Undaunted by several disappointments in the Legislature last week, Miller Brewing Co. is pressing ahead with opposition to construction of a trash incineration plant near its brewery in Irwindale.
"The more we find out about it, the less we like it," said Terry O. Kelly, an attorney with the law firm of McKenna, Conner & Cuneo, which represents Miller.
Several San Gabriel Valley cities, school districts and homeowner groups are fighting the proposed Irwindale plant, but none has put resources equal to Miller's into the battle. And some opponents say that if it had not been for Miller's efforts, the waste-to-energy plant would have sailed through the permit process by now.
Miller has commissioned university research on trash, hired technical experts to analyze potential environmental damage from waste incinerators, employed lobbyists to influence legislation in Sacramento and hired lawyers to stop Pacific Waste Management Corp. from getting the permits it needs to build the trash incineration plants. Energy Commission proceedings on the project, still in an early stage, have turned largely into disputes between the lawyers and technical experts hired by Miller and the lawyers and technical experts hired by Pacific Waste.
Won't Reveal the Cost
Miller officials have declined to disclose how much they have spent in the fight so far, but they have scoffed at assertions that the amount is several million dollars.
Steven Broiles, attorney for Pacific Waste Management, said the company has spent more than $6 million trying to obtain a permit from the state Energy Commission to build the Irwindale plant, and he believes Miller has spent even more resisting the effort.
"I've never seen anything like it," Broiles said. "It's really kind of amazing."
Broiles estimated Miller's expenditures at $6 million to $10 million, based on the number of attorneys and experts the company sends to hearings on the project.
"When we have one attorney there, they usually have two or three," Broiles said. "Sometimes we don't have our technical experts, but theirs are always there."
Broiles said everyone wonders why Miller is spending so much time and effort, but that the company has been secretive. "Basically, they've been tight-lipped and closed-mouthed about what they're doing," Broiles said.
Motives Called Obvious
But Kelly said Miller's motives are obvious--the protection of a huge investment, $350 million in its Irwindale brewery, and the health of its 1,000 workers. The brewery is located across the Foothill Freeway from where the waste plant would be built.
And, he said, last week in Sacramento when legislative committees were considering waste-to-energy bills, it was the Miller representatives who were badly outnumbered by lobbyists for the waste-to-energy interests.
Clifton Amos, community relations manager at Miller Brewing Co.'s headquarters in Milwaukee, said he could not say how much Miller has spent "but I can assure you that it is less than $6 million."
"We'd rather not talk about the money," he added, "but we will spend whatever it takes. We always felt that we were in for the duration."
Although Miller suffered some setbacks in legislative action on waste-to-energy bills in Sacramento last week, Amos said, "in public opinion there hasn't been any setbacks." He said polls and statements by political leaders indicate that there is strong opposition to waste-to-energy plants in the San Gabriel Valley, based primarily on the air contaminants that would be emitted.
Although Amos and other opponents contend that the Irwindale plant would emit harmful pollutants, Pacific Waste officials say the plant can be built and operated without damaging air quality.
Pacific Waste Management was created in 1983 and entered into an agreement with the city of Irwindale in 1984 to build a trash incineration plant at the bottom of a rock quarry. The Irwindale Resource Recovery Authority sold $395 million worth of bonds to finance the project at the end of 1984. Since then, the company has been trying to obtain a permit from the state Energy Commission to construct the plant, which would burn 3,000 tons of trash a day.
The project is now in jeopardy before the Energy Commission because Pacific Waste has not contracted with waste haulers to supply trash to the plant, nor has it met air pollution requirements. Pacific Waste must compensate for the proposed plant's emissions of carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen and other pollutants by obtaining "offsets," in effect paying for air pollution reductions at other plants. The South Coast Air Quality Management District informed the Energy Commission last week that the offset agreements filed by Pacific Waste are far short of requirements.
Miller's attorneys have urged the commission to suspend permit proceedings on the Irwindale project until Pacific Waste lines up waste contracts and meets the air pollution offset requirements. And while those issues are being resolved before the Energy Commission, both Miller and Pacific Waste are lobbying the Legislature. One bill unsuccessfully pushed by Miller would have created a moratorium on waste-to-energy plants until 1988 to give the state Air Resources Board time to set standards for emission of toxic pollutants. Meanwhile, Pacific Waste has been trying to secure passage of a bill that would prevent the Energy Commission from requiring it to line up waste contracts.
Praise for Miller
Wil Baca, one of the leaders of the Hacienda Heights Improvement Assn., a homeowners group that is battling the county Sanitation Districts over proposed waste-to-energy plants at the Puente Hills landfill in Hacienda Heights, said Miller's effort has not only blocked the Irwindale project but slowed others in the San Gabriel Valley as well.
"Without (Miller), we would have had all these waste-to-energy plants in by now," Baca said. In addition to the Irwindale and Puente Hills project, a waste-to-energy plant is being planned at the Spadra landfill in Pomona and another plant was proposed in Azusa, though that project was withdrawn.
Baca said the technical experts hired by Miller have produced information that otherwise might have escaped notice.
"A lot of the stuff they are doing is innovative," Baca said. "They have been digging out details on dioxins (a hazardous compound emitted by trash burners); they have tracked down authors of studies; they've been persistent in pulling out the data."
Kelly said he believes that the Irwindale project would have generated substantial opposition even without Miller's involvement, but the company's efforts have caused the Energy Commission to give the project a closer look. Miller's experts have repeatedly challenged the data supplied by Pacific Waste's experts, particularly about the pollutants that would be emitted and their effect on health.
Jess Duff, assistant to the city manager in Duarte, said he has attended 12 to 15 Energy Commission meetings on the Irwindale project and has found that the commission staff often looks to Miller's experts for assistance.
Duarte, which is on opposed to the waste-to-energy plant, has hired its own technical consultants to help analyze the Irwindale project, Duff said, but has leaned heavily on Miller's information. "The city of Duarte owes Miller a great debt of gratitude," he said.