Beach Access, Legal, Plastic Pollution, Water Quality
November 25 2013

Surfrider Foundation Legal Department Highlights for 2013

by Angela Howe

The legal work at Surfrider Foundation moves at a fast pace; however, we took a few minutes to look back on the year 2013 and acknowledge some of Surfrider Foundation’s accomplishments and strategic movement in legal campaigns.  Since the organization-wide programmatic priorities for the past year were (1) Rise Above Plastics, (2) Water Quality, and (3) Beach Access, the following is a breakdown of top achievements in those areas:

Rising Above Plastics

Through our powerful grassroots Chapter network, the organization has been a leader in ushering in change on single-use plastics policy from the ground up with local bag bans, foam bans and other similar regulations.  This year, Surfrider Foundation also participated as an amicus (or “friend of the court”) party in a lawsuit by the plastics industry in an attempt to invalidate the Los Angeles County bag ban in Schmeer et al v. County of Los Angeles, which resulted in a successful ruling for the County in defending their bag ban against industry attacks in court.  Shortly after this positive appellate ruling was released, the City of Los Angeles also passed a bag ban to become the largest city in the United States to regulate single-use plastic shopping bags.  This will likely usher the way for other major cities such as New York, Chicago and San Diego to pass similar laws.  Finally, Surfrider Foundation has partnered up with UCLA Environmental Law Clinic to research and prepare a U.S. Senate Ocean Caucus briefing on federal solutions to plastic marine pollution, which is scheduled to be presented in the nation’s capital in December 2013.

Improving Water Quality

Also in the nation’s capital, Surfrider Foundation has been advocating for protection of federal BEACH Act funding which allows for states to monitor and communicate coastal water quality status to the public.  Fortunately, this funding was left in the EPA’s federal budget through a continuing resolution by Congress for 2013, but it is something we will need to advocate for strongly this upcoming year as well.  In litigation, we had a major win with our national oil dispersant lawsuit against EPA, which resulted in a settlement in May requiring the agency to investigate the harms of these toxic substances on marine life and coastal environments before allowing future use.  Also, we are making promising headway on our lawsuit against Lahaina Wastewater Treatment Facility’s injection wells, which are polluting nearshore waters in Maui.

Fighting to Protect Beach Access

Beach access litigation definitely keeps the Legal Department busy.  In addition to defending trespassing tickets at Martin’s Beach, we also filed a lawsuit in March for Coastal Act violations against the billionaire property owner, Vinod Khosla, for putting up locked gates across the only beach access road.  Additionally, there were two importantincremental victories in the Strands access issue in Dana Point, including a positive appellate court ruling in June and a rejection of the City’s petition for review to the Supreme Court in September.  In South Padre Island, Texas, the Chapter engaged in a court ruling that will keep development out of the easement established by the Texas Open Beaches Act.  This November, Surfrider Texas Chapters have issued additional briefing in the Brannan v. State of Texas case to defend the Texas Open Beaches Act.  And in Maine we have filed additional briefing to support full beach access in the appellate court appeal of Alemder v. Town of Kennebunkport case.

All in all, it’s been a successful but busy year.  And we still have some major legal battles in the works!