Sunlaw Energy Corporation and the Nueva Azalea Project
By Robert Danziger, founder and CEO
I started Sunlaw Energy Corporation in October of 1980 to
help revolutionize the power generation system that had been operating relatively
unchanged since the 1930’s, in order to achieve energy independence and a clean
environment coupled with prosperity for the whole world. I was the youngest CEO in the electric
generation business at that time (I was 27), and I did not know it was impossible.
Sunlaw was to me a kind of sculpture, a concept that grew
out of my career as a studio musician specializing in hybrid and avande-garde
instruments and music. This
sculpture, however, had not just physical presence, but sounds, music, ethics,
social and policy attributes that required long-term profitability, deep
personal community involvement, and unparalleled labor-management cooperation.
I started Sunlaw with $10,000 and a consulting contract to
the Solar 100 Project. A joint venture of Southern California
Edison, Bechtel and McDonnel Douglas, it was the largest solar electricity
project under development in the world.
This occurred two years after I joined the Jet Propulsion Laboratories energy and environmental think
tank that was, at that time, the lead center for all advanced energy research
in the United States. Jet Propulsion Laboratory helped me develop the concept
for Sunlaw. I fnanced Sunlaw with
consulting work, eventually having a hand in virtually every alternative energy
technology, and did some level of work in 40 States and 20 countries.
In 1982 Sunlaw signed agreements with the two largest cold
storage warehouses in Los Angeles to supply them with refrigeration and with
Southern California Edison to sell them electricity. The refrigeration and electricity to be supplied from
powerplants using jet engines burning natural gas that would operate 24 hours
per day, 7 days per week. Sunlaw
worked with General Electric to adapt its largest jet engine for these pioneering
In 1984 Sunlaw successfully financed these two projects
using a technique pioneered by Sunlaw and its investment bankers Merrill Lynch
and Smith Barney. Sunlaw had no
money, it’s only assets were the contracts and a turnkey construction
contract. This “Project Financing”
relied on the intersection of these contracts and a first-of-a-kind insurance
policy from Lloyd’s of London to provide the security for the $62.8 million
dollar loan, and to provide the return to the equity investors. The investors were 215 wealthy
individuals (including musicians Prince and two members of the Jackson Five)
and the John Hancock Insurance Company.
At the time Sunlaw began operation, the average utility
powerplant operated less than half the time, had an electrical efficiency of
less than 30%; injuries, even deaths were commonplace. They used coal or oil as
fuel, and construction costs were more than double what they are today – over
30 years later. Allowable
emissions levels were over 50 times what they are today.
In its first year of operation and every year thereafter
Sunlaw shattered these records, achieving over 99% availability, 50% electrical
efficiency, a perfect safety record, operated solely on natural gas, and later
achieved a 98% reduction in emissions using catalytic converters invented by
Sunlaw achieved these records while being extremely
profitable. The performance was a
big part of the profitability, but an even bigger part was the bet Sunlaw made
that natural gas prices would go down and stay down. This bet was made based on work done at JPL in 1977 that
accurately predicted the vast supply of natural gas that now, in 2013, is
widely known, but was counter to conventional wisdom of the 1980’s. The Sunlaw powerplants were designated
“Pioneering” alternative energy plants by the California Public Utility
These operational and profitability records were widely
observed by the power industry.
Over the next 30 years, imitation of the Sunlaw design has had, by a
wide margin, the biggest energy conservation and emissions reduction effect
since the dawn of the industrial revolution, and is now starting to replace
coal-fired generation in many states.
Combined with Sunlaw’s special catalytic converters, the
Sunlaw plants were the first to actually eliminate an entire class of
pollutants – carbon monoxide. In
addition less than half the toxic particles in the air that went in to the
Sunlaw plant came out of the smokestack – an actual vacuuming effect.
Sunlaw’s artistic achievements included winning the Gold
Medal for Best Original Music at the New York Film Festival for a film
documenting the construction of the powerplants. I wrote and performed the music. We also had a public mural program that included the “Aztec
Princess” by Eloy Torrez, a cartoon by Mario Rincon, and murals by the winners
of the annual Vernon Elementary School art contest.
The profits from these powerplants paid for the tens of
millions of dollars spent to (unsuccessfully) develop the Nueva Azalea Project.
I tried to idealize Nueva Azalea from the standpoint of a
child growing up in a Los Angeles so smoggy we sometimes were not allowed to go
outside to play. Nueva Azalea was
my gift to the world, and it is fair to say in some ways it was my baby.
I wanted Nueva Azalea to be beautiful, truly beautiful. I wanted to set an example that could
anchor my dream of Los Angeles as a clean city of landmarks that celebrated
diversity. I wanted to achieve the
ultimate environmental and energy goals.
Had Nueva Azalea been successfully developed it would have:
- Established new standards legally binding in the
whole natural gas power industry resulting in emissions levels from power
plants so low the air coming out would often be cleaner than the air going in,
except for carbon dioxide. And for
carbon dioxide, room was specifically reserved to put in treatment facilities
to remove and recycle the carbon dioxide.
- Provided low-cost energy to surrounding
neighborhoods and public facilities.
- Rid South Gate of a huge truck depot, meat
packing plants and other highly polluting businesses on the edge of their
- Nueva Azalea would have been visible from the
landing approach to LAX, and been part of a visual quartet of architectural
landmarks including Disney Hall, Getty Center and LAX.
- Sunlaw’s environmental and social contract
claims were correct.
- Nueva Azalea’s opponents were wrong. Some were sincere environmentalists acting
on bad information. Some were
NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) environmentalists using environmental laws for
- The most virulent opposition, however, arose
from failure to pay bribes and use contractors and consultants specified by members
of the City Council and City Treasurer who were later recalled overwhelmingly
by Southgate voters, and some of whom went to jail after conviction on Federal
corruption charges, and made worrisome physical threats that resulted in felony
The Nueva Azalea Project became highly controversial. Sunlaw agreed to be bound by a
referendum, and when the voters rejected Nueva Azalea Sunlaw withdrew the
project and ceased development.
It has been almost 15 years since Nueva Azalea was first
conceived. Critics made many
charges, many based on speculation, and Sunlaw responded with the best facts
available at the time, some of those also speculation. With the benefit of the
intervening 15 years we can now review the speculation and determine whose
predictions were most accurate. In
retrospect some facts are now clear.
Sunlaw was a one-of-a-knd company that prospered at a unique
time in energy and social history.
Despite the disappointment of Nueva Azalea, the people of Sunlaw have
done well after Sunlaw shut down. Thousands of kids were helped by our
various community programs, and the art lives in its own special way. I have returned to music full-time, and
recently completed re-writing the Brandenburg Concertos.
There is more information on Sunlaw and Nueva Azalea below.
 I do not come from a wealthy family.
 Gas and
oil-fired gas turbine combined cycle plants have been used in large chemical
plants, refineries and paper mills, but not for electric utility service.
 Subsequently I co-invented
technology to convert carbon dioxide and seawater to high-quality cement and
the other parts of concrete. This
is important because quite literally the only use of CO2 that can absorb the
vast quantities produced by power plants and other emitters is concrete, and
then only for new housing. Around
30 billion tons of CO2 are produced each year. 30 billion tons of CO2 will make approximately 60 billion
tons of cement. That amount of
cement can make 20 million 1,600 square foot homes with 6 foot thick walls and
a 8 foot foundation. There is no
other use of sufficient scale to use the quantity of excess CO2 currently produced,
and this will be true for decades to come. Nueva Azalea specifically anticipated this development.
 Los Angeles Times: Robles
sentenced to 10 years 11/29/2006 03:33 PM;
 I shut down
Sunlaw and sold off its assets a couple of years after the demise of Nueva
Azalea when it became clear that the ultra-low emissions and ultra-high
efficiency offered by Sunlaw was not favored in the marketplace.
“LM Fraternity” is the group of people who more or less started the alternative
energy/renewable energy/energy efficiency movement that is now growing into a
trillion-dollar industry. This
group is responsible for saving twelve billion barrels of oil and twenty-six billion
tons of CO2—and counting.
It is still the largest energy and CO2 conservation event in history. It is a reason for hope, and the millions
of people pouring into the alternative energy industry can be helped by knowing
history of the who, how, and why of this extraordinary set of events has not been
written. This posting is a small contribution
to the record. I hope that others
will add to this record to make it more complete, and to share points of view other
than my own.
in the early 1980s, by far the largest energy conservation program in history has
been the switch from oil, and some coal, to natural gas for power generation, and
the dramatic improvement in gas-fired power plant efficiency that started with the
success of Sunlaw’s independent power projects in Los Angeles. Instead of the inefficient old industrial
engines using bottom-of-the-barrel bunker oil first used by the nascent private
power industry, Sunlaw went its own way in its search for ultra-high efficiency. It used the new engines that made jumbo
jets possible and combined them with steam turbines to make the most electrically
efficient utility power plants in the world. Revolutionary financing and risk management programs were invented. Technical and economic records were smashed. Copycat projects spread like a gold rush
around the globe.
established the primacy of electrical efficiency and directly led the push for ever-greater
electrical efficiency that has resulted in GE and Siemens products that are more
than 55 percent efficient, and now approaching 60 percent in efficiency. Ultra-low emissions technologies have combined
with these unprecedented efficiency gains to levels beyond our wildest dreams.
“LM Fraternity” made this happen. “LM”
stands for Land and Marine, the part of General Electric and Stewart & Stevenson
that Sunlaw called upon to be the key supplier for this effort. There is much merit to the view that although
they did not lead the effort, their long-term role has been the more crucial.
the same time, Jim Heath and Jacek Makowski were establishing the wind and small
hydro technology, business, and financing techniques that have now seen a firestorm
of growth around the world. Many people
crossed between Sunlaw and these other efforts, especially in financing and risk
was the founder and CEO of Sunlaw and saw all of this firsthand.
are many who deserve real credit. The
group was far fewer than a thousand people total, and probably fewer than one
hundred of them were the real visionaries and leaders. I’ve listed those I can remember below. These are some key people without whom this
wouldn’t have happened. The millions
who now work in the industry and the billions who are praying for their success
owe these people everything.
Ain, Roger Feldman, Larry Kellerman, Joe Manning, Ron Spoehel, Al Smith, and Rick
Stewart deserve special mention because they were ahead of me when I came to the
scene and contributed the key concepts I used. Most were also vital to the growth of the industry after Sunlaw
my best wishes to you and your family for energy independence and a clean environment
coupled with prosperity
People Who Made It Happen
know I’m missing some people, some of whom I should know and some I never knew about. I apologize profusely for any oversights.
early players (in alphabetical order by company and with the original affiliation):
Bank of America: Ron Spoehel, Dick Mandabach
AG Becker: Tom DePre, Bill Pope, Paul Rapisarda,
Drexel Burnham: Don Kendall
FERC: Ross Ain, Charlie Curtis, Adam Wenner
GE: Brien and Lorraine Bolsinger, Dick Cull,
Bill Ferrell, Bob Rosencrance, Jack Welch
Gibson, Dunn: Woody Woodland, Herb Krause, Nick
Gillin, Scott: Joel Simon
John Hancock/Energy Investor Fund: Margaret Stapleton,
Barry Welch, Herb Magid, Jim Heath
Hawker-Siddeley Power Engineering: John Cummings,
Sonny Harkins, Lawrence Debbage, Herb Cook
JPL: Richard Caputo, Jeff Smith, Donna
Shirley, Richard Davis, Jerry Kasper
Lloyd’s of London: Peter Nottage, Richard Irmas
Nixon Hargraves: Roger Feldman
Power Systems Engineering: Al Smith
Rocky Mountain Institute: Amory Lovins
Shah, Vierra: Art Skilman
South Coast Air Quality District: Henry Wedaa
Stewart & Stevenson: Joe, Joe Jr., Carsey,
and Jay Manning; Rick Stewart, Mark Axford, Gene Kelley, Don Wallin, Pete Watson,
Steve Huval, Dan Stinger
Sunlaw: Joe and Shirley Danziger, Woody
Woodland, Destiny McHune, John Baum, Roger DeVito, Jay Lobit, Mark Sehnert,
Mike Martin, Tim Smith, Gene and Carolyn Kelley,
U.S. Senate, Chief of Staff to Majority Leader:
Southern California Edison: Larry Kellerman,
Ed Meyers, Mike Vogeler, Ron Luxa
U.S. Growers Cold Storage: Sam Perricone, Angelo
and Kathy Antoci
of these friends and colleagues have passed away, including May Joe Danziger, Herb
Cook, Dick Cull, Dick Mandabach, Carsey Manning, Ed Meyers, Peter Nottage, Al Smith,
and Dan Stinger, may they rest in peace.
of the few histories of this area can be found at the Project Finance Magazine website: http://www.projectfinancemagazine.com/default.asp?Page=20&PUB=157&ISS=10992&SID=434401
to these true pioneers, I acknowledge and thank the following people:
Jody Allione, Mark Abramowitz, Arno
Baernhoft, Cheryl and Ron Barassi, Bob Bibb, Gary and Valerie Bird, Joe
Blocker, Tee Bosustow, Douglas Brooks, Larry Campbell, Rich Caputo, Rob Carver,
Catwoman, Shirley Danziger, Jack Douglas, Dave Epel, Curt Erickson, Senator
Marta Escutia, Neil Feineman, Lois Gerard, Dave Gordon, Grant Harlan, Larry
Harris, Cliff Hugo, Lucian Ion, Russell Ives, Buzz Joseph, Bob Jones, Charles
Heckman, Bob Hilton, David Holman, Cliff Hugo, Tod Hunt, Ian Gardner, Juan
Ibanez, Toby Kasavan, Mike Kazaleh, Theresa King, Norma Jean and David Keyston,
Vinod Khosla, Alex Kinnier, Darcy Kopcho, Carolyn Kozo-Cole, Herb Krause,
Albert Lee, Mike Levin, Paul Levine, Suzy London, Sinclair Lott, Roger Love,
Julian and Reinhold Mack, Fred Mandel, Mike Martin, Richard Mazur,
Luis and Jules Mejia, Helcio Milito, Harold and Paul Miller, Mike Miller, Rudy
Ng, Cody Oliver, Jaci Pappas, Ronna Perelson, Senator Richard Polanco, Tom
Preece, Jim Reece, Boris Reyes, Carol Rutan, Deborah Silgueros, Tim Smith, Greg
Surman, Karl Sun, Bill and Lois Straw, John Thi, Eloy Torres, Joe Turnesa,
Malcolm Weintraub, Mike Whittington, Bernie Wire, and the entire Woodland
Little More About My Power Plants
My power plants were called “cogeneration”
because they produced both electricity for sale to Southern California Edison, and
refrigeration for two of the largest cold storage warehouses. Blatant plug: Angelo Antoci and Sam Perricone,
with U.S. Growers Cold Storage, are two of my closest friends. Use them. They are the best.
