A San Diego assemblyman has introduced legislation that would block construction of trash-to-energy plants statewide until studies of their impact on air quality are completed.
The bill could affect San Gabriel Valley plants proposed by Pacific Waste Management Corp. in Irwindale and by the county Sanitation Districts at the Spadra landfill in Pomona and the Puente Hills landfill in Hacienda Heights.
The assemblyman, Larry Stirling (R-San Diego), said he believes waste-burning plants are being "jammed through with low-grade technology." He said a moratorium would give government and developers time to assess the plants' effect on air quality and devise better technology.
Findings Still in Future
A state Air Resources Board spokesman said it could be 18 months or more before studies have been completed on dioxin and other toxic chemicals likely to be released from the garbage-burning, power-generating plants.
Stirling's measure is certain to meet heavy resistance in Sacramento, where trash-to-energy technology has vocal critics and fans in both the Legislature and the bureaucracy.
The assemblyman said his bill would not affect plants that have already received construction permits, such as one being built in the City of Commerce.
But most of the 33 plants proposed statewide are still in the planning stages. The proposed Irwindale plant, which would burn 3,000 tons of trash a day, is pending before the state Energy Commission. The Spadra plant, which would burn 1,000 tons of trash daily, and the Puente Hills plants, which would burn up to 10,000 tons of trash daily, must receive numerous permits from regional and state agencies before they can be built.
Only one trash-to-energy plant, a tiny experimental one at Lassen College in Susanville, is operating in California.
But the state Solid Waste Man agement Board has been encouraging their development as an alternative to landfills for disposing of the 36.5 million tons of non-hazardous garbage produced in the state annually.
Stirling said he became a critic of the plants last year, when in response to constituent complaints he wrote to the Air Resources Board to learn more about the pollution they cause. He said he fully expected to get an answer that would alleviate his fears.
Instead, he said he was shocked when Air Resources Board Chairman Jananne Sharpless wrote back on Oct. 2 that the proposed plant near his district "will emit several substances which are only beginning to be understood and for which no air quality standards nor controls have yet been developed."
Stirling is primarily concerned with the proposed 60-megawatt San Diego Energy Recovery (Sander) project near the Miramar Naval Air Station, which would burn 2,250 tons of garbage a day.
Stirling, whose district begins a mile east of the proposed plant, said it is backwards to build the Signal Environmental Services Inc.'s proposed Sander plant, or any others, until the potential pollutants and health hazards are identified.
"That stuff would be in your kid's lungs before you could do anything about it," Stirling said in a recent interview. "It's incredible. If they beat us on the legislation, we are going to run an initiative."
Trash-to-energy plants, which an air resources official says are the "most volatile local environmental questions being raised at the moment," have long been controversial in the San Gabriel Valley.
Critics, including city council members and state legislators, say the plants would increase smog. But plant developers say the plants are environmentally safer than landfills, where garbage is now being dumped, and that the plants can be built without significantly affecting air quality.
Last month, a Senate committee killed a bill by Sen. William Campbell (R-Hacienda Heights) that would have encouraged construction of trash-to-energy plants by making $500 million in bond financing for them available during the next 10 years.
Another bill pending in the Legislature, by Assemblyman Frank Hill (R-Whittier), would establish several technical roadblocks to trash-to-energy plants in areas, such as the San Gabriel Valley, that do not meet federal air quality standards. Hill described the valley "as one of the most polluted areas in the country . . . (and) not an appropriate location for waste-to-energy facilities."