When environmentalist Wil Baca was invited last month by the Southern California Assn. of Governments (SCAG) to participate in its new Solid Waste Management Task Force, he welcomed the opportunity.
The task force, which holds its first meeting Oct. 14, will feature an array of public officials, environmentalists and representatives of the trash disposal industry. Baca, president of the Hacienda Heights Improvement Assn. and an outspoken foe of proposed trash-to-energy plants in the San Gabriel Valley, saw the task force as a forum in which he could help shift public policy away from incineration and toward recycling.
But after reading a SCAG proposal on the task force, Baca is uncertain whether the intent of the group is to seek out innovative approaches to the trash crisis or to further the aims of trash-to-energy proponents.
A Case of Misunderstanding
However, the project manager for the SCAG Waste-to-Energy Project said opposition to the task force by environmentalists is the result of a misunderstanding.
Catherine Tyrell, principal planner with SCAG, said: "Our intent is to facilitate solutions, not to have waste-to-energy facilities sited all over Southern California."
In a grant application to the California Energy Commission, SCAG describes its group as the Southern California Waste-to-Energy Project. The application, which seeks $100,000 from the state to help fund the task force, states that the intent of the program is to "develop . . . a regional consensus over the role of trash-to-energy in solid waste management."
The proposal concludes by predicting that when the task force completes its study in January, "today's stalemate in the siting of solid waste facilities--and in particular, waste-to-energy facilities--will be resolved, and . . . local government can begin to site with broad support those facilities that must be built to dispose of Southern California's solid waste."
To Baca, such statements imply that SCAG is trying to reverse the trend against waste-to-energy plants. This year, six proposals to build incineration plants in the San Gabriel Valley have been stalled or killed by public opposition.
"I don't believe SCAG is pointed in the right direction," Baca said. "It's almost like they want a replay of the recent debate over trash-to-energy. . . . I don't think that's what we should be doing. I think we should be looking at the real solid waste problem and looking for ways to solve it."
At least one environmentalist group has turned down an offer to join the task force, in part because of the task force's apparent emphasis on trash-to-energy.
Factor in Decision
Kevin Roderick, director of the Los Angeles office of Citizens for a Better Environment, said the SCAG proposal for a trash-to-energy study was " a factor, not the factor" in the group's decision not to participate on the task force.
SCAG planner Tyrell said she feels "very badly that the environmental groups got this impression. We made a point of involving the environmental groups . . . so it wouldn't be construed that we were just working with the local governments to try to put something over on the public."
Baca said he still plans to be a member of the task force, which will include Ken Kazarian, president of the BKK Landfill in West Covina, and Ross Berlin, general manager of Ogden Martin Systems, a firm that designs incinerator projects. Others on the task force will include Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, Walnut Mayor Harvey Holden and supervisors from six Southern California counties.
"I'm willing to participate in either a cooperative manner or an adversarial one," Baca said. "I'll play Ollie North and say that I'll meet my opponents anyplace, at any time and under any conditions to argue about waste-to-energy."
Roderick said Citizens for a Better Environment decided that its efforts would be better spent helping the City of Los Angeles develop its new recycling program rather than serving on the waste-to-energy task force.
"We are concerned about (incineration)," Roderick said. "We don't think it's the right thing to do. We are opposed to garbage burning in the South Coast area because of the serious air pollution problems."
Tyrell said the group was named the Southern California Waste-to-Energy Project so that it could qualify for a $100,000 state energy grant, which will be partially matched by a $50,000 contribution from the cities, counties, companies and groups participating on the task force.
"We used the trash-to-energy as a hook for the (California Energy Commission) money," Tyrell said. "A year from now, we couldn't proceed with the C. E. C. with our proposal. But now is an interim period where waste-to-energy is still out there."
The reason a new trash-to-energy study must be undertaken right now, Tyrell said, is that public opposition to incineration was much greater than had been expected.