Federal Cold Storage was sold to a conglomerate—not the same thing. When Sunlaw started, these two companies
supplied over half the cold storage for the Los Angeles area, to give you an idea
how much refrigeration my two plants provided.
That’s a lot of ice cream sandwiches. In addition the plants produced around
sixty megawatts—enough electricity for about sixty thousand homes. The plants ran twenty-four hours a day,
seven days a week, for almost fifteen years, with two weeks of maintenance
shutdown per year.
We produced the electricity by burning natural
gas, although we could burn diesel in an emergency but never had to. Shows you how reliable our natural gas pipeline
delivery system is. When you think
about it, it’s an amazing engineering achievement. The electric grid is also an amazing engineering feat, but it’s
in your face all the time in the form of utility poles and wires cluttering up the
view. The natural gas system is out
We burned the gas in jet engines made by
General Electric that were adapted to make electricity instead of fly a plane. We used the same engine as those used on
Boeing 747s and other jumbo jets.
Not everyone knows that the air that comes
in the front of a jet engine gets shot out the back of the engine really fast. Even fewer people know that the air coming
out of the engine is really hot—about twice as hot as your home oven on broil,
and the air that comes out of a car engine.
This hot air has a lot of energy in it. At Sunlaw’s power plants the heat was directed
into a giant version of the radiator on your car. This is called a heat recovery steam generator, because unlike
your car, which needs the coolant to stay liquid, our plants made as much steam
The steam went several places, but
mostly it was used to make more electricity, and some went to making refrigeration
for the cold storage warehouses.
The electricity is made in a steam turbine
generator. Basically it’s the same
steam generator that has been in use for over one hundred years. The only difference is that the source of
the steam is the waste heat from the jet engine.
The refrigeration also was made from the
steam, from the waste heat of the jet engine. Called absorption refrigeration, it is unlike the mechanical
refrigeration process used by the refrigerator in your house, which uses a
compressor. It’s more or less the same
kind of refrigerator used in motor homes that run on propane, except our refrigerator
was four stories tall.
Limited partners included Prince and
two of the Jackson Five brothers with whom I went to Fairfax High School. The power plants were shut down and
sold around 2002.
Essays in the Los Angeles Times
by Robert A. Jones Regarding Sunlaw’s Clean Air Efforts
Breathing Out, February 5, 1997
Playing Dirty With, July 20, 1997
Dithering Over Dirty Air, September 14, 1997
Los Angeles Times, Wednesday, February 5, 1997
Robert A. Jones
Sometimes it's the little stories that are
most fun. They can tell us more about ourselves, and how we operate as a
culture, than the big stories.
This little story begins down in Vernon, the belly of the industrial
beast in L.A. If it's big and ugly, it probably gets made in Vernon. As the
saying goes, Vernon may not be, hell; it just smells like it.
Smack in the middle of Vernon sits a
little company known as Sunlaw Energy Corp. In 1995, Sunlaw did a remarkable
thing. It built a new generating plant for electricity at the corner of Downey
Nothing so remarkable
about that except this plant probably spews fewer pollutants than any other
fossil-fuel plant in the world. In fact, "spews" is the wrong word to
use with the Sunlaw plant. On a moderately smoggy day in L.A., the emissions
coming out of its stack are cleaner than the air surrounding it.
Or to put it another
way, the plant is five times cleaner than required by the South Coast Air
Quality Management District. It's more than twice as clean as its nearest rival
and many times cleaner than most plants.
Sunlaw was created by a man
named Robert Danziger. As an industrialist, he is hard
to classify. He's had previous lives as a jazz musician and scientist at the
Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He is a
large man, very large, and when standard golf clubs didn't fit him he designed
his own. The living room of his house has been converted to a sound studio.
After World War II, this
city was full of entrepreneurs like Danziger, men who habitually poked into the
margins of things, making and sometimes losing several fortunes in their lives.
Now, most of them are gone.
But Danziger remains.
When he decided to build the clean stacks for his plant, his motives were
clearly commercial. At that time, the best equipment for cutting pollutants
involved injecting ammonia into flue gases. This process, called selective
catalytic reduction, or SCR, worked well enough but was infamous for the
dangers it posed.
For example. SCR demands the
delivery of liquid ammonia in tanker
trucks at regular intervals. A single truck accident producing a bad
spill of ammonia can kill hundreds,
and perhaps thousands in an urban setting. Spilled ammonia is so lethal that it
has killed drivers on highways who have merely passed through a gas cloud
created by an accident.
SCR also has the
paradoxical effect of increasing ammonia in the atmosphere, because some of the
ammonia is expelled up the stack.
Danziger believed he could invent a
better process and make some money at the same time. Under the AQMD rules, better pollution devices can be
certified as "best available control technology" and required for new
plants. Sunlaw being the manufacturer with the patent would get the sales.
"We were betting a few million
dollar's that we could beat SCR,
make some money and get rid of the ammonia danger all at once," says
Danziger. "It was such a good package, we couldn't pass it up."
All went well. After some twists
and turns in the road, Sunlaw installed a new system at its own plant in the
spring of 1995. It worked
splendidly. No ammonia, no dangerous
materials of any kind, and the
Sunlaw system cut out more pollutants than the old system. By far. Test results
showed how good it was. The plant's emissions of nitrogen oxides, one of the
main ingredients of smog, fell to 1.99 ppm. Another pollutant, carbon monoxide,
fell to 1.28ppm.
Those concentrations are so low that, on
any summer day, the Sunlaw plant is actually cleaning the background air in its
neighborhood. The AQMD was so impressed that it publicly praised Sunlaw for
reducing emissions “by more than 80% and eliminating the toxic hazard of
Ronald Reagan himself could not have dreamed up a better example of
capitalism at work. No public
monies had been spent. The air
gets cleaner, toxics get reduced and jobs get created.
But guess what. Sunlaw has
made no sale of its technology.
Even as Sunlaw was being praised, its industrial brothers in the energy
business were maneuvering to install the adoption of new pollution equipment. Arguing that technological
breakthroughs were wreaking havoc on their enterprises, they begged for a dose
of big government intervention.
And big government listened.
The good Republicans in the state Legislature decided government
regulation was required. They
fashioned legislation aimed solely at the South Coast AQMD, ordering it to add
long waiting times and layers of regulatory obstacles to the adoption process.
For example: the old system allowed
new technology to be adopted after a one-month test period. The new system requires a year of test
the old system OK’d the new technology as a matter of course after it was
proven to be successful. The new
system requires lengthy staff reviews, presentations before public hearings and
an approving vote by the governing board of the AQMD before adoption is
And, best of all, the
AQMD now interprets the law to require an environmental impact statement for
any new anti-pollution device. Oh,
the irony. As we all know, an EIS
can take a year or more all by itself.
It now looks like it
could take until 2000 to get the Sunlaw system adopted. If then. One AQMD official, trying to make a tortured explanation of
the whole affair, finally said, “Sunlaw got screwed.”
