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State Board Denies Using Siting Report : Study Identifies Least Likely Incinerator Foes

July 16, 1987|MIKE WARD | Times Staff Writer

Those who want to build waste-to-energy plants would be well advised to pick an area populated by people who are old, poor, conservative or Catholic.

That is the conclusion of a study commissioned by the state Waste Management Board, which found that those most likely to oppose such facilities are young or middle-aged, college-educated and liberal.

Even though the state board, which paid $33,000 for the study three years ago, says it is no longer using the study, opponents of trash burners, who recently obtained a copy, are furious.

They say the study represents a misuse of public funds, a formula for deceiving the public and a misunderstanding of the role of government.

'Product They Don't Want'

Instead of serving the public, protested Wil Baca, one of the leaders of the California Alliance in Defense of Residential Environments, which opposes trash incineration plants in populated areas, the state Waste Management Board sought in commissioning the study to find out how "to deceive them, to sell them a product they don't want."

West Covina Councilman Forest Tennant, who has fought the proposed construction of several trash-to-energy plants in the San Gabriel Valley, said he is outraged that the state "paid taxpayer dollars to find out how to stick garbage burners in our backyard."

George T. Eowan, chief executive officer of the Waste Management Board, said the study has not been used since he joined the agency at the end of 1984, adding that he had been unaware of its existence until a reporter brought it to his attention.

"The waste management board is not referring to it or using it to site facilities," he said. "It hasn't been used since I've been here."

John Hagerty, who was executive officer when the report was made and is now a section chief with the toxic substances control division of the state Department of Health Services, said he has little recollection of the report, which was prepared by Cerrell Associates Inc., a Los Angeles public relations and political consulting firm.

But, he said, the board "spent a lot of money to foster the technology of waste-to-energy" and it was proper to figure out how such plants could be sited.

Can't Recall Report

Terry Trumbull, a Palo Alto attorney who was chairman of the Waste Management Board when the study was made, said: "I don't even remember seeing the Cerrell report."

The study advises builders of waste incineration plants that they will face less opposition if they seek to put the plants near poor neighborhoods instead of wealthy ones.

People least likely to oppose waste-to-energy plants are old, poor, politically conservative, Roman Catholic and live in a city with a population under 25,000, the study says. The most likely opponents are described as young or middle-aged, college-educated and liberal.

The study recommends that builders consider demographic data, not just technical requirements, in selecting sites for plants that burn trash to create electricity.

"All socioeconomic groupings tend to resent the nearby siting of major (waste disposal) facilities, but the middle and upper socioeconomic strata possess better resources to effectuate their opposition," the report says. "Middle and higher socioeconomic strata neighborhoods should not fall at least within (five miles) of the proposed site."

Personality Profiles

The 87-page report includes personality profiles of the most likely and least likely opponents of waste-to-energy plants, suggests that trash incineration can be made more palatable by presenting it as part of a recycling program and outlines ways of defusing opposition.

The report says waste-to-energy plant sites "can be suggested partly on the basis of neighborhoods least likely to express opposition--older, conservative and lower socioeconomic neighborhoods. Meanwhile the most likely opponents of a waste-to-energy project--residents in the vicinity, liberal, and higher-educated persons--can be targeted in a public participation program and public relations campaign."

The study was based on a survey of city officials and private planners involved in waste-to-energy projects, interviews with sales representatives, public relations officers and engineers in the field and a review of literature on public attitudes toward facilities perceived as noxious.

The study cited a 1974 article on public opinion and the environment in the Coastal Zone Management Journal as a basis for asserting that Catholics might be less resistant to a trash-to-energy plant than members of other religions.

The Ideal Site

The report says the ideal site for a waste-to-energy plant would be in an industrial section far from homes and commercial activity but within the trash collection area that would be served. It says: "Commercial office spaces and residential lands that are at least within visual, hearing or smelling distance of the waste project will likely experience a decline in property values."

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