Sunlaw Energy Corporation

Background on Sunlaw Energy Corporation and the Nueva Azalea Project

By Robert Danziger, founder and CEO

October 2013

 

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.[1] 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 systems.[2]

 

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.

 

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 Commission.

 

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.

 

NUEVA AZALEA

 

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.[3]
    • 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 residential area.
      • 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 tactical reasons.
      • 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 charges.[4]

 

 

 

 

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.

 


 

CONCLUSION

 

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.[5] 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.




[1] I do not come from a wealthy family.

[2] 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.

[3] 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.

 

[4] Los Angeles Times: Robles sentenced to 10 years 11/29/2006 03:33 PM; http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-robles29nov29,1,2367561,full.story

 

[5] 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.

See also the Moore Ruble and Yudell Architect and Planner website.  They designed and helped develop important features of Nueva Azalea.





Acknowledgments

 

The “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 about it.

 

The 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.

 

Starting 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.

 

Sunlaw 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.

 

The “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.

 

About 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 management.

 

I was the founder and CEO of Sunlaw and saw all of this firsthand.

 

There 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.

 

Ross 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 faded.

 

All my best wishes to you and your family for energy independence and a clean environment coupled with prosperity

 

 

The People Who Made It Happen

 

 

I know I’m missing some people, some of whom I should know and some I never knew about.  I apologize profusely for any oversights.

 

Key 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, Barry Friedberg

 

·      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 Thomas

 

·      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: Leon Billings

 

·      Southern California Edison: Larry Kellerman, Ed Meyers, Mike Vogeler, Ron Luxa

 

·      U.S. Growers Cold Storage: Sam Perricone, Angelo and Kathy Antoci

 

Some 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.

 

One 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

 

In addition 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 family.

 

 

A 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 of sight.

 

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 as possible.

 

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                 

 


Breathing Out

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 and Fruitland.

 

     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 ammonia. 

 

     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 time.

 

       Another: 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 allowed.

 

     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.

 

     Greener pastures, says Danziger.  Sunlaw’s business prospects are simply much better outside of California.  And besides, he says, his employees hate the smog.

 

 

 

Playing Dirty With Air

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 plants.

 

     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 air.

 

     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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dithering
Over
Dirty Air

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 Los Angeles.

 

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 existing plants.

 

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.

 

Even Mike 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 City.

 

  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 death.

 

  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 pollution.

 

  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 peculiar fashion.

 

  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

Section: Editorial

 

 

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.)

     In 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.

     Long 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.

     Long 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.




Nueva Azalea- 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 water supplies.

 

     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 come They 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 something?”

 

     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 do something?”

 

     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 do:

 

 

 


Excerpt from the Main Permit Application

 

     The main 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):

 

1.9.9 Environmental Justice The Applicant acknowledges that:

1.   There is a doctrine of Environmental Justice and it applies to the location of this proposed site and related facility.

2.   Environmental Justice involves notions of historic disproportionate environmental and socio/economic impacts in certain communities.

3.   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 economic participation.

 

     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 - too expensive 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 landmark.

·    Contributing to the improvement of the Community through ongoing contributions of its time and resources.

·    Establishing 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 future.


     The Applicant 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 damage.

 

     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”

 

 

LOS ANGELES, 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 ....

     It should 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. 

 

     For some 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.

 

     Albert 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

 

     Communities 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 the election.”

 

[and they accused me of being a racist]

 

 

    I was 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 not.

 

     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:


ANALYSIS: ALLEGATIONS OF ENVIRONMENTAL RACISM IN A SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA COMMUNITY  

 

 March 6, 2001  

 

 BOB 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.

 

 INA JAFFE reporting:

 

 The 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.'

 

 Mr. 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.

 

 JAFFE: 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.

 

 Mr. 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.

 

 JAFFE: 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 founder.

 

 Mr. BOB 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.

 

 JAFFE: 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.

 

 Dr. 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.

 

 JAFFE: 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.

 

 Mr. 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.'

 

 JAFFE: 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.

 

 Mr. 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.

 

 JAFFE:  Sunlaw's Bob Danziger has been distressed at the accusations of environmental racism. `You can't just put a power plant anywhere,' he says.

 

 Mr. 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.

 

 JAFFE: The power plant does have some political support. State Assemblyman Marco Antonio Firebaugh says the Sunlaw plant would bring tangible benefits to South Gate.

 

 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 local folks.

 

 JAFFE: 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.

 

 JAFFE: 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.

 

 Ina Jaffe, NPR News, South Gate.

 

 EDWARDS: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Bob Edwards.

 

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