And so did the rest
of us. Those ammonia trucks
trundle in and out of UCLA, downtown L.A. and dozens of other locations week
after week, posing their deadly threat.
The SCR systems keep pumping more unused ammonia into the air. All because simple capitalism wasn’t
allowed to work.
And Sunlaw? It’s leaving town. The plant will stay, but the company is
folding its tent and moving to Knoxville, Tenn.
says Danziger. Sunlaw’s business
prospects are simply much better outside of California. And besides, he says, his employees
hate the smog.
Sunday, July 20, 1997
By Robert A. Jones
The drama continues to build at Sunlaw Energy Corp., the
little company in Vernon that wants to clean up our air but can't. Can't, that is, because the Air Quality
Management District won't let it.
When I first wrote about Sunlaw earlier
this year, it was trying in vain to get our once-vaunted air pollution agency
to recognize the company's breakthrough in cleaning the filth from power
Smog and its cures, of course, have always
been a magnet for charlatans. But the people at Sunlaw are no charlatans. They
submitted boxes of independent tests to the AQMD showing that their power
plant, using the company's new equipment, produced about one-third the
pollutants of even the cleanest competing plants.
This dramatic improvement matters very
much, incidentally, because California sits at the cusp of a new age in power
generation. The huge, old boiler plants of yore have grown obsolete and soon
will be replaced by a new breed of turbine-driven plants. Already, energy companies are prowling
Southern California, picking out sites for the new plants.
So the question posed is this: Will these
plants receive the benefit of Sunlaw's new technology or will they use the old
equipment that releases three times as many pollutants?
This spring, the AQMD revealed itself to
be paralyzed in the face of this question. Its technology assessment program
had failed to approve, reject or otherwise respond to Sunlaw's discoveries
after years of entreaties by the company.
The AQMD said its paralysis was produced
by a new state law, sponsored by the big polluters, that saddled the evaluation
process with Byzantine regulations. It was trapped, the AQMD said, by the bad guys.
Now comes the new twist in the road. It
seems the federal Environmental Protection Agency caught wind of the Sunlaw
discovery. Intrigued by its potential, the EPA asked the company for the same
tests it had provided to the AQMD.
And this month the federal assessment came
back. Voila! The EPA certified the Sunlaw plant as establishing a new standard
for emission rates from power plants.
"I would like to congratulate you on
the impressive results you have achieved," the EPA wrote to the company's
president, Robert Danziger.
The letter declared that the results would
bear the EPA's designation as the "Lowest Achievable Emission Rate."
For what it's worth, the NOx emissions at
the Sunlaw plant were certified at 3.5 parts per million, currently the AQMD
standard is 9 parts per million.
More interesting yet, the EPA noted that in the last month of the test,
the Sunlaw plant achieved a NOx emission rate of 1 part per million. That's a
pollutant level lower than the air we breathe on a smoggy day.
In any case, the much-maligned EPA managed
to respond to the Sunlaw development in a matter of a few months. And its
action has great meaning. As the EPA states in the letter, "the [federal]
Clean Air Act requires that all new major sources . . . must comply with the
lowest achievable emission rate."
In other words, the Sunlaw emission rate
is now the standard in Southern California and will apply to the new generation
of power plants coming down the pike.
Or will it?
No, not quite, says the AQMD. Anupom
Ganguli, chief of Stationary Source Compliance at AQMD, says the agency will
still require Sunlaw to jump through the many regulatory hoops of the state law.
We still must have 12 months of emission
data from Sunlaw," says Ganguli.
"Following that we will hold a public workshop. Then we will hold a
public hearing at our governing board meeting."
When will that process end? No one knows. The law sets no limit on
the dithering and delays that can be imposed on anyone who wants to clean the
As Gail Ruderman Feuer of the Natural
Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, puts it: "The AQMD is
choosing to make the public a loser. A cleaner technology is available and the
AQMD has become the obstacle."
It amounts to an amazing switcheroo from
only 10 years or so ago when the AQMD led the world in promoting clean air. Now
it finds itself being dragged by others, kicking and screaming all the way.
And there's the small question of whether
the AQMD is violating federal law by refusing to adhere to standards set by the
EPA. When I put this question to the agency, the answer was ambiguous. "We
are talking to the EPA, trying to find a compromise," said a spokesman.
Hey, I have an idea. Why not just call
Sunlaw and ask the company to run its plant a little dirtier so all the other
plants could run dirty too.
True enough, that's not really a
compromise. But then the AQMD is not really an air pollution agency. So it all fits rather nicely.
Sunday, September 14, 1997
Los Angeles Times
By Robert A. Jones
Good news. Of a sort. The
AQMD has capitulated in the matter of Sunlaw Energy Corp., finally allowing the
company to help cleanse that soup of gases we refer to as "air" in
You may notice the irony of an air pollution agency being forced
to "capitulate" to cleaning the air.-But so it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut
would say; that's the state of affairs these days at the AQMD.
To recap the
story, Sunlaw knocked on the district's door about two years ago with a claim
that it had developed a new system for scrubbing pollutants from power plant
stacks. Specifically, the company said its system would reduce gases such as
nitrogen oxide-a major smog component-to one-third the level produced by
All the AQMD needed to do was test the new system and decide whether the Sunlaw people
were charlatans or the real thing. If the decision was charlatans, toss 'em
out. If the real thing, get on with it.
But the AQMD did neither. It dithered and made excuses for nearly
two years. Finally the federal Environmental Protection Agency stepped in,
found the test results remarkable and certified them in a matter of weeks.
That happened in July. And
still the AQMD withheld its blessing.
Antonovich couldn't understand it. The supes' representative on the AQMD board,
Antonovich wrote the executive director and asked, in effect, what's going on?
The answer was more dithering. Barry Wallerstein, acting
executive director of the AQMD, offered this gobbledygook in reply:
"Health and Safety Code Section
40440.11 (c) specifies the criteria and process that must be followed by the
AQMD in order to update and change the BACT designation contained in the BACT Guidelines."
Got that? Translated
into English, Wallerstein was claiming that a state law passed in 1995
prohibited the AQMD from recognizing the EPA's decision on Sunlaw. It was an
absurd position because states cannot prohibit enforcement by federal agencies
operating under federal law.
When the EPA caught wind of the
Wallerstein claim, it put the hammer down on the AQMD. Either recognize the Sunlaw certification or
risk losing your authority to
review new technology, the EPA said.
And so the ugly culmination: The AQMD
caved, reversing its interpretation of state law, and certified Sunlaw. The new
technology is now available for use in Southern California.
A debacle, yes, but one that goes
beyond its immediate importance. It demonstrates the depressing erosion taking
place at a public agency that once led the world.
Not for nothing did the old AQMD
win the reputation of seeking out the best technology to control pollution. Not
for nothing did it get known for imposing the most stringent standards. We had
the best air pollution district in the world.
These days, the agency seems to spend
much of its energy advertising that L.A.'s air is much cleaner than it was 25
years ago. And it is. But that progress was made largely because of the work,
and political will, of the AQMD that has long disappeared.
The new AQMD, while reminding the
public of the progress made, rarely confronts the disagreeable fact that L.A.
still has the dirtiest air on the North American continent outside of Mexico
Nor does it widely publicize the
findings of recent studies showing air pollution to be far more dangerous and
life-shortening than was previously believed.
