We have just learned that the Environmental Protection Agency is preparing to give away its power to protect clean water and wetlands in San Francisco Bay and make it easier for Cargill Salt Co. to pave Redwood City salt ponds for luxury homes.

President Trump’s Acting EPA Administrator, Andrew Wheeler, is preparing to declare that Redwood City salt ponds are not “Waters of the U.S.” protected by the Clean Water Act or Rivers and Harbors Act. This action surrenders federal government jurisdiction to regulate or permit development on that site, overturns decades of legal precedent and overrules previous protections supported by Bay Area EPA officials.

In 2012, Redwood City refused to consider Cargill’s massive housing development project on the salt ponds site. The company and its developer partner, DMB Pacific Ventures then pressed federal agencies to waive their legal authority to regulate filling or developing the salt ponds. (see timeline below). Six years later, U.S. EPA Region 9 officials in San Francisco refused to grant the Cargill/DMB request, after conducting extensive research on the Redwood City ponds and reviewing legal precedents.

But Andrew Wheeler has taken control of the company’s request and could complete the federal giveaway to Cargill and DMB with the stroke of a pen this week.

Cargill should withdraw its request now, before the EPA waives federal jurisdiction over the site.

  • A Trump EPA finding of “no jurisdiction” will threaten San Francisco Bay water quality and wetlands and weaken the Clean Water Act.
  • A Trump EPA finding of “no jurisdiction” rewards a private developer’s political intervention to override environmental protection and public interest, setting a terrible precedent that others will repeat.

Colluding with the Trump Administration’s anti-environment agenda and attacking protections for San Francisco Bay will hurt Cargill and DMB’s Bay Area business – not help:

  • Cargill and DMB are alienating Redwood City and Bay Area residents, and elected officials, who would need to approve any development on the ponds.
  • Cargill and DMB are embracing and abetting the Trump Administration’s agenda to weaken the Clean Water Act and gut pollution regulations; that agenda is especially unpopular in the Bay Area and California.

If the EPA does waive federal authority to regulate these Bay salt ponds as Waters of the U.S., Cargill and DMB will still face many barriers to developing in the Bay:

  • California state laws protect water, wetlands, and the wildlife that currently use those ponds as critical habitat.
  • Redwood City zoning and land use designations prohibit development on those ponds.
  • Any development on the ponds would require significant changes in state and local laws and policies.

Hundreds of local, regional, state and federal leaders are on record over the last decade opposing development on Bay salt ponds, and California’s Governor and Legislature are on record opposing Trump Administration efforts to weaken the Clean Water Act.

U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein told a Senate hearing on this topic in 2015, “I’m very concerned about this.  What makes our whole area is the bay, and we do not want it filled in.”

At the same time, U.S. Representative Jackie Speier and 10 Members of Congress said, “Any novel, unilateral re-interpretation of the Clean Water Act must not be created in secret, without opportunity for public input, formal consultation with the EPA or Congressional approval.”

Bay Area residents and all of our region’s federal, state and local leaders must demand that Cargill withdraw its request, and that the EPA continue to uphold the Clean Water Act’s legal protections for San Francisco Bay, including Redwood City salt ponds.

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Timeline

Cargill and its developer partner DMB Associates have been pressing federal agencies for this finding of “no jurisdiction” since 2012.

  • May 7, 2012 – Cargill/DMB withdraws Saltworks project from the Redwood City after city council committee recommends denying further consideration of the development application that had been pending for 3 years and was still incomplete. Cargill announces it will submit a revised project soon.
  • May 30, 2012 – Cargill/DMB asks the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. EPA for a final jurisdictional determination (JD) for the Redwood City salt ponds site, and asserts that the property should not be subject to either the Clean Water Act or Rivers and Harbors Act. The company’s novel legal theory asserts that water in the ponds is not wet.
  • February 2015 — 11 Bay Area Members of Congress, led by U.S. Representative Jackie Speier, wrote to the Army Corps of Engineers opposing relinquishing federal jurisdiction over the Redwood City salt ponds. Their letter noted that the ponds had previously been determined to be Waters of the United States, and warned that “any novel, unilateral re-interpretation of the Clean Water Act must not be created in secret, without opportunity for public input, formal consultation with the EPA or Congressional approval.”
  • March 18, 2015 – U.S. EPA Region 9 takes over the review of the Clean Water Act JD from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a “Special Case.” Region 9 proceeds to conduct legal, scientific, and site-specific research on the Redwood City ponds and prepare a JD.
  • September 13, 2016 – DMB requests a six-month pause by Region 9 in preparing the JD.
  • January 2017 – EPA Region 9 sends completed work and recommendation to adopt a final JD to EPA HQ Office of Legal Counsel, but JD is not processed before Trump Administration starts on January 20, 2017.
  • February 22, 2017 – DMB Pacific Ventures requests an additional six-month pause in its request for a JD.
  • March 30, 2018 — Before resigning in disgrace from the Trump cabinet, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt takes away authority for Clean Water Act Special Case JDs from EPA regional offices and assigns it instead to the EPA Administrator himself.
  • December 19, 2018 — Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler is preparing this week to waive federal regulations over Cargill’s Redwood City ponds, adopting the company’s unprecedented legal theory extinguishing Clean Water Act jurisdiction over its Redwood City ponds.

Learn more about Save The Bay’s historic battle with Cargill:

Cargill’s 370-page attack on the Bay

Cargill’s 370-page attack on the Bay-Part 2

 

David Lewis

As Executive Director of Save The Bay since 1998, David Lewis has been San Francisco Bay's top advocate for more than a decade. David was born and raised in the Bay Area, and prior to joining Save The Bay, he devoted 14 years to work for nuclear arms control in Washington, D.C., including in the U.S. Senate, and also worked on election campaigns across the country. He holds a B.A. in Politics and American Studies from Princeton University and is still trying to catch up to his daughters on the ski slopes.