Action on permits to construct a trash-to-energy plant in Irwindale could be delayed for months because of decisions by officials from two environmental agencies.
The staff of the California Energy Commission has recommended that the commission postpone action on a permit until Pacific Waste Management Corp. obtains agreements with refuse companies to provide the 3,000 tons of trash a day that would be burned to create electricity.
That could delay issuing the permit for up to a year, according to a staff member who disclosed the recommendation Thursday. Company officials said they have not signed any contracts but that such assurances are not necessary since the supply of garbage is a certainty because of the lack of disposal sites in Los Angeles County.
Hearing Set Tuesday
The staff recommendation, which Pacific Waste is opposing, will be considered by commissioners at a hearing at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Azusa Elks Lodge.
Meanwhile, officials of the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which will analyze the plant's impact on air quality, have ruled that the company cannot compensate for excessive carbon monoxide emissions by merely using innovative technology.
Because the plant would exceed allowable carbon monoxide emissions, the company should pay for reductions of the pollutant elsewhere in the area, the air quality district said. For example, Pacific Waste could provide funds for another company to reduce its carbon monoxide emissions.
That decision could create a difficult, though not insurmountable, problem, according to Thomas D. Wetherill, vice president of Pacific Waste, which has proposed construction of the $395-million waste-to-energy plant.
Because the company only learned of the decision Dec. 5, plans for the plant could be delayed while Pacific Waste seeks a way of meeting the requirement, company officials said.
Decision Discussed Thursday
The decision by the air quality district was discussed Thursday at a hearing in El Monte on waste-to-energy plants by the California Assembly Committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials.
Thomas F. Heinsheimer, vice chairman of the air quality district, told the committee that the Legislature should devise a master plan that would weigh the environmental hazards from landfills and from waste-to-energy plants, then decide which should be built. Four trash-to-energy plants have been proposed for the San Gabriel Valley.
John Rowden, chief of the alternative technologies standards division of the state Waste Management Board, said there has never been a comprehensive assessment of pollution emissions from landfills compared to waste incineration plants. Rowden noted that although waste-to-energy plants have been built throughout the world, there is only one operating in California. The first in Los Angeles County is under construction by the county Sanitation Districts in the City of Commerce.
West Covina Mayor Forest Tennant, who has led opposition to the Irwindale plant, told the Assembly committee that the San Gabriel Valley would be known as "garbageville" if all the proposed waste incineration plants were built. He said such plants should be built outside populated areas.
Ernesto Perez, public adviser to the Energy Commission, assured commissioners that the proposed Irwindale plant is receiving careful scrutiny.
Pacific Waste filed its application to build the Irwindale plant early this year but has run into a host of problems in trying to meet air pollution requirements.
The latest hurdles came from the decisions by the air quality district and the Energy Commission staff.
Terry O'Brien, project manager for the Energy Commission, said in a telephone interview that the commission needs to know where the trash to be burned in the facility will come from. Unless the source of the trash is known, he said, the commission cannot evaluate the alternatives that might be available for disposing of the trash.
He said the commission is waiting for technical information on pollution control technology. Until that information is available, he said, the staff cannot analyze the emissions or decide whether the offsets are sufficient.
O'Brien said the commission also has been denied access to the site where the plant is to be built and the staff has recommended that further action on the permit also be delayed until access is obtained. Pacific Waste said access to the site, a quarry at the Foothill Freeway and Irwindale Avenue, has been limited because of a liability problem that is being resolved through acquisition of the property by the Irwindale Redevelopment Agency.
Joseph W. Schilli, assistant vice president of HDR Techserv, which is handling permit applications for Pacific Waste, said the company will urge commissioners to instruct its staff to continue working on the Irwindale application.