These studies, especially those on microscopic
particulates, have demonstrated that even moderate air pollution can sap the
vigor of children and the elderly. In some cases it can lead to premature
Here in LA., of course, we do not have
a moderate problem. We have a problem so serious that it could be used, by
perceptive leaders, to galvanize support and regain the initiative on air
Instead, we get self-congratulation by
the bureaucrats and, behind the scenes, the impotent dithering over a matter
like Sunlaw. In fact, even as the AQMD was admitting its mistakes and
certifying the results of the Sunlaw tests, some were saying the battle would
be carried on.
Martin Ledwitz, a member of the
scientific review committee at the AQMD, says, "The EPA has been told not
to do it that way anymore." He means the way the EPA "did it"
with Sunlaw. In the future, he
says, the EPA will "think twice" before certifying.
It is unlikely, I think, that the EPA
will quake in its boots over Ledwitz's threat. But the remark suggests the current tone of things at the
AQMD. As does the fact that Ledwitz, in addition to sitting on the agency's
scientific committee, also happens to be Southern California Edison's chief
lobbyist at the AQMD.
And so the news was good this week at
the AQMD. But good in its own
Which is to say, sort of.
Following is an editorial that appeared in the Long
Beach Press Telegram after the defeat of Nueva Azalea:
Long Beach Press-Telegram
Friday, March 9, 2001
HOME FOR A POWER PLANT
SITE: SUPER-CLEAN FACILITY COULD BE A WELCOME
ADDITION ELSEWHERE THAN SOUTH GATE.
It's hardly a
surprise that South Gate voters on Tuesday resoundingly rejected the idea
of building a power plant, considering the issues: racial politics, air
pollution and the proximity of homes. But it was a mistake.
Instead of the power
plant, South Gate could be left with more, not less air pollution; more
exposure of homes to noise and exhaust; and a lost opportunity worth millions
of dollars a year in tax revenue to a small, cash-starved city.
As for racial
politics, some of South Gate's agitated politicians got it exactly backward.
Even if the power plant were a pollution problem, neighboring cities would be
more at risk than the supposedly oppressed locals, who are mostly Latino,
because pollution travels with the winds.
Also, this plant
would be different from anything so far endured by Southern Californians, who
have endured some very dirty ones. In recent years, gas-fired power generators
have replaced the oil-burning types, which used to splatter homes and cars over
a wide region with greasy soot. But most
gas-fired plants aren't all that clean, either.
The facility proposed
for South Gate would have used a technology that reduces pollution to the
equivalent of a neighborhood service station or, to use a more apt comparison,
7 buses. (Buses are more apt, because residences near the South Gate site are
exposed hourly to the exhaust of thousands of cars, buses and trucks roaring
along the adjacent 710 Freeway.)
fact, tests show the plants exhaust would be cleaner than the ambient air in
the neighborhood, which means, in effect, that the facility would leave the air
cleaner than it found it.
Since Sunlaw, the
proposed plant's builder, has pulled out, the South Gate site wiII continue to
be used to park 300 trucks. Now there's some real pollution: 300 dirty diesels
coming and going, right alongside the 710's ceaseless torrent of fumes.
We're not trying to
sell the merits of this plant to South Gate. Voters have made their decision.
The builder of the proposed plant, EM-One Power Stations, a subsidiary of
Sunlaw Energy Partners, have chosen to honor the local nonbinding initiative,
although they weren't legally required to.
The reason to take a
closer look at the Nueva Azalea Project, as it is called, is because this is
precisely the sort of generating facility Southern California needs because of
two pressing concerns: a shortage of electricity and an abundance of pollution.
Beach, for example, wants to build a power plant in the harbor area of about
the same size, 550 megawatts (big enough to serve 500,000 homes). And yes, it
is possible to commit some of that megawattage at an attractive rate to
residents of the community that hosts the plant.
Beach's harbor area, like the South Gate site, is home to a lot of diesel
activity. A plant like Nueva Azalea could suck up a bit of that truck soot
before it blows inland, at the same time it helps to keep the town's lights on.
In some places, that's a welcome combination.
My Gift to Los Angeles and the World
“It’s the water
flowin’, it’s the tree growin’, through the dark side, through the hole,
through the mess, through the crime, through the mind. It’s no pact with the devil . .
.” – from the song “No Pact With the Devil” by Robert Danziger (1989)
|Proposed Nueva Azalea Site in South Gate as it was and is (2010) and Artist?s Conception
Nueva Azalea was, quite simply, my
gift to Los Angeles and the world.
It embodied the best of everything I could conceive to strengthen the
heart of Los Angeles by building a landmark of environmental leadership, energy
efficiency, and public sculpture on a grand scale. Perhaps most important it was a statement of deepest respect
and gratitude for the ethnic and racial diversity that brings the greatness of
so many cultures to those of us who grew up in Los Angeles.
Learning is everywhere.
In a broader sense, Nueva Azalea was my gift
to the world. It would have
periodically achieved the ultimate environmental goal – to have an important
source of energy make a place cleaner rather than dirtier and thereby set a
standard in the real world, in a real place, that could not ultimately be
ignored. If all the power plants
in the United States were as efficient, clean, flexible and community-oriented
as Nueva Azalea we would wipe out urban air pollution, eliminate our oil
dependence on the middle east, be a big help to the oceans, have a clear path
to eliminating human contribution to global warming, and significantly increase
Of all these issues the one closest to my
heart is urban air pollution.
Growing up I remember burning eyes and burning lungs when playing baseball
or basketball. I remember coughing
and choking – not so bad for me but debilitating to many of my friends who
could not come out and play.
People would die and in your heart you knew air pollution was a
factor. We would all ask, “How
don’t do something and fix this problem?”
And then as a teenage musician I spent a
lot of time in the places where the recent immigrants have always ended up in
L.A. I saw the impact on the
children and the families and their schools. And we all asked, “How come They don’t do
Then starting Sunlaw I lived and worked in
the most polluted places. I knew
intimately the practices of the polluter’s and the polluted. As you know, I loved the children of
Vernon, and indeed the whole of the inner city, and I cried for them countless
times because I knew what air pollution was doing to them. My broken heart cried out, “Why don’t They
Then fate handed me the means and the
technology to make a huge dent in this problem. I realized that. “I am They.” And as Sunlaw, and the good people
within companies all over the
world who were helping us, “We are They.”
Below are some excerpts from
documents pertaining to Nueva Azalea.
The first is an excerpt from the permit application for Nueva Azalea to
the California Energy Commission.
The section noted is my statement on the issue of Environmental
Justice. This is important because
the issue most cited by our opponents was Environmental justice.
The concept of Environmental Justice arose
from the fact that polluting industry and other bad environmental consequences
have fallen much, much more on the poor and politically weak than in affluent
areas. Sometimes this was because
industrial and adjacent areas are where cheap housing can be found. Sometimes, indeed, it was a deliberate,
cynical and racist decision to get something through the permitting process
that would never be allowed otherwise by exploiting the relative political
powerlessness of the poor.
