SACRAMENTO — In a victory for foes of waste-to-energy plants in the San Gabriel Valley, the Assembly Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday voted 7 to 1 to approve legislation that would prevent the construction of the high-tech incinerators in Irwindale and Puente Hills.
The bill, by Assemblywoman Sally Tanner (D-El Monte), now goes to the Assembly floor, where it faces an uncertain future because of intense lobbying by waste-to-energy firms opposed to her measure and other legislation that would curb development of the plants.
"I'm going to have to fight like the dickens to get it off the floor," Tanner said.
To Short-Circuit Plans
Tanner said her bill was tailored to short-circuit plans for two plants--Pacific Waste Management Corp.'s 80-megawatt facility that would burn 3,000 tons of trash a day in Irwindale and the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts' two proposed incinerators at the Puente Hills landfill that could burn as much as 10,000 tons of trash daily. Tanner's legislation would prohibit local and state agencies from granting approval for incinerators that generate at least 30 megawatts of electricity in the South Coast air basin and in such areas as the San Gabriel Valley, where more than half the municipal waste produced in Los Angeles County is disposed of.
The dispute over waste-to-energy plants, especially the amount of pollutants that would spew into the air, has sparked a major debate in the Legislature this year. More than a dozen bills have been introduced, ranging from plans to speed development to prohibition of some or all plants.
The controversy, in large measure, has been fueled by Pacific Waste's plans to generate electricity by burning trash and selling it to Southern California Edison Co.
Brewer Opposes Plant
Miller Brewing Co., which has a brewery near the proposed plant, has vigorously opposed construction of the incinerator. Despite retaining a top Sacramento lobbying firm headed by Dennis Carpenter, a former state senator from Orange County, Miller's legislative efforts so far have failed to block the Pacific Waste plant.
Tanner, who said she developed her bill without Carpenter's assistance, told the committee she is not opposed to waste-to-energy plants. Instead, Tanner said, she is against locating them in such heavily polluted areas as the San Gabriel Valley.
Tanner said the plants would exacerbate the valley's smog problem. On smoggy days, Tanner said, "it's just hell there."
The bill was opposed by Pacific Waste, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, a consortium of business groups and the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts, which has proposed building two plants at its Puente Hills landfill.
Pacific Waste's Lobbyist
Their opposition was summed up by Norma Dillon, Pacific Waste's lobbyist, who said the bill "offers a short-term view of air pollution problems and would prevent possible positive reduction in current air pollution levels while offering no solution to the ever-mounting garbage disposal problem."
The Energy Commission last month underscored the importance of the air pollution issue when it suspended proceedings on Pacific Waste's permit application until it finds ways to compensate for emissions that exceed air quality standards.
While legislative committees have approved bills that require additional air quality safeguards for the plants, Tanner's proposal was the first measure to pass a committee this year that goes as far as prohibiting construction.
Tanner was successful for several reasons. First, she spent a great deal of time persuading legislators from both parties to support the bill because it was a major issue to her constituents in the San Gabriel Valley, said Pacific Waste lobbyist Dillon.
Second, Tanner's proposal is similar to a measure by Assemblyman Frank Hill (R-Whittier) that was narrowly defeated by the committee earlier this year.
Hill explained that the Democratic-controlled committee was more likely to approve the proposal as put forth by a Democrat like Tanner, especially on a controversial and heavily lobbied bill.
Hill said he also feels that he paved the way for Tanner's success because the committee was familiar with the issue after discussing his proposal. In addition, many members of the San Gabriel Valley delegation are listed as co-authors of the measure. Besides Hill, they are Assemblymen William H. Lancaster (R-Covina) and Richard Mountjoy (R-Monrovia) and Sen. William Campbell (R-Hacienda Heights).
Tanner's office said that a third San Gabriel Valley project--at the Spadra landfill in Pomona--would not be affected by the legislation because it is designed to generate less than 30 megawatts of power.