Trash-to-Energy Plan Has Flaws, Brewery Claims

Times Staff Writer

Experts hired by the Miller Brewing Co. to examine plans for a huge waste-to-energy plant in a gravel pit here told a committee of the state Energy Commission this week that the plans are inadequate, raising threats to ground water, air quality and public health.

Nevertheless, Miller attorney Terry O. Kelly said the brewery has not yet taken a position on the project, but is just raising questions that need to be answered. The proposed site, where 3,000 tons of trash would be burned daily to generate enough electricity to serve 40,000 homes, is north of the Foothill Freeway at Irwindale Avenue. It lies directly across the freeway from the Miller brewery.

Peril to Employees

Kelly said the brewery is concerned not only about the quality of ground water, which is used to make beer, but also about air pollution that could endanger the health of its 1,000 employees.

Laurence Peck, president of Pacific Waste Management Corp., which has proposed the $395-million waste-to-energy plant, said the brewery seems intent on delaying the project until it dies.

Miller last month won an unprecedented order from the Energy Commission to require Pacific Waste Management to open its files on the project. Once appointments are made, Miller attorneys will be able to look through documents related to the project and make copies in the presence of the commission's public adviser.

Kelly said the order was sought "because it has been very hard to get information." Peck said the order "is an onerous precedent," although Pacific Waste Management has nothing to hide and the process will yield nothing damaging. "There's no smoking gun," he said.

The commission has scheduled a hearing July 16 on a request from Miller attorneys for an additional order compelling Pacific Waste Management to supply more information about the project and conduct additional studies.

Joseph W. Schilli, assistant vice president of HDR Techserv, which has been hired by Pacific Waste Management to oversee the project, said some of the data requests can be met but others seem impractical or ask for information already supplied.

'Test Burn' Pointless

For example, Schilli said, the brewery's attorneys have suggested that Pacific Waste Management be required to collect a sampling of waste from the local area and conduct a "test burn" in a prototype facility to measure air emissions. Schilli said a "test burn" would be pointless because he believes the results would not be accepted under regulations of the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

Environmental experts hired by Miller attorneys have accused Pacific Waste Management of underestimating potential pollutants. By relying on data from waste-to-energy plants elsewhere, they say, Pacific Waste Management has failed to consider the composition of local trash, particularly waste from local businesses.

It is not clear where Pacific Waste Management will get the trash to burn in the facility.

Peck said the company's attorney, Michael Montgomery, is negotiating with a committee of attorneys and administrators from San Gabriel Valley cities to develop a contract guaranteeing a flow of municipal rubbish for 30 years. But the only city committed to the project so far is Irwindale, which created the Irwindale Resource Recovery Authority. The authority sold $395 million in bonds last year to finance the facility.

Site Is In Smog Area

Kelly said that because of Irwindale's involvement in the project, the search for a plant site was limited to 19 Irwindale quarries, even though sites elsewhere might have been preferable. Kelly noted that the selected site, a quarry in its last year of operation, is in the middle of an area plagued by smog. He said that the project, by the applicant's own admission, will generate a large volume of pollutants, including three tons of nitrogen dioxide and two tons of carbon monoxide daily, plus lead, mercury and other chemicals.

Schilli said the project has recently been redesigned to provide for four incinerating units instead of the three originally planned. Schilli said the project will use the best available technology, but some pollutants will inevitably escape into the air. He noted that the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which must approve the project, will allow the plant to offset this increased pollution by paying for pollution control equipment for other companies.

Neither Pacific Waste Management Corp. nor its parent company, Conversion Industries Ltd. of Canada, has ever built or run a waste-to-energy plant. The plant being proposed for Irwindale would be the largest in the United States, according to commission information.

Peck said Pacific Waste Management Corp.'s inexperience is irrelevant because it has hired experts who are world leaders in the field. "We have assembled the finest development team possible," he said.

Similar Plants Proposed

While the Irwindale plant would be large, the technology employed is not new--it has been used throughout the world, Peck said. He noted that the county Sanitation Districts have proposed construction of similar waste-to-energy plants in the San Gabriel Valley at their Puente Hills and Spadra landfills.

Peck, Schilli and others representing Pacific Waste Management and the firms it has hired defended the project Tuesday at the hearing at Irwindale City Hall, while Miller attorneys and the experts they have hired raised concerns about the 570 trucks that will travel to the site daily, the fact that the site is just 50 feet above the area's ground water level, and the potential air emissions. Schilli said there is no danger of ground water contamination because trash will be stored on concrete so that contaminants cannot settle into the ground. Ash left after burning would be taken by truck to a landfill.

The hearing Tuesday was the first in a series by the Energy Commission before it decides by next March whether to issue a permit. The next major step in the process will be the preparation of a preliminary assessment of the project by the commission staff.

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