The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has awarded its 2016 Clean Air Excellence Award for Regulatory and Policy Innovations to Morrison & Foerster’s client, the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District. This is EPA’s highest national award to honor a project for its impact, innovation and replicability in improving the nation’s air quality. The EPA presented the award at a ceremony in Washington D.C. on June 28, 2016.
The EPA recognized the District for its historic achievement in American environmental law to control air pollution from the dried Owens Lake bed in California, the largest source of particulate air pollution in the United States. Made famous by the movie Chinatown, the lake bed was emptied by the diversion of the Owens River through the Los Angeles Aqueduct, creating the state's first major "water war" and forever linking the fortunes, communities, and environments of the two regions.
Morrison & Foerster was instrumental in the project, representing the District for more than 16 years in federal and state court, appeals before the California Air Resources Board, and in preparing its state implementation plans. In 2015, the firm obtained a stipulated judgment requiring the installation and operation of the most expansive air pollution control project in the history of the United States. The reduction in air pollution is unprecedented, removing over 150,000,000 million pounds of harmful pollutants each year to transform some of the nation's most polluted air into some of its cleanest.
“These projects reflect the creativity and commitment of public and private sector organizations to make a difference and drive us toward a cleaner, healthier future,” said Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation.
The District's achievement also marks a historic moment to use the environmental laws to heal more than a century's worth of damage from the diversion of the Owens River. The dramatic scope of the project is described in Vogue Magazine in cooperation with the National Geographic: http://www.vogue.com/projects/13353964/california-drought-owens-lake/.
Morrison & Foerster partner Peter Hsiao leads a team that represents Great Basin including San Francisco of counsel Robin Stafford; San Francisco associate Megan Jennings; and Los Angeles associates Virginia Choi, Kelsey Stricker, and William Herbert; with the assistance of Holly Hickish.