ELC Goes to Trial to Stop Environmentally Harmful Desalination Plant

ELC students were in trial on Friday in an effort to bring a desalination plant in Cambria, California into compliance with state law. The plant was hastily built in 2014 under an emergency permit, which was issued without any environmental review under CEQA and without regard for dozens of Coastal Act policies. Compliance with CEQA, the state’s bedrock environmental statute, is critical to ensuring the long-term protection of the environment.

ELC Goes to Trial to Stop Environmentally Harmful Desalination Plant 3
From left: ELC Supervising Attorney Alicia Thesing, Nikki Leon, Richard Griffin, and ELC Director Debbie Sivas outside of the San Luis Obispo Courthouse

Without this careful planning or environmental review, the plant’s operation has led to a number of avoidable impacts to water quality and other public resources. Moreover, this plant has never gotten a “permanent” permit from the Coastal Commission. Thus, concerned members of the public are left without a way to ensure that the ongoing operation of the project complies with Coastal Act policies and protects coastal resources.

Students Nikki Leon (JD ’16) and Richard Griffin (JD ’17) presented our arguments at trial in San Luis Obispo Superior Court on Friday, focusing on the CEQA claims and Coastal Act claims, respectively. Surrounded and energized by ELC’s clients and public grassroots advocates, Nikki and Richard had the opportunity to speak multiple times, successfully fending off objections from opposing counsel and providing strong rebuttals to opposing counsel’s claims.

Leon and Griffin have been hard at work on this case for five months, taking depositions, filing motions and trial briefs, and arguing in both a hearing on a motion and a merits hearing. “It was a great experience to completely immerse ourselves in this case and get to see it through to trial,” Mr. Griffin said. “So many clinic students (not to mention Debbie Sivas and Alicia Thesing!) have put a lot of hard work into this case from its beginning nearly two years ago, and I was glad to be a part of the team that saw the culmination of that effort.” “I can’t think of a better way to have spent my last official day of law school,” Ms. Leon added.