Vernon’s Proposed Plant May be Disappeared

By Published On: May 29, 2009

Regulators are poised to pull the plug on permitting for a 943 MW power plant project proposed by the gritty industrial city of Vernon. The city is tangled up in the fight over the dearth of air pollution emissions offsets in the smoggy Southland and unable to line up the requisite offsets. In a letter earlier this month, California Energy Commission executive director Melissa Jones told the city her agency may suspend or terminate the application for the plant unless it has “an effective strategy and schedule for obtaining the needed offsets through valid programs.” She set a June 8 deadline for the city to respond. The commission’s May 7 letter follows the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s denial of the plant’s application for an air pollution control permit, said South Coast district spokesperson Tina Cherry. Vernon Light & Power Department declined to comment on the matter, deferring to a consultant in New Jersey who is handling the project but did not return a call. Vernon’s proposed plant is widely opposed by neighboring cities, schools, and environmental justice groups, according to David Petit, Natural Resources Defense Council attorney. They oppose the plant because it would emit more pollution in an area overburdened by pollutants from industries, railroads, and vehicles on jammed freeways. Vernon cannot obtain emissions credits for its proposed power plant because of a shortage on the open market and a court order that prevents SCAQMD from transferring credits to industries from its own bank of emissions rights. The freeze on credit transfers from the agency’s “bank” stems from a lawsuit by NRDC, California Environmental Rights Alliance, and other environmentalists. The Los Angeles Superior Court sided with the groups and prohibited use of any credits from the agency’s bank (Circuit, Aug. 1, 2008). A bill, SB 696, by Senator Rod Wright (D-Inglewood) effectively would overturn the court decision (Circuit, May 15, 2009). The federal Clean Air Act’s new source review program requires credits for offsetting power plants’ pollution. Normally, project builders buy the credits on the open market. Those available credits are created by either controlling pollution more than required or shutting down old plants. Vernon, just south of downtown Los Angeles with a population of 95, proclaims in its seal that it is “Exclusively Industrial.” For decades it did not have a competitive race for city council until 2006, when some new residents moved into a factory they converted to a loft and ran for office. In response, the city hired private detectives who carried unlicensed firearms and tailed the newcomers. When the story broke in the media, city officials accused the newcomers of attempting a “hostile takeover” of city hall. Vernon’s 50-year mayor, Leonis Malburg, whose family founded the city, subsequently was charged in a public corruption case in 2006 along with his son John Malburg. Just last month in a separate matter, a court sentenced his son to eight years in prison for sexually molesting a boy and videotaping another for commercial purposes while serving as a Catholic school dean, according to media reports. Leonis Malburg’s case has yet to go to trial.

Share this story

Not a member yet?

Subscribe Now