In a major victory, Pacific Waste Management Corp. on Wednesday won reductions in the air-pollution and waste-contract requirements it must meet to obtain a permit from the state Energy Commission to build a trash incineration plant in Irwindale.
The ruling by an Energy Commission committee will allow Pacific Waste to reduce the initial capacity of its plant by one-fourth, to 2,250 tons of trash a day, thereby lowering the permit requirements.
Steven Broiles, attorney for Pacific Waste, hailed the decision as a "significant event" that could get Pacific Waste's effort to win a construction permit back on track.
"It's a nice Christmas present," he said.
Terry O. Kelly, attorney for Miller Brewing Co., which owns a brewery near the proposed site for the incineration plant and has been fighting the project for two years, conceded that the decision is a setback for opponents.
However, Kelly said, Pacific Waste still faces many hurdles before it can build the plant. The ruling is a victory on a procedural matter, Kelly said, but now the issues will become whether there is any need for the plant and how much harm it will do to the environment.
Pacific Waste filed an application with the Energy Commission in 1984 to build a plant to generate 80 megawatts of electricity by burning 3,000 tons of trash a day.
$395 Million in Bonds
An agency of the city of Irwindale sold $395 million in bonds for the project, but the proposal ran into opposition from the brewery and from officials of neighboring cities who contend that the plant would add pollution to an area already choked with smog.
The Energy Commission in April suspended proceedings on Pacific Waste's application for failure to meet air pollution requirements. Later, the commission also ruled that Pacific Waste would have to line up most of the trash supply for the plant before proceedings could resume.
Unable to meet either the air-pollution or trash requirement, Pacific Waste in September announced that it would build the plant in two stages, with an initial capacity of 2,250 tons a day and an ultimate capacity of 3,000 tons a day.
Miller Brewing Co. asked the commission to terminate the proceedings and require Pacific Waste to start over.
The Energy Commission staff joined Miller in attacking Pacific Waste's revision as incompatible with a previous committee order that instructed Pacific Waste to stop changing the project and give the commission an opportunity to analyze it.
However, in a series of three orders Wednesday signed by Energy Commissioner Barbara Crowley, the commission committee ruled that Pacific Waste could reduce the plant's initial capacity without refiling a permit application.
The committee said it appears that Pacific Waste, through an agreement with Western Waste Industries of Carson, has contracted for enough trash to meet the initial waste-supply requirement. The commission had ordered Pacific Waste to line up 75% of its trash supply.
Pacific Waste in November signed an agreement with Western Waste Industries, a major trash hauler in the South Bay area, to deliver 2,000 tons of trash a day six days a week as soon as the plant opens.
The committee order says Pacific Waste will have 75 days to line up the remaining trash supply once all the suspension orders have been lifted.
The suspension of proceedings for failure to meet air pollution requirements remains in effect, but the committee scaled back the requirements to conform with the plant's first stage.
Air pollution regulations require the plant to use sophisticated pollution control devices. But, even with such equipment, the plant will emit pollutants.
Pacific Waste can build the plant anyway if it obtains pollution offset credits by paying other companies to reduce their pollution.
Fewer Offsets Needed
By reducing the size of the plant, Pacific Waste will burn less trash and produce less pollution, reducing the offset credits required for the first stage.
Pacific Waste has filed a package of offset credits with the Energy Commission and the South Coast Air Quality Management District that the company claims is sufficient for a plant that would burn 2,250 tons of trash a day.
Officials of the South Coast district reported in November that a preliminary analysis indicated that the credits were inadequate. Pacific Waste has filed other credits since then.
The committee order asks the South Coast district to analyze the offsets and determine by Jan. 15 whether they are sufficient.
The committee said that it will require Pacific Waste not only to obtain enough offset credits for the initial plant capacity, but also to show that "there is a reasonable likelihood" that offset credits would also be available for the second phase.
In addition, the committee said it intends to analyze the impact of the plant on the environment and public health on the basis of its ultimate capacity of 3,000 tons a day.
The acceptance of reduced requirements for waste supply and air emission offsets, the committee said, "does not evidence a committee intention to scale back the thoroughness of its review. . . . The committee cannot over-emphasize its commitment to analyze and publicly review the environmental impacts of the entire, ultimate proposed project."