SACRAMENTO — As part of its campaign against a proposed trash-to-energy plant near its Irwindale brewery, Miller Brewing Co. hired veteran lobbyist Dennis E. Carpenter to attempt to scuttle the project.
In April, the Assembly Natural Resources Committee heard the first of several Miller-supported measures to block construction of the high-tech incinerator. Carpenter figured his client's bill might be able to torpedo the project.
Instead, he found the bill under attack from a dozen or so other high-powered lobbyists. The committee rejected the measure.
"We did not anticipate how much support these things (the incinerators) had politically," said Carpenter, a white-haired, former FBI agent who spent nine years in the state Senate representing portions of Orange and San Diego counties.
Legislators also expressed surprise at the intensity of lobbying on the issue, which until last spring had failed to spark much legislative attention.
Assemblyman Frank Hill (R-Whittier) cracked that the controversy over the incinerator generated "a full-employment act for lobbyists." Hill, who carried the Miller-supported measure, recalled recently, "I never saw so many lobbyists" lined up to oppose one of his proposals.
Indeed, supporters and opponents this year reported paying lobbyists at least $250,000 to influence legislation affecting such high-tech incinerators, which generate electricity by burning rubbish.
Sen. Joseph Montoya (D-Whittier) said lobbying pressure by waste-to-energy firms has increased because "it's obviously big business. We're a big population base for them to serve."
34 Plants Proposed in State
At stake are the ground rules for 34 multimillion-dollar waste-to-energy plants--including the Irwindale facility--that have been proposed around the state. As cities run out of room to dump their trash at landfills, the plants have been regarded by some as reasonable alternatives. Critics urge caution because of potential risks posed by toxic emissions.
Plans are proceeding for plants throughout Los Angeles County. The Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts have completed a plant in the City of Commerce; another is under construction in Long Beach, and facilities are planned in Puente Hills, Pomona and South Gate. The city of Los Angeles has approved a plant in the South-Central area.
In the next year, legislative disputes are expected to revolve around building the multimillion-dollar plants in such heavily polluted areas as the San Gabriel Valley, air quality standards for smokestack emissions and easing current requirements that the plants acquire signed contracts for trash before they receive state approval.
The clash between Miller and Pacific Waste Management Corp., which has proposed the Irwindale incinerator, sparked much of the capital debate on waste-to-energy issues and prompted several of the dozen or so bills on the subject introduced in the last session.
Pacific Waste is seeking permission from the state Energy Commission to build a plant that could eventually burn 3,000 tons of trash a day and produce 80 megawatts of electricity.
Business Interests Split
According to one environmental lobbyist, the waste-to-energy dispute differs from other lobbying battles because the business community, which is usually unified, is split. Manufacturers, engineering firms, union members and others who may benefit from construction of the plants are arrayed on one side of the issue. On the other, Miller Brewing has retained environmental consultants, lawyers and Carpenter's lobbying firm to fight the Irwindale trash-to-energy plant.
"Miller's intense and early opposition" to the Irwindale plant triggered criticism of incinerators by grass roots groups and lawmakers, the environmental lobbyist said. "Miller kind of lit the fuse."
To short-circuit the opposition, Pacific Waste hired James D. Garibaldi, dean of the lobbying corps, and the lobbying firm of Paul Priolo, a former Republican Assembly minority leader from Santa Monica.
Garibaldi said that in the last session the dispute over waste-to-energy turned into "one of the main issues that were lobbied extensively." He expects "a whole new group of bills next year."
Carpenter and Garibaldi are among a select group of lobbyists known around the capital as "heavy hitters," whose mere presence at a hearing sometimes is believed by legislative staffers to change committee votes.
On many issues, lobbyists can get their point across to legislators over lunch or drinks at local watering holes. But lobbyists say they have had to change their tactics on the waste-to-energy issue.
Technology Is Complicated
Carpenter, one of the key lobbyists on the issue, said that waste-to-energy technology is so complicated it must be discussed in detail with lawmakers, often with technical consultants in tow. "You don't go in with a wink and a handshake and get a vote," Carpenter said. "You have to educate people."