It is ironic that we were repeatedly
bashed on the Environmental Justice issue given my 30 years in the community,
high level of support for the community, deep appreciation for the culture of
the community, and a clearly demonstrated love of its children. Most important, Nueva Azalea would have
helped clean rather than dirty the area, remove blight, and provide an anchor
for honoring the best of what Los Angeles and its rich variety of cultures
offers. Indeed, we were repeatedly
painted with the same brush as the worst industrial offenders of the past. I remember being asked on one radio
show interview why we didn’t put our plant in Beverly Hills. The premise of the question is that we
were harming the area, which we weren’t, and demonstrates our inability to
communicate the fact that we were making the area cleaner, safer and
richer. Beverly Hills didn’t need
my help. But the people of the
central city, people who I loved and worked with, people who breathed the same
air I did, needed, clean air and a good reason to believe that things were on
the way to getting better.
I don’t think anyone ever read what we had
to say on this subject. I hope you
Excerpt from the Main Permit Application
permit application for a big powerplant in California, whether it’s wind,
solar, gas turbines or anything is filed with the California Energy
Commission. The initial
application requires several thousand pages of documents and information and
can easily cost $15 million to prepare and start the process. The permit is called and Authority for
Construction (AFC). One of the
sections is about Environmental Justice.
From the AFC for Nueva Azalea (Executive Summary page 1-22):
Environmental Justice The Applicant acknowledges that:
There is a doctrine of Environmental Justice and it applies
to the location of this proposed site and related facility.
Environmental Justice involves notions of historic
disproportionate environmental and socio/economic impacts in certain
The Nueva Azalea Project intends to deal with these issues
in an open and frank manner.
Further, the Applicant intends to fully mitigate the environmental
impacts to insignificant levels and to enhance the local physical and
socioeconomic environment by the technology deployed and associated community
There needs to be an implied covenant
between industry and community which contemplates that in return for the
community supporting industrial development by providing its land and workforce
and other resources, industry agrees to bring prosperity to the community in
the form of employment and benefits. An integral part of this implied covenant
is that industry will tread lightly on the land by operating in an
environmentally responsible manner. Unfortunately, there have been many cases
in which this implied covenant was broken. In the past industry has, in many
cases, operated in an environmentally irresponsible manner. Where there were
once green fields, brown fields now exist -
for the community to clean up, but too dangerous to remain. Further, there is a
perception that industry targets communities that do not have the wealth,
sophistication, or resources necessary to defend against a continuation of this
practice. One can only conclude that it is appropriate for the community and
governmental agencies to step in to insure that Environmental Justice is served
in the development, operation and clean up of industrial projects.
In the years immediately following World
War II, industry came to Southgate. Southgate welcomed industry, and its
already growing population swelled to work in the new factories. For many years
industry and community worked and prospered together. However, with the
inevitable industrial evolution, industry left and Southgate was left with the
aftermath. In too many cases industry failed to restore its sites
satisfactorily. Southgate was left with more than its share of brown fields.
Too expensive to clean up, these brown fields were relegated to short term un-remediated usage (e.g. diesel truck trailer parks)
thereby turning a bad situation into a worse one.
For over 15 years Sunlaw Energy has safely and successfully operated two power
plants in the City of Vernon [which is just up the road from Southgate]. Over the
course of these years Sunlaw has not only operated its plants according to the
environmental best practices of the day, but has actually advanced the
environmental best practices through an aggressive research and development
program. Throughout the years Sunlaw has championed clean air despite the
costs. For example, Sunlaw was the only active corporate supporter of the
Children' s Environmental Health Act (SB 10-7 10, 1999). Additionally, Sunlaw
has immersed itself into the Community by supporting local schools, churches
and other organizations. One has only to ask to know of Sunlaw's community
involvement and its respect for the peoples of the Community.
In developing the Nueva Azalea Project,
its sponsors intend to not only comply with the implied covenant, but to exceed
the requirements of air quality and land management by:
· Displacing a
diesel truck storage yard, which hosts up to 285 diesel trucks daily.
· Reclaiming and
remediating the current "brown field" diesel truck storage yard.
· Constructing a
power plant that will improve the environment of the community by reducing the
air pollution in the immediate area without increasing noise pollution, and by
providing a ready market for the community's "gray water".
· Designing a
power plant, which is so aesthetically pleasing that it becomes a community
· Contributing to
the improvement of the Community through ongoing contributions of its time and
community oversight and other interactive committees to direct community
development efforts and insure covenant compliance during development,
operation, and eventually, cleanup of the project
The Applicant takes
its implied Industry/Community Covenant seriously and further recognizes that
Southgate composes a predominately minority community as defined both in
Executive Order 12898 issued by the President of the United States and
subsequent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Environmental Justice
Guidelines. In light of this demographic fact, the Project has been analyzed
and found not only to have no disproportionate environmental impacts on the
Hispanic Community, but, in fact, has been found to positively enhance the
physical environment and improve the socio- economic setting. Along with the
number of actions designed to reduce any potentially significant impact to
insignificant levels, the activities of the project exceed those nominal
actions in order to meet social/ethical, as well as, environmental
responsibilities as noted previously. These improvements arise from the
displacement of a truck park, including the clean-up of toxic materials
leaching in the soil and immediately available aerosols and fine particulate
matter deposition from a combination of diesel fumes, road dust, and tire
material. The clean up of the existing site, the deployment of actual state of
the art air emissions control technology, which actually enhances the air
resources environment, and a program directed at direct investment in the local
community (through the application of funds for community development purposes)
all add to enhancing the site.
In many ways, the Nueva Azalea Project will not only comply with the
implied community covenant, but will also resolve many of the infractions of
its South Gate predecessors. To this end, the Nueva Azalea Project will
formalize its implied covenant with Southgate -thereby binding not only the
current Nueva Azalea Project Sponsors guaranteeing compliance during
construction and at the time of project completion and continuing into the
believes that the California Energy Commission must enforce the principles of
Environmental Justice directly under it responsibilities under the Federal
Civil Rights Act, under its responsibilities as a Federal Delegatee pursuant to
the Clean Air Act and other federal environmental statutes, and indirectly as a
potential candidate for federal de-funding under appropriate federal
substantive and fiscal statutes. The Applicant is prepared to assist other
Centers of Excellence, including the Office Attorney General of the State of
California in making any appropriate legal clarification.
[END OF EXCERPT]
MARTHA ESCUTIA: An Honorable Woman and Great Public Servant
Martha Escutia is one of the most
honorable public servants it has ever been my pleasure to meet. In my interactions with her Senator
Escutia was absolutely honest and straightforward, and most of all, fiercely
protective of her community and the environment. Her love for her community was ever-present in our discussions,
and she was suspicious of anyone, including ourselves, who might do any sort of
Over many years, Martha Escutia was also
the most consistent public official I ever met or even knew of in working to
protect and improve the environment, particularly for children. This is precisely why we approached her
for support. I knew in my heart of
hearts that Senator Escutia would not support Nueva Azalea unless we were
really delivering the goods. We
couldn’t fool her, didn’t want to.
I would not have supported Nueva Azalea unless we were doing good, and
if we weren’t, if I was fooling myself somehow, Senator Escutia would have
found it and fiercely opposed what I was trying to do. I deliberately went to my most severe
potential judge because Nueva Azalea had to be right; it had to be a gift and
not a burden.
When the environmental community dismissed
her support, and instead turned on her and me, I was severely
disappointed. They assumed Senator
Escutia had somehow corruptly come to our aid, when nothing could be further
from the truth. I can somewhat
understand folks not believing me, but Martha deserved much better. And the attacks on her were vicious,
including death threats and all manner of vitriol. This is an item on which the environmental community, with
the exception of the California League of Conservation Voters should hang its
head in shame.
