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Dump Plan for Irwindale Trash Plant, Panel Urges

March 26, 1987|MIKE WARD | Times Staff Writer

A committee of the state Energy Commission Wednesday accused Pacific Waste Management Corp. of "misuse" of the regulatory process and recommended that the full commission terminate the company's application to build a waste-to-energy plant in Irwindale.

In a strongly worded 100-page order prepared by hearing officer Garret Shean and signed by Barbara Crowley, vice chairman of the Energy Commission, the committee accused the company of withholding from the commission information that air pollution credits needed to build the plant were unavailable.

The Siting Committee said the application should be dismissed on two grounds: failure to file sufficient pollution credits and conduct "that is a serious misuse of the commission's regulatory process."

Shean said the five-member Energy Commission will hold a hearing on the recommendation, probably in four to six weeks.

Plant Foe Hails Order

Terry O. Kelly, an attorney for Miller Brewing Co., which has been fighting the proposed waste-to-energy plant for two years, hailed the committee's order.

"I think this effectively terminates the project," Kelly said.

But Mark White, senior vice president of Pacific Waste, said the company will pursue the issue before the full commission and take the matter to court if necessary.

He conceded, however, that the ruling is a major setback. "It's serious," he said. "It certainly deflated my sails."

Meanwhile, the law firm of Richards, Watson and Gershon, which has represented Pacific Waste in the application process, disclosed that it had resigned as the company's counsel on Feb. 28. White said that no other counsel has been hired and that Pacific Waste hopes to rehire Richards, Watson and Gershon once some disagreements have been resolved. He refused to describe the disagreements.

Major Stumbling Block

Finding ways to offset pollution has been the major stumbling block for Pacific Waste ever since it applied to the Energy Commission in October, 1984, for a permit to build a plant that would burn trash to create electrical energy.

Federal and state regulations allow construction of plants that emit large amounts of certain pollutants only if the developer obtains credits showing that pollution elsewhere has been reduced. These so-called offset credits can be obtained from plants that have shut down polluting equipment or installed more pollution control devices than legally required.

The committee noted that from the beginning Pacific Waste said it could obtain sufficient offset credits.

But, the committee said, a letter to Pacific Waste from the company's engineering adviser, Woodward-Clyde Consultants, on Feb. 25, 1985, reported that "sufficient nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide offsets do not appear to be available at this time."

Second Document Found

The committee said another document found in Pacific Waste's files during discovery proceedings undertaken by Miller Brewing Co. made a similar point. The undated and unsigned Pacific Waste document said that because of the inability to obtain offsets, the company "will have to approach the offset problem by downsizing the plant to less than 50 megawatts, or with a technical solution" to cut back on pollutants.

Last April, the Energy Commission suspended Pacific Waste's application to build the plant because of the company's failure to produce the required offset credits. In September, Pacific Waste amended its application, reducing the size of the plant. The company, which had planned to build a plant that would burn 3,000 tons of trash a day, said it would construct the plant in stages, with an initial capacity of 2,250 tons. The one-fourth reduction in capacity reduced the required offset credits by one-fourth.

In its amended application, Pacific Waste also claimed that it had found a way to reduce the amount of nitrogen dioxide the trash incinerator would produce, further lowering the offset requirements.

But the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which analyzed the offset credits submitted by Pacific Waste, reported in January that the company was still short of credits, even with the reduced plant capacity and accepting the claim of reduced nitrogen dioxide emissions.

The air quality district's report led to a hearing in February by the Siting Committee of the Energy Commission to determine whether the application should be terminated. Pacific Waste challenged the district's analysis at the hearing, but the committee, in its ruling Wednesday, said "the weight of the evidence supports the district's analysis."

The committee noted that one of the issues raised by Pacific Waste was the amount of emission credit available from a glass company that had shut down. But the committee charged that Pacific Waste knowingly overstated the offsets available from the glass company.

The committee said Pacific Waste's misrepresentation was "a serious misuse of the commission's regulatory process, and is sufficient itself to terminate the proceedings."

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