Senate Panel Kills Bill for Waste Plant Anti-Pollution Fund

Times Staff Writer

The Senate Appropriations Committee has rejected a bill to create a $500-million fund for loans to equip waste-to-energy plants with anti-pollution controls.

The bill, carried by Sen. William Campbell (R-Hacienda Heights), called for a bond measure to be placed on the November election ballot. Campbell said the pool of bond money--$50 million a year for 10 years--would have stimulated construction of the plants and ensured that they would be equipped with the most modern technology to reduce air and water pollution.

The Appropriations Committee turned down Campbell's bill Thursday on a 3-6 vote along party lines, with Republicans in support and Democrats in opposition.

Campbell complained that the Democrats had chosen to make a partisan issue out of the bond measure, even though it was supported by the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts, which plan several waste-to-energy plants, and by two groups of refuse companies and the city of San Francisco.

Ayala Opposed Measure

Sen. Ruben Ayala (D-Chino), who voted against the measure, said party politics did not enter into his decision. Ayala, whose district includes Pomona, said he supports the concept of burning trash to generate energy, but that other bond proposals, such as one by Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach) for $800 million in school construction bonds, hold a higher priority for him. The committee voted to place Bergeson's proposal on the ballot by a 6-0 vote.

Campbell said he was disappointed by the committee action because "the state's current landfill capacity will reach a critically low level in the early 1990s" and the waste-to-energy plants offer an alternative way of disposing of household rubbish.

California currently produces 36.5 million tons a year of non-hazardous waste, almost all of which is buried in landfills, according to an analysis prepared last year by the Assembly Natural Resources Committee.

33 Plants Planned

The state Waste Management Board estimates that 33 waste-to-energy plants are on the drawing board, including 12 in the Los Angeles area. The plants would contract to obtain a steady supply of refuse, which would be burned inside huge incinerators to generate electricity.

However, during legislative hearings last fall, concerns were voiced about such pollutants as ash, which are also generated by the process. Some critics of the plants have questioned whether they would further damage Los Angeles' heavily polluted air, which fails to meet federal air quality standards.

Proposals to build trash-to-energy plants in the San Gabriel Valley have aroused opposition from city officials and residents who claim the plants would increase air pollution in an area that has some of the nation's worst smog.

The county Sanitation Districts have proposed construction of plants at the Spadra landfill in Pomona and the Puente Hills landfill in Hacienda Heights. Pacific Waste Management Corp. is seeking approval from the state Energy Commission to build a plant in Irwindale, and another private company last week withdrew plans for a plant in Azusa.

Lively Debate Expected

The dispute over the Campbell bill was the opening round in what is expected to be a lively debate in Sacramento about whether the state should encourage waste-to-energy plants or put the brakes on them until all the bugs are worked out.

Last year Gov. George Deukmejian signed into law a measure that cleared the way for the construction of a $66-million trash-to-energy plant on Terminal Island. But he later vetoed a bill that would have cleared the way for a $200-million project in South-Central Los Angeles--though the Los Angeles City Council later approved a plan aimed at smoothing the way for the plant.

The two bills sparked concern by lawmakers that the Legislature would handle the waste issue on a narrowly focused piecemeal basis, instead of a wider statewide perspective.

Campbell introduced his bond proposal against that backdrop.

Similar Proposal Shelved

Assemblywoman Gwen Moore (D-Los Angeles) introduced a similar proposal last year, but shelved it two weeks ago as the deadline approached for passage of bills introduced in 1985. It was sponsored by Southern California Edison Co. as a way to stimulate development of alternative energy sources.

Moore says she plans to introduce another measure to place a $250-million bond measure on the November ballot. It would set aside $150 million for loans for the projects, $75 million for demonstration projects with advanced anti-pollution equipment and $25 million for research into air quality problems.

Steve Maguin, head of the solid waste management department for the county Sanitation Districts, said his agency supports the proposals by Campbell and Moore because one of the stumbling blocks to plant construction has been a lack of money.

Would Curb Development

Assemblyman Frank Hill (R-Whittier) has proposed another approach aimed at slowing development of the plants in the Los Angeles area. Earlier this month, Hill introduced a measure that could short-circuit plans for a waste-to-energy plant proposed by Pacific Waste Management Corp. near the Miller Brewing Co. brewery in Irwindale.

Hill's bill, which is sponsored by Miller, would prohibit the purchase of air quality offsets in such areas as Los Angeles that do not meet federal standards. Under current law, projects are allowed to offset pollution they create by agreeing to reduce pollution on other projects.

"My intention is to improve and protect the air quality of the San Gabriel Valley," Hill said. "As one of the most polluted areas in the country, clearly it is not an appropriate location for waste-to-energy facilities."

Hill said that he was prompted to introduce the legislation because the San Gabriel Valley already exceeds the maximum emission standards for almost every airborne pollutant regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. As an alternative, Hill suggested that the plants could be built in remote areas such as the desert.

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