchell Dam violated the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) by cutting off the flow of water into important Steelhead habitat. Prior to the Dam’s construction, thousands of Steelhead migrated from the ocean to upstream spawning grounds. But without enough water, the fish become stranded in dry riverbeds, and the local population has cratered.

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Supreme Court Decision Upholds Ruling that Twitchell Dam Operators Must Comply with Federal Law to Protect Endangered Fish

The U.S. Supreme Court denied a request from the operators of Twitchell Dam to avoid protecting the endangered Southern California Steelhead in the Santa Maria River system. This is a big win for steelhead, for the watershed, and for our local communities. The decision leaves in place last year’s ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals holding that the Bureau of Reclamation and the Santa Maria Valley Water Conservation District can release water from the Dam to comply with the ESA. This ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed by Plaintiffs San Luis Obispo Coastkeeper and Los Padres ForestWatch in 2019, represented by the Environmental Defense Center, Sycamore Law, Inc., and Aqua Terra Aeris Law Group. The case alleged that the Dam’s operators are violating the Endangered Species Act by limiting the quantity and timing of flows in the Santa Maria River to levels that harm the critically-imperiled Steelhead population.

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Court Upholds Denial of ExxonMobil Plan to Truck Oil in Santa Barbara and Restart Offshore Drilling

The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California upheld Santa Barbara County’s denial of ExxonMobil’s proposal to transport oil by tanker trucks along hazardous California highways. The plan would have helped the company restart three 1980s drilling platforms off the Santa Barbara coast, shut down since the disastrous Refugio oil spill eight years ago.

ExxonMobil’s proposal would have allowed the company to truck vast quantities of oil on coastal Highway 101 and Route 166. The plan to haul millions of gallons of oil per week through Santa Barbara County would have been a step towards restarting the company’s offshore platforms and resuming operations at its Las Flores Canyon processing facility, which when operational was the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the County.

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Appeal Aims to Protect California’s Pine Mountain, Reyes Peak from Controversial Logging Project

Conservation groups filed an appeal on September 19, 2023, in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to cancel a controversial logging and vegetation clearing project atop Pine Mountain and Reyes Peak in Southern California’s Los Padres National Forest. The appeal seeks to protect a remote ridgeline important to Indigenous groups, climbers, hikers, and other outdoor enthusiasts concerned about the future of this popular forest. In 2022, a coalition of conservation organizations filed lawsuits against the Forest Service on the grounds that the logging and chaparral clearing project would violate environmental laws, harm vulnerable wildlife, and do irreparable damage to the ecology of the forest.

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Environmental Groups Win Legal Fight to Preserve Agricultural Heritage in Santa Ynez Valley

The Environmental Defense Center and Santa Barbara County Action Network today celebrated a win in Superior Court that preserves agricultural heritage in the Santa Ynez Valley. The Court’s decision stops a proposal to subdivide the 4,000-acre historic Rancho La Laguna into 13 parcels, which could allow for building of high-end residential estates. A nearby massive development by one of the same developers was listed for $21.5 million and marketed as a “plantation style manor house” with “endless manicured lawns,” an enormous swimming pool, a barn for eight horses, and other amenities.

“This was an important win in the effort to preserve the agricultural economy and spirit of the Santa Ynez Valley,” said EDC Senior Attorney Alicia Roessler. “Farming and ranching are not only part of our heritage of this area – it’s also a major part of our local economy. Approval of this project would have set a terrible precedent, paving the way for other large-scale subdivisions that would threaten critical agricultural land and biodiversity across Santa Barbara County.”

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Court Rules in Favor of Controversial Logging and Chaparral Clearing Project on Pine Mountain

On July 19, 2023, a federal judge declined to halt a controversial logging and vegetation clearing project atop Pine Mountain and Reyes Peak in the Los Padres National Forest. The ruling comes nearly two years after the project was approved despite the opposition of Indigenous groups, conservation organizations, scientists, businesses, local governments, and members of the general public who submitted a collective 16,000 comments to the Forest Service. 

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Supreme Court Denies Oil Industry Challenge to California Offshore Fracking Moratorium

The U.S. Supreme Court today refused to hear a challenge to a court-ordered prohibition on offshore fracking in federal waters off the California coast. Today’s decision leaves in place last year’s ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the federal government violated the National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act and Coastal Zone Management Act when it allowed fracking and acidizing extraction practices at all offshore oil and gas wells in leased federal waters in the Pacific Ocean.

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EDC to Honor Patagonia, Inc. with 2023 Environmental Hero Award

EDC, one of the nation’s longest-running nonprofit law firms working to protect California’s coast and the earth’s climate –  announced that its 2023 Environmental Hero award will be presented to Patagonia, Inc. EDC is delighted to honor Ventura-based Patagonia for its longstanding commitment to responsible business and action to protect nature and biodiversity, support thriving communities and fight the climate crisis. Patagonia CEO Ryan Gellert will accept the award at EDC’s annual fundraising event, Green & Blue: A Coastal Celebration, on June 11th at the Stow House in Goleta, CA. The award presentation will be followed by an interview-style conversation between Ryan and Leah Stokes, UCSB Professor of Political Science and a leading expert in energy, climate, and environmental politics.

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Environmental Defense Center and Santa Barbara County Action Network Celebrate Big Win for Farmland in Lompoc

Almost 150 acres of prime farmland near the City of Lompoc will be protected from development following a successful campaign by the Environmental Defense Center (EDC), its client the Santa Barbara County Action Network (SBCAN), and local agricultural partners. On Thursday, April 6, the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) voted 6-1 to deny the City of Lompoc’s application to expand its Sphere of Influence to include 148.3 acres of farmland adjacent to Bailey Avenue. The expansion would have been the first step towards potential massive development that would have paved over another piece of California’s shrinking farmland and undermined local agricultural production.

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Environmental Defense Center Welcomes New Executive Director

The Environmental Defense Center – one of the nation’s longest-running public interest law firms working to protect the California coast, natural resources, and the earth’s climate – announced that Alex Katz will join in March as the organization’s new Executive Director. Alex brings 25 years of experience in public service and communications to the fight for environmental protection. He is deeply committed to climate action, conservation, and justice for communities that are disproportionately harmed by the fossil fuel industry and other sources of pollution. 

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