SACRAMENTO — Long Beach officials are trying to determine whether the city would be exempt from proposed legislation requiring California cities to meet stringent recycling goals because it operates a waste-to-energy plant.
The legislation is designed to rid California of half the garbage it dumps in landfills. The bill, by Assemblyman Byron Sher (D-Palo Alto), won final approval last Friday and was sent to Gov. George Deukmejian.
As the Sher bill was debated, several lawmakers questioned whether Long Beach could wiggle around a provision to encourage cities by the year 2000 to reduce rubbish by 50% through recycling, composting and other activities.
"It seems that Long Beach is exempt from doing any recycling," asserted Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles).
Sher, however, said the proposal merely allows cities that operate high-tech waste-to-energy plants, such as Long Beach, to seek recycling waivers from a new state waste board.
Besides Long Beach, supporters of the bill said, the proposal could apply to the cities of Commerce and Modesto in the San Joaquin Valley where similar facilities burn trash to generate electricity.
Sher said it would not be easy to win a waiver or a revision in the recycling goals, citing at least two hurdles cities must overcome.
He said that as of Jan. 1, 1989, incinerators must have been burning at least 75% of a city's refuse, and the city must have had firm contracts to deliver electricity generated at the plant.
While Commerce and Modesto might be effected, the focus of the legislative debate on the bill was on Long Beach.
John Shirey, Long Beach assistant city manager, said he is uncertain whether the city is exempted from the bill's recycling goals. As soon as he sees the 135-page bill, he said, "we'll try to analyze it" and determine how to proceed. Shirey said the city was not involved in the negotiations on the Sher bill.
But Shirey confirmed that at least 75% of the city's refuse is burned at its plant on Terminal Island and that the city had electrical contracts with Southern California Edison Co. on Jan. 1--the two prerequisites for seeking a waiver.
The city's Southeast Resource Recovery Facility burns about 1,200 tons of trash a day. The city also is about to form an advisory committee to develop a plan for recycling, said Bill Davis, the city's solid waste bureau manager. If Long Beach is required to meet Sher's recycling goals, Davis said, the city could obtain garbage for its incinerator from nearby communities.
Mike Selna, project manager for the Commerce trash-to-energy plant, said the impact of the bill is unclear. He said the facility burns about 350 tons of trash daily.
Just a few years ago, incinerators were seen as a promising alternative to landfills. But opponents, who questioned the impact of the facilities on air quality, managed to get plans for most of the plants shelved. Stephen R. Maguin, head of solid waste management for the county Sanitation Districts, said that in the short term, waste-to-energy plans are not acceptable in the Los Angeles area. Under the bill, after a five-year moratorium and if recycling and other measures fail, up to 5% of the state's garbage could be burned in incinerators.
Although the incineration issue was hotly debated, the question of whether some cities could be exempted failed to surface until Friday--hours before the Legislature adjourned for the year.
One legislative source close to the negotiations said the waiver provision was not put into the bill to bail out any specific city.
Another legislative staffer, who also asked not to be identified, suggested that the waiver language was inserted into the bill to protect the incinerator in the Modesto area.
Bob Fredenburg, an aide to Sen. Torres, said his reading of the bill is that "generally it's an exemption for cities with incinerators," including Long Beach and Modesto but probably not Commerce--which Torres represents. Commerce may not incinerate 75% of its own garbage, as required by the legislation.
At a press conference on Saturday, Deukmejian said he had nothing to do with any potentially favorable treatment for Long Beach, which he represented in the Legislature for many years. But he joked that it sounded like "a pretty good idea."
"I haven't seen anything else the whole session that was directly beneficial to Long Beach. I'm glad to hear something came through."