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Waste Plant Foes to Argue for Ban on Construction

November 07, 1985|MIKE WARD | Times Staff Writer

Opponents of waste-to-energy plants proposed for the San Gabriel Valley said their next assault on the projects will be at a South Coast Air Quality Management District hearing Friday at district headquarters in El Monte.

Dr. Stanley Rokaw, chairman of the environmental health committee of the Los Angeles County Medical Assn., will discuss the association's request for a moratorium on permits for waste-to-energy plants because of uncertainty about the health effects from air emissions. And West Covina Mayor Forest Tennant, a medical doctor, said he will ask the district to keep waste-to-energy plants out of the San Gabriel Valley because of the area's already badly polluted air.

3,000 Tons a Day

Rokaw and Tennant will join more than a dozen federal, state and local officials in testifying before the district's Intergovernmental Affairs Committee at a meeting beginning at 9:30 a.m.

Faye Myers Dastrup, an Ontario councilwoman and committee chairman, said public opposition to a waste-to-energy plant proposed in Irwindale prompted the hearing, but testimony will concern waste incineration plants in general, not specific locations.

In an interview, Tennant, who has been leading opposition to the Irwindale plant, which would burn 3,000 tons of trash a day to create electricity, said the air pollution district should give special scrutiny to plants proposed for the San Gabriel Valley because it has the poorest air quality in the region.

Tennant said waste-to-energy plants may be appropriate for areas that are running out of places to dispose of trash. But the San Gabriel Valley has more landfills than it needs, he said, and it would be unfair to burden the area with pollution from a plant when it has so many serious environmental problems, including gas leaking out of dumps and industrial chemicals contaminating ground water.

He said he believes that the best way to handle waste in an urban area is to ship trash by railroad to a remote area for disposal. If that is impractical, he said, then small waste-to-energy plants should be built in areas without waste disposal facilities.

More than half the trash generated countywide now ends up at dumps in the San Gabriel Valley, according to Tennant.

Tennant said the area would have plenty of landfill capacity if trash were not being imported from the rest of the county.

'Someone Else's Problem'

"There is no garbage crisis here," he said. "We're being asked to solve someone else's problem."

The county Sanitation Districts, which are jointly operated by cities, have proposed construction of waste-to-energy plants to burn 1,000 tons of trash a day at the Spadra landfill in Pomona and 2,000 to 10,000 tons a day at the Puente Hills landfill in Hacienda Heights. Private companies have proposed plants in Irwindale and Azusa. Other plants have been proposed elsewhere in the county, and the first to be built is a 300-ton-per-day facility under construction in the City of Commerce.

Jim Birakos, deputy executive director of the air quality management district, said waste-to-energy plants release pollutants into the air even with the use of sophisticated control equipment. There are provisions in state and federal smog control laws that allow large plants emitting pollutants to be built if the owners acquire "offsets," emission reduction credits issued to companies that reduced pollution by shutting down facilities or installing extra smog-control equipment.

Birakos said the district will hold hearings in December on a proposal to allow builders of new plants to pay into a fund to finance smog-reduction efforts instead of buying offsets on the open market. Officials of the air quality management district say the offset system has not worked because most of the credits that are available are from facilities that were shut down for financial reasons, not to reduce pollution.

Duarte Mayor J. A. Montgomery said he fears that changing the offset system will make it easier for waste-to-energy plants to be licensed, and he has urged opponents of such plants to voice that concern at Friday's hearing.

Nevertheless, R. Pete Watson, project manager for HDR Techserv, the firm handling Pacific Waste Management Corp.'s engineering and permit applications on the Irwindale plant, said he believes that air quality requirements can be met, even if the current offset regulations are maintained.

"We think we can meet all the conditions," he said. "If we didn't, we would have withdrawn."

Watson said the Irwindale plant will have the most sophisticated pollution control system ever built, incorporating devices that have been used separately on other plants, but never all together.

The California Energy Commission is the primary licensing authority for large waste-to-energy plants, such as the one proposed for Irwindale. But all plants must be reviewed or licensed by more than a dozen regulatory agencies, including the air quality district.

The permit requirements for waste-to-energy plants will be discussed at Friday's hearing by representatives of the state Energy Commission, the state Air Resources Board, the state Solid Waste Management Board and the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Directors of the state and county health departments have been invited to discuss the potential health effects of air emissions from waste-to-energy plants.

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