Some of the attacks on Senator Escutia
came from the fact that we hired her husband, Leo Briones, as a political
consultant and campaign manager.
This was only done after Martha had reviewed, re-reviewed, raked us over
the coals, tested us and tested us again.
I didn’t need a political consultant or campaign manager yet because
there wasn’t going to be one without Martha’s endorsement. In fact, I had never even heard of Leo
Briones or his firm until after her endorsement was given.
So, after receiving what I thought would
be definitive endorsements that would clearly demonstrate the goodness of our
actions, I made the decision to proceed and we began a search for political
advisors and managers. First we
needed people from the community who had deep experience and a proven track
record. This limited us to just a
handful of firms. Of these firms,
some worked for polluters and others who opposed our activities and that
conflict was irreconcilable. In
fact only two firms were left.
The firm not headed by Leo Briones turned
out to have strong affiliations with a very corrupt individual in Southgate,
someone we would never associate with.
That left only Leo’s company, and that’s how he came to be hired, but
only after he and Martha made very, very clear to me that any deviation from
our commitments and Martha would end her endorsement of the project.
One of the things few people appreciate is
how difficult it was to find lawyers, PR firms, bankers and other critical
services when a company tries to be a lot cleaner than everyone else in their
industry. It automatically creates
a conflict-of-interest with, in the case of pushing a cleaner powerplant, every
oil company, electric utility, and all of their suppliers. For example, our banker’s biggest
customer had become Enron. When
the Bank looked at helping finance
our projects Enron told them not to, leaving us without an essential big
Wall Street resource. Almost all
of the big, powerful and effective law firms, for example, represent utilities,
oil companies and other big institutions.
Many of their biggest clients were opponents and competitors, so they
would not and could not represent us.
Indeed, the law firm that did represent us was recommended by the trade
unions, because we couldn’t find anyone else who would do it. This is not to say I am unhappy with
Barry Epstein’s representation of Nueva Azalea at the California Energy
Commission. He was very smart,
very capable, a tireless worker, and a real asset.
|This ad was part of a campaign by Albert Robles, the now-convicted felon who was South Gate?s City Treasurer, and his brother, Mahatma Gandhi Robles (who was convicted previously of attempted murder and recently died in a scuba diving incident? check??), to intimidate and discredit Senator Escutia and the Nueva Azalea project.
California League of
Conservation Voters Calls Robles Attack On Senator Martha Escutia “Despicable”
March 2 /PRNewswire/ -- The California League
of Conservation Voters (CLCV) jumped to the defense of Senator Martha Escutia
today, accusing South Gate City Treasurer Albert Robles of a vicious and
unfounded attack on one of California's most effective advocates for public
health and the environment ....
be noted that Albert Robles made a long series of threats against Senator
Escutia and Leo Briones. What made
these threats particularly frightening was that Albert Robles’ brother, Mahatma Gandhi Robles (that’s his real
name) had a long history of violence, substance abuse and other run-ins with
the law. Mahatma had
recently been released from prison where he had served time for robbery,
assault with a deadly weapon, battery and other crimes. Mahatma was commonly believed to have
shot the previous mayor of South Gate in the head. Mahatma was a menacing presence, and Albert openly used his
brother as the implied method of carrying out his threats.
reason the State of California would not provide protection to the Senator and
her husband. Sunlaw was forced, at
great expense, to hire round-the-clock bodyguards for them, usually off-duty
LAPD officers. These officers
reported seeing Mahatma stalking the Senator, although thankfully no harm came
to her or her family.
was arrested much later for threatening public officials, and the police found
automatic weapons and silencers in his home. However, after a trial featuring a multi-million dollar
defense illegally paid for by the City of South Gate, Albert was
acquitted. The judge did not allow
the prosecutor’s to introduce any evidence about Mahatma which pretty much made
successful prosecution impossible.
Communities for a Better Environment
for a Better Environment were the principal public opponents of the Nueva
Azalea Project. Headquartered very
close to the headquarters of Sunlaw, and very near the Vernon Elementary
School, CBE made many, many unfounded and erroneous accusations against the
Nueva Azalea project, Sunlaw and myself in general. CBE’s actions included organizing
opposition at the local school’s telling the students that Sunlaw believed the
people of Southgate to be stupid, that Sunlaw was all rich white guys who were
slumlords, that Nueva Azalea would be the most polluting plant in the history
of power generation, that diesel smoke (as existed at the truck park plant
site) is good for you but the exhaust from Nueva Azalea would cause birth
defects and learning disabilities, that Nueva Azalea was actually a nuclear
powerplant that would spew radiation throughout the community, etc.
Headline: Treasurer, 3 Council Allies Recalled
Headline: Ex-South Gate Treasurer Convicted in Bribery Case (July 29, 2005)
Whenever Albert Robles, the
“Ex-South Gate Treasurer Convicted in Bribery Case” threatened to take some
action against Sunlaw for not paying him or his cronies bribes, within a day or
so, CBE would take such action.
CBE also threatened other environmental groups that if they supported
the Nueva Azalea project that CBE would publicly accuse them of racism. They made this threat several times,
and several environmental organizations failed to come to our aid and defense
after having promised repeatedly to do so.
In addition, CBE used a tactic against us
they’ve used in numerous other battles they’ve had around the country, where
they use laws or regulations, often campaigned for by CBE, that assume a
certain level of pollution or harm from something, as part of an analysis or
permit application. CBE then
points to that level of pollution to oppose the project even if, as in the case
of Nueva Azalea, that pollution would not be present, and if it were present,
the plant would have to be shut down.
In Sunlaw’s one meeting with CBE, they
acknowledged that while maybe we were doing something innovative, the head of
CBE went to a chalkboard and drew a caricature of Nueva Azalea in the form of a
large penis, and told us that’s what we are really doing.
At that same meeting Albert Huerta, who
was the face of CBE to the media for Nueva Azalea, became very emotional and
described how his mother had worked very hard and degrading jobs to make it for
the family in Los Angeles. He
described his vision that the proposed site of Nueva Azalea should become a
public park. Mr. Huerta was
later heard on tape (NPR interview below) saying to students:
“I came here to recruit you, to try to get you to
help us defeat, you know, the power plant people because these people, they
think we're dumb. You know, Sunlaw Energy Partners, they think we're stupid.
They think, `Oh, they're Latinos. A lot of them are immigrants, Spanish
surname. . . Now I'm telling you,
this is our only chance right now. If we're going to defeat these guys--their
guys are all rich guys, you know; rich, white guys--we have to defeat them in
[and they accused me of being a racist]
shocked at the incompetence of his vision. First of all, if Nueva Azalea wasn’t built the site was
going to remain a trucking facility with over 260 trucks putting out much, much
more pollution than Nueva Azalea where the air coming out would be cleaner than
the air going in. Next door to
CBE’s proposed park was the Santa Ana freeway, one of the busiest, most
polluted corridors on the planet, where one could not hear the kids playing for
the noise of the freeway. The
industrial neighbors around the site are a concrete grinding facility that puts
out massive amounts of dangerous dust and often has explosions that occur when
grinding huge blocks of concrete, an asphalt plant that smelled very bad, a
petroleum tank farm, and the site was contaminated from decades of industrial
use and dangerous for children.
Also, the site is under some of the biggest powerlines in Southern
California. This is where CBE
wants its children to play?
When asked about these facts, Mr. Huerta
replied that the freeway, industrial plants, powerlines and truck park should
all be moved somewhere else so he could have his park. If at first read you don’t see the
stupidity of that vision, please re-read.
Tens of billions of dollars would be required, decades of legal actions
and even more decades to clean up the sites. CBE’s vision, as naive as it was, may have been due
some respect, except that at the same time CBE was virulently opposing the
cleanest powerplant ever proposed in the history of power production, that
would be a beautiful architectural landmark, serve as an anchor for
establishing a gray water system in water-short Los Angeles, and contribute
$6 to $8 million dollars of annual tax revenue to a city with a budget of $23
million, a city that has many needs for such money, CBE was
supporting or failing to oppose in any way a slaughterhouse, several much
dirtier powerplants, another concrete grinding facility, more trucks and other
polluting activities. The big
difference between Nueva Azalea and these other unopposed projects is that the
others were friends of Albert Robles, some of whom were actively bribing him
and other officials, and we were
Two local papers that opposed the
powerplant strongly were the L.A. Weekly and the L.A. New Times. Both printed stories with “facts” that
they knew were false at the time they printed the stories, and both failed to
understand the merits of Nueva Azalea, but fully supported CBE. Allegations of corruption were made
against L.A. New Times by the author of it’s article, although I have no
independent documentary proof of such corruption.
Following is a transcript of a radio broadcast on National
Public Radio the morning of the vote in Southgate:
ALLEGATIONS OF ENVIRONMENTAL RACISM IN A SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA COMMUNITY
EDWARDS, host: California Governor Gray Davis announced yesterday
that 20 energy suppliers have signed long-term contracts to provide electricity
to the state. Davis also has been pushing for the construction of new power
plants to solve the state's energy crisis. Today voters in South Gate,
California, have a chance to voice their opinion on a proposed new power plant.
It could be the cleanest natural gas-fired plant in the country, but some South
Gate government officials say it would pollute their town, and they accuse the
power plant company of environmental racism. NPR's Ina Jaffe reports.
southeast corner of LA County is a jigsaw puzzle of small, industrial cities.
In the seven and a half square miles known as South Gate, there is one short
block that's home to a factory that makes roofing materials, an asphalt recycling
plant and a diesel truck depot, all right next to the freeway. This is where
Sunlaw Energy Partners wants to build the new power plant, where the truck
depot is now. But South Gate's city treasurer, Albert Robles, points toward the
intersection and says, `There's more than just factories around here.'
ALBERT ROBLES [then (South Gate City
Treasurer) now a convicted felon]: A hundred yards from that light is the
first houses. I live right there. A hundred and fifty yards south of that light
is a residential community, cul-de-sac area, where you'll have over 300 homes.
You know, you have schools within a mile and a half of this area.
Robles [subsequently convicted felon]
says his city already has more than its share of industrial smoke stacks.
That's why the proposed power plant has been the hot political topic in this
mostly Latino town. A few days ago, the mayor and vice mayor went on a hunger
strike to demonstrate their opposition. A member of the City Council was
recalled because he supported the plant. Robles says that shows Sunlaw Energy
Partners that they're not wanted in South Gate.
ROBLES [subsequently convicted felon]:
What they're talking about is building a monstrosity the size of Dodgers
Stadium. We're saying the risk associated with burning gas 24 hours a day, 365
days a year, it's not right that they build it here in South Gate.
This power plant would be big, 550 megawatts, but no monstrosity, according to
supporters. That's because it would use a technology called SCONOx that's been
shown to be much cleaner than what's used on other gas-fired plants. The South
Gate facility would be the first large-scale, commercial use of SCONOx. Sunlaw Energy Partners, the power-plant
builder, owns a minority stake in the technology. Bob Danziger is Sunlaw's
DANZIGER (Founder, Sunlaw Energy Partners): People associate power plants with
being dirty. That's going to continue until people allow us to build plants
like ours and demonstrate that it can be done clean.
Clean is a relative term; the plant would still emit nearly 400 tons of
pollutants every year. According to the agency in charge of curbing air
pollution in Southern California, that's the equivalent of the emissions from
76 city buses. Nonetheless, that agency, the South Coast Air Quality Management
District, has recommended the approval of the South Gate plant. Dr. Barry
Wallerstein is head of the Air Quality Management District.
BARRY WALLERSTEIN (South Coast Air Quality Management District): The key
pollutant of concern from power plants is oxides and nitrogen. But the
important thing to note about the emissions from this power plant is that they
will be no more than 50 percent or less than that of what we would see from the
other best-available control technologies. So it's really setting a new
standard that other plants will have to live up to.
That's because the federal Clean Air Act requires new power plants to match the
lowest pollution levels possible with the available technology. Several
environmental groups have come out in favor of SCONOx, but not all. Alvero
Huerta is with the Communities for a Better Environment. On a recent evening,
he appealed to some South Gate Community College students to join him in opposing
what he sees as a form of environmental racism.
ALVERO HUERTA (Communities for a Better Environment): I came here to recruit
you, to try to get you to help us defeat, you know, the power plant people
because these people, they think we're dumb. You know, Sunlaw Energy Partners,
they think we're stupid. They think, `Oh, they're Latinos. A lot of them are
immigrants, Spanish surname.'
Huerta passed out small yellow-and-black posters with a picture of a skull and
the words `No on Measure A' written in English and Spanish. Measure A is the
referendum on the power plant, though it's only advisory. The California Energy
Commission has the ultimate approval on the South Gate plant. Nevertheless,
Sunlaw Energy Partners has publicly stated that it will abide by the will of
the voters, but Alvero Huerta warns the students that the company's running a
hard-fought and expensive campaign.
HUERTA: Now I'm telling you, this is our only chance right now. If we're going
to defeat these guys--their guys are all rich guys, you know; rich, white
guys--we have to defeat them in the election.
Bob Danziger has been distressed at the accusations of environmental racism.
`You can't just put a power plant anywhere,' he says.
DANZIGER: We had identified the best areas to locate power plants based on the
availability of big transmission lines, natural gas lines, reclaimed water
because we don't want to be using new freshwater in Southern California. So
that's how we settled upon this location in South Gate.
The power plant does have some political support. State Assemblyman Marco
Antonio Firebaugh says the Sunlaw plant would bring tangible benefits to South
Assemblyman MARK ANTONIO FIREBAUGH: Some $7 million per year
in additional tax revenues to the city. They will create a scholarship program
funded at $250,000 per year. They will have a community-improvement fund to
improve our local parks and local infrastructure. In addition to that, during
the construction phase, there'll be 400 union jobs; those are a real welcome to
But Firebaugh's concerned that the election won't be fair. All city offices are
on the ballot, not just the referendum on the power plant, and he says there've
already been a lot of irregularities.
Assemblyman FIREBAUGH: There have been some absentee ballot
requests for people who don't exist. We've identified some registered voters
who are registered to vacant lots and storage facilities. One of the council
candidates was recently arrested for electoral fraud.
But win or lose in South Gate, power plants should be springing up all over the
state in the next couple of years. California Governor Gray Davis has said he
wants to build enough capacity to generate an additional 20,000 megawatts of
electricity. Yet if there's a pitched battle, like the one in South Gate, every
time a new plant is proposed, it may take a very long time for California to
solve its energy crisis.
Jaffe, NPR News, South Gate.
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Bob Edwards.
[End of Transcript]