SACRAMENTO — Miller Brewing Co. suffered several legislative setbacks last week in its drive to derail a $395-million waste-to-energy plant proposed near its Irwindale brewery. Miller and other opponents of the high-tech incinerator contend that it will emit potentially dangerous pollutants.
The most severe blow came when the Senate Local Government Committee, during an unusual night session Wednesday, rejected a Miller-sponsored bill by Sen. Edward R. Royce (R-Anaheim).
Royce's measure would have prohibited air quality districts from issuing operating permits for any of the 34 plants planned in the state until Jan. 1, 1988. The bill failed on a 1-2 vote with only Sen. William Campbell (R-Hacienda Heights) in support. Four committee members did not vote on the measure, including Sens. Newton R. Russell (R-Glendale), whose district includes part of the San Gabriel Valley, and Ruben S. Ayala (D-Chino), whose district includes Pomona.
Rival Bill Approved
Instead, the committee approved a rival, industry-supported bill by Sen. Joseph Montoya (D-Whittier), that would not affect construction timetables but would force operators to update pollution controls as the state develops standards for such toxic pollutants as dioxins. It was approved 6-0 and sent to the Appropriations Committee.
The wrangling over the bills highlighted the lobbying clout of the firms and public agencies that plan to build waste-to-energy plants.
These groups were mobilized to support Montoya's bill in part by the California Council for Environmental and Economic Balance, a pro-business umbrella group started in 1973 to reconcile the interests of business, labor and environmentalists.
Montoya, whose district encompasses much of the San Gabriel Valley, including Irwindale, said, "I don't think Miller or anyone else related to any other project has thus far demonstrated that waste-to-energy technology is unsafe enough to warrant moratoriums."
One legislative staff member, who asked not to be identified, joked that Montoya and his allies had put the brewery on notice that "it wasn't Miller time."
Mark White, senior vice president of Pacific Waste Management Corp., which is planning the Irwindale facility, said the Montoya bill offers a "reasonable approach."
Hopes to Scuttle Project
Dennis Carpenter, a former Republican state senator from Orange County who is Miller's lobbyist, said he still hopes to tailor a bill to scuttle the Irwindale project.
"We just haven't come up with the right language," he said.
Montoya's measure is similar to one approved earlier this month by the Assembly Natural Resources Committee. That committee also rejected attempts to slow or halt construction of the high-tech incinerators.
The 80-megawatt Irwindale incinerator would burn 3,000 tons of trash a day. Because it is the first plant being reviewed by the Energy Commission, the Irwindale project is at the center of the legislative debate. The commission reviews projects larger than 50 megawatts. Permits for smaller projects--such as one under construction in Commerce--are reviewed by local authorities.
The Commerce plant and one proposed for the Puente Hills landfill are planned by the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts, which testified in favor of Montoya's bill. They and other supporters of waste-to-energy plants say the high-tech incinerators are needed as an alternative to landfills for the 36.5 million tons of garbage Californians produce annually.
The impact of the plants on air quality is at the heart of the legislative controversy.
The Senate Local Government Committee spent nearly two hours listening to conflicting testimony Wednesday morning before adjourning until the evening. At that point, Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach), the Local Government Committee chairwoman, acknowledged that because of the technical disputes "we're not in a position to evaluate who's right."
When the hearing resumed Wednesday night a spokeswoman for the state Air Resources Board said the agency is still a year or more away from developing standards for potentially toxic pollutants that the plants may emit. "It's uncertain territory," Catherine E. Witherspoon, an air pollution specialist with the board, told the committee.
Stephen Forsberg, legislative coordinator for the state Department of Health Services, said his department is confident "that there is state-of-the-art technology" that would "virtually" remove all hazardous products from the incinerators.
Alvin Greenberg of Mill Valley, a toxicological consultant to Combustion Engineering, which plans to build a plant in Redwood City, said that the amounts of such dangerous pollutants as dioxins emitted by the plants "are so small . . . the risks to public health are so negligible." Dioxin, a carcinogen, is present in Agent Orange, the defoliant used during the Vietnam War and the subject of controversy over its effect on veterans.