A federal court in California has dismissed the action for declaratory and injunctive relief filed by the City of Los Angeles (LA) challenging the legal basis of yearly fees it pays to mitigate particulate emissions as required by the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District. City of LA v. Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control Dist., No. 12-1683 (E.D. Cal. 5/2/13). The emissions in question are particulate matter (PM10) from Owens Lake, a dry lake bed about 200 miles from LA.
Beginning in 1913, LA began transferring water that would normally flow into the lake to the city via an aqueduct, and eventually portions of the lake became dry. The dry lake bed emits significant PM10, contributing to high PM10 readings nearby. California enacted legislation to allow the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District (District) to require LA to mitigate the dust emissions. A 1998 draft State Implementation Plan (SIP) calling for LA to control emissions was sent to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and LA objected to the limited mitigation measures allowed in the SIP.
LA sued, alleging that the Clean Air Act (CAA) preempted the state statute and asserting Equal Protection and other claims. The court concluded that the California statute under which the SIP was developed did not conflict with the CAA and rejected LA’s assertion that it was neither an owner nor operator of a stationary facility—Owens Lake—under the CAA. The court found that LA would be considered an operator because the city’s actions caused the conditions that result in PM10 emissions. The court determined that it should abstain from deciding LA’s Fourteenth Amendment claims because they are also raised in pending state litigation and involve “important state interests,” and because exercising its jurisdiction would disrupt state law.