In a 4-3 vote Tuesday, Antelope Valley Air Quality Management District’s governing board voted to approve the transfer of emissions credits needed for the Palmdale Power Plant to move forward. T.E. Barkas was there, and gives his take on the seven-hour meeting.
The much-anticipated meeting of the Antelope Valley AQMD finally took place yesterday. Tasked with the responsibility to clear the air, the AQMD Board managed instead to muddy the waters for many in attendance.
The meeting was supposed to be a fairly straight forward affair with the singular objective of voting to either accept or reject the “emission offset credits” that the City of Palmdale needs to move forward with plans to build a natural gas-fueled power plant. But that seemingly simple agenda quickly devolved into a referendum on the controversial plan that lasted for more than six hours.
In the end, Palmdale got what it came for when the Board voted 4-3 to accept the credits. But that decision, widely predicted after some notable last-minute maneuvering, will likely not settle the contentious issue, nor quell the rancor between the mayors of Palmdale and Lancaster.
The bad blood and distrust was on display right from the start, when a large crowd of interested Antelope Valley residents packed the 400-seat hall at Antelope Valley College to overflowing. The SRO crowd spilled into the lobby, where the proceedings were made available on video screens. And those who came looking for fireworks were not disappointed.
The stage was set less than 24 hours earlier with a last-minute lineup change by County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who replaced longtime AQMD Board member Vern Lawson with retired LA Planning Commissioner Patricia Russell.
That change was denounced strongly by Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris, who took exception to the statement released by Antonovich’s office declaring the move necessary, “to ensure that the process was sound and with no appearance of conflict.”
Parris took the stage at the start of the meeting to praise the well-respected Lawson as an exemplary public servant who “has served the supervisor faithfully from the moment he took his seat. Vern Lawson has done more for this community than anybody on this stage.”
But when Parris mentioned his removal, many pro-Palmdale supporters in the room applauded, including Palmdale Mayor and AQMD Board Member Jim Ledford. Those who believe animosity between the two mayors is at the heart of animus between the neighboring cities might have taken what happened next as confirmation of that view.
“I see the mayor of Palmdale is applauding the firing of Vern Lawson,” Parris remarked, clearly angered. “What kind of person applauds a thing like that?” he asked, evoking a chorus of remarks from the gallery in the first of several such outbursts by the crowd, and conflicts between the two men.
As the program moved forward, a wide range of groups and organizations with an interest in the outcome took to the podium, apparently viewing the proceedings as a last-chance opportunity to state their cases and sway votes. Representatives from Lancaster and Palmdale offered up largely predictable and redundant statements pro and con, and a fair amount of time was consumed when AQMD Board Chairman Marvin Crist strongly questioned the staff’s previously announced recommendation that the offset credits be accepted.
Formal statements were also offered by the Lancaster School District (against), West Coast Baptist College (against), and a representative from the Unions representing construction trades (strongly in favor). The audience included many out-of-work construction workers, who responded loudly to their union rep’s pro-jobs remarks.
Conspicuously absent from the proceedings were any representatives from Summit Energy, Palmdale’s purported partner in the project.
But the most entertaining moment may have come during the (otherwise interminable) “public comments” segment of the show, when a concerned citizen used his two minutes to address the newly seated Ms. Russell. Clearly caught off guard when asked to share her thoughts on the international environmental agreement known as the “Kyoto Protocol,” the newest Board member seemed at a loss for words.
When it became clear she had no response, the questioner followed up by asking her to briefly describe what an “emission offset credit” actually is. This was met with silence and a painful deer-in-the-headlights look that lasted only a minute (but must have seemed much longer to Ms. Russell) before Chairman Crist mercifully called on the next speaker.
In the end, however, Lawson was out, Russell was in, and – as predicted by many after the board-member shuffle – the AQMD voted to accept the offsets. Palmdale officials were exultant, but this may not be the end of the story. In fact, it almost certainly will not. A comment earlier in the day – possibly lost to many in the sea of arcana and minutiae of reports and legalese – may turn out to be the most important and prescient of the day.
Jane Williams, director of Desert Citizens Against Pollution (DCAP) described the emