SACRAMENTO — Pacific Waste Management Corp., which has proposed building a giant trash incinerator in Irwindale, alleged Wednesday that Energy Commission Chairman Charles Imbrecht has prejudged a key issue involving the company's permit request and should be disqualified from voting on that question.
A committee of the commission recommended earlier this year that Pacific be required to guarantee that it has contracts for 75% of the waste needed to operate the plant.
The commission had been expected to hear Pacific's appeal of that finding on Wednesday, but Pacific raised its challenge just before the hearing was scheduled to begin.
As evidence that Imbrecht is prejudiced, Pacific Waste cited a letter he wrote in May opposing a bill that would have relaxed a state requirement that Pacific and other large waste-to-energy plant operators obtain guaranteed trash contracts before they are granted permits to build plants.
Richard Richards, a lawyer representing Pacific Waste, declared at Wednesday's hearing that "there has been a predetermination" by Imbrecht on the issue of trash contracts.
Imbrecht heatedly denied the assertion and shot back: "I am absolutely undecided on the merits of this case."
Imbrecht said he was so upset at the surprise move that he wanted time to obtain legal advice and delayed the hearing on the trash contract issue until Sept. 17.
The proposed Pacific Waste plant would burn 3,000 tons of waste a day to generate electricity that would be sold to Southern California Edison Co.
Opposition to Plant
The plant has been opposed by Miller Brewing Co., which has a bottling plant nearby, and a number of San Gabriel Valley cities.
Construction of the plant cannot begin without Energy Commission approval. In April the commission suspended proceedings on the permit application until Pacific Waste finds ways to compensate for emissions that exceed air quality standards.
More than a year ago Miller Brewing asked the commission to disqualify Imbrecht, a former assemblyman, after he wrote a letter to help Pacific Waste and the city of Irwindale obtain financing for the project.
Miller's challenge of Imbrecht is pending before the commission. Imbrecht said Wednesday that as a result of the challenge he removed himself from a commission committee which has been reviewing Pacific Waste's application.
At the heart of the latest dispute is whether the May 5 letter on commission stationery sent by Imbrecht to Sen. Ralph Dills (D-Gardena) demonstrates that Imbrecht has made up his mind on Pacific's application.
In the letter, Imbrecht said the commission opposed the bill, which would have relaxed the requirements for guaranteed amounts of trash. The bill, supported by Pacific Waste and other waste-to-energy firms, passed the Senate but was bottled up in the Assembly Natural Resources Committee in June.
Imbrecht told Dills in the letter that the bill could limit the commission's authority over waste plants. Imbrecht also said that the commission sought "to obtain fuel contracts so that appropriate findings regarding economic viability and environmental concerns can be made."
In the letter, Imbrecht also said an unnamed permit applicant "has resisted" the commission's requests for waste contracts.
Richards contended Wednesday that the letter refers to Pacific Waste's application and shows that Imbrecht has prejudged Pacific's case. And he raised the possibility that some of the four other commissioners might have to disqualify themselves if they authorized the letter.
Imbrecht said that he sent the letter on behalf of the entire commission and that the commission had voted to oppose the Dills measure. Imbrecht said he routinely sends out letters stating the commission's position on pending legislation.
After the commission resolves the Imbrecht controversy, it still must consider Pacific's appeal of the committee recommendation on trash contracts.
The committee last week reaffirmed its earlier finding that Pacific must have guaranteed contracts for at least 75% of the trash the plant will need.
In its recommendation, the committee said, "Pacific's apparent inability to secure any waste fuel for the facility in the two years since September, 1984, (the date by which Pacific represented the contracts would be successfully negotiated) puts the commission on notice that a reliable fuel supply cannot be assumed."
Pacific has argued that the waste stream need not be guaranteed at the time the commission issues a construction permit but when it grants a permit to actually operate the plant.