Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The State Lands Commission kills Diablo Environmental Review

Executive Summary

The following material includes a review of the recent decision by the California State Lands Commission (SLC) that extended Pacific Gas & Electric Company’s (PG&E) lease of state lands but denied a proposed Environmental Impact Report (EIR).  The all-day hearings which were held at two locations simultaneously had a large turnout by both pro and con proponents. Following the decision, follow-up messages to Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom led to a letter (see below) including his comments challenging opponents over what he claimed were the maximum possible benefits obtainable. 

Below are a number of major sections addressing his seven main claims and opposing responses to them, the extended policy impacts of the PG&E proposal, and the known environmental impacts of Diablo Canyon’s operation that have all been dismissed by state agencies, a decision that should never have taken place. 

The Commission avoided exercising its duty of protecting the Public Trust when it failed to balance PG&E’s interests with those of the rest of the state’s.  It should have brought in testimony from the solar industry and the California Energy Commission to evaluate the Diablo Canyon deal cut the week before rather than using it as an excuse not to explore all possible options.  The SLC staff also used PG&E’s flawed seismic commentary as well as the California State Water Control Boards’ political dismissal of the plant’s aquatic damages as its reason for not carrying out an EIR.  The following report lays out the details of what happened at the CSL hearing and what its impacts will be.

It was pointed out that the SLC was using its own recently added regulations to categorically deny the EIR rather than the far more stringent CEQA exemption codes that allowed the SLC to go ahead with either a draft or full review based on the extraordinary events that had happened or by a major earthquake prior to 2025.  As pointed out by the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility's attorney and former CEC commissioner John Geesman,  the staff's own analysis of studies on Diablo's seismic dangers was outdated and clearly prepared with the help of PG&E.
We were treated to what the SLC Commissioners believed to be their duty of balancing their duty to the Public Trust Doctrine with claims the 10 year extension would protect the public from an abrupt San Onoffre styled closure that supposedly led to large scale natural gas replacement (actually caused by a corrupt CPUC), crocodile teas for workers, or the loss of property taxes that would affect the county's top quality schools.

Proponents calling for the EIR were told their efforts would result in increasing the state’s use of Natural Gas. Nothing could have been further from the truth; many speakers voiced concerns that the commission could have given PG&E a shorter lease, expanding the shift to renewable energy, rather than waiting until 2020 to begin.
Instead, it was quite clear that SLC rules governing contact with the public were different from those of the CPUC.  Newsom acknowledged that he had been approached by such pro-nuclear proponents as Stewart Brand, who had lobbied him heavily.
A number of activists sent letters to Lt. Governor Newsom, who responded by claiming that he had “balanced state interests,” using "Public Trust" legal requirements, at the same time claiming that activists had failed to prove that concessions might have been agreed to by PG&E.

To Do an EIR or Not to Do an EIR

The SLC’s staff’s own discussion as to whether or not it should do an EIR is telling.  Rather than going ahead with any analysis, it sidestepped the issue by attempting to draw on a fake Public Trust argument in order to make its decision  denying the study. It drew on recently added SLC regulations governing utility exemptions, exemptions that were clearly subordinate to CEQA’s rules governing the utility exemption. During the hearings, as a number of organizations pointed out, CEQA’s rules are clear: if there is any evidence of a potential for unusual events, then an EIR is called for.  And of course, since Diablo was started prior to CEQA’s passage,  there has never been an EIR. Clearly there is something that PG&E is very frightened to reveal.  

Please see the License to Kill documentation for an historic overview of how PG&E has done everything in its power to block any plans to reverse the impacts of its Once-Through-Cooling (OTC) system. Back in 1975 when the reactors were first activated, the largest single Pacific population of abalone numbering in the thousands  was killed at Diablo Cove. Since operation began in 1985 the facility dumps nearly 2.5 billion gallons of hot water directly into the ocean with its OTC system because unlike most nuclear facilities, the plant has no cooling towers.  Additionally, it also dumps the following toxins on a daily basis:

  • 8500 pounds of arsenic
  • 5800 pounds of cyanide
  • 9300 pounds of lead
  • 2100 pounds of zinc
  • 150 pounds of mercury

Source: Protest Diablo: Living And Dying Under The Shadow Of A Nuclear Power Plant, by Judith Everett; from the 1981 California Central Coast Regional Water Board hearing testimony by David Glock, graduate student at UCSB’s Marine Science’s Institute and using PG&E’s own records.

Following the 2003 report below, additional impacts to cormorants were reported at the facility in 2006. Finally after growing evidence that California’s 23 OTC systems were damaging California’s aquatic life, the state’s Water Quality Control Board (WQCB) issued regulations requiring all units to add cooling systems or be shut down. Exceptions were allowed for the state’s nuclear facilities, allowing waivers that extended through Diablo’s entire first license period, ending in 2024 simply because mitigation estimates ran from $4 to14 billion dollars.  Additionally, pro-nuclear activists were appointed to the statewide WQCB to make sure it was protected.

Instead of demanding staff from the WQCB to testify, documenting the full history, and ongoing impacts to California's coastal waters, the SLC chose to stage a circus performance of PG&E employees and SLO County elected officials, testifying on the impacts from the loss of local property taxes povided by the company.

The SLC’s recent hearing process was clearly used by PG&E and SLO County to create a fake Public Trust Doctrine scenario for Diablo Canyon.  As will be shown in the Policy Impacts section, the state’s solar industry has already created 65,000 jobs and will generate over ten times the amount of power the reactors produce in the next five years! 

The Land Commission’s staff could have used California’s Environmental Quality Act rather than its own recently adopted rules to require an EIR. As research shows, Lt. Governor Newsom spent years fighting for PG&E during the time he sided with the company rather than the many San Franciscans who were demanding that the city setup its own Community Choice program back in 2008.

As clearly shown, PG&E has manipulated the public trust to keep Diablo Canyon open and well funded. It has broken state and federal laws and bent the will of California politicians to get its way. It has long been able to use our money to buy the best legal and technical support in the country as demonstrated by its ongoing seismic safety (sic) strategy which went into high gear soon after Fukushima.

Following the 2011 disaster in Japan, Diablo Canyon’s  Senior Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Inspector – Dr. Michael Peck, determined that the Diablo Canyon nuclear facility was not engineered to withstand the kind of ground motion that could occur – possibly triggering a nuclear meltdown.  CPUC e-mails that came out during discovery hearings exposed his findings and revealed how PG&E and the NRC’s bureaucrats got around his findings by transferring him to Tennessee.

In addition, former CEC commissioner John Gleesman, wrote into the SLC’s record that its staff summary of the seismic issues was outdated and flawed. Yet PG&E’s claimed that California was in good hands in case of a major quake. Additional testimony by two geologists as well as a presentation by Dr. Dan Hirsch during the hearings were also ignored.

In the end, the commissioners reproached the audience for its ignorance of the relevant facts, and reminded it that they had executed their official duty by balancing the public trust.

Readers may access the full report.

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