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Martin’s Beach, a privately owned, rugged, photogenic strip of sand south of Half Moon Bay on California’s Pacific coast, has become a flashpoint for a changing state. When billionaire Vinod Khosla—new owner of the beach and abutting property—closed Martin’s Beach to the public in 2009, environmentalists, surfers, and local government joined forces to restore public access. Shrinking coastline due to sea-level rise, a growing and diversifying statewide population, and widening wealth disparities cast the fight for public access to Martin’s Beach in an almost existential light: Who really enjoys the right to go to the beach, and for how much longer?
California voters and courts consistently support efforts to protect both the environment and taxpayers. These actions often spur changes in policy throughout the nation. For example, California passed comprehensive water quality legislation prior to enactment of the federal Clean Water Act. California also pioneered air quality standards before the federal government enacted its own less stringent standards.
In January 2017, the Second Circuit upheld the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Water Transfers Rule (Rule), reversing a decision by the Southern District of New York to vacate the Rule and remand the matter to the EPA.1 The decision in Catskill IV was greeted as a victory by many western states and water management districts, but was a disappointment for environmental organizations and downstream states that had intervened as plaintiffs.
Congress enacted the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) to address hazardous substances releases from industrial operations. Although the statute was meant to provide communities with a means of self-protection, CERCLA actions are often commenced by a government agency against a polluter or a group of potentially responsible parties (PRPs) without substantial input from the community threatened by the hazardous waste.