October 20, 2020

Protecting Salt Ponds in the Bay Area

On behalf of our client San Francisco Baykeeper, Earthrise just won an important case in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California reversing EPA’s determination that some 1,300 acres of Cargill, Inc.’s salt ponds in Redwood City, California are not protected by the Clean Water Act.

Granting our motion for summary judgment, the Court vacated the Trump Administration’s “negative jurisdictional determination” issued in 2019, which had cleared the way for Cargill to permanently fill the salt ponds to build condos and other commercial buildings. The ponds have been used by Cargill for decades for industrial salt production, but they were created by impounding natural marshes and other tributaries of San Francisco Bay. Baykeeper and other advocates have been fighting for the restoration of the Bay’s historic marshlands as important wildlife habitat and a crucial barrier against rising sea levels caused by climate change.

EPA’s final decision—which the Court found to be contrary to law—virtually ignored the rigorous analysis and scientific conclusions of the EPA’s regional office in San Francisco, which in 2016 issued a draft jurisdictional determination finding the Cargill salt ponds were indeed “waters of the United States” protected by the Clean Water Act.

Our client had this to say about the decision: “Only Trump’s crooked EPA would ignore its own regional office to do the bidding of a corporate bad actor and declare that ponds aren’t really water,” said Sejal Choksi-Chugh, the Executive Director at San Francisco Baykeeper. “The South Bay’s salt ponds are in fact wet and very much connected to the Bay – not dry land as bizarrely claimed by the administration. This ruling is a big legal win for common sense and for San Francisco Bay. Cargill’s irresponsible development proposals will now and in the future have to comply with the Clean Water Act and protect the Bay and local residents.”

Allison LaPlante and Jamie Saul were the lead lawyers on this case. We could not have achieved this win without the hard work of our clinic students, including Audrey Leonard (Class of 2020), Kelsey Furman (3L), Hannah Clements (Class of 2020), and Harrison Beck (3L). We are joined in this victory by co-plaintiffs Save the Bay, Committee for Green Foothills, and Citizens’ Committee to Complete the Refuge, represented by Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, LLP; and the State of California, represented by the California Attorney General’s Office.

Click here to read the coalition’s joint press release. Follow the links in the sidebar to see news coverage of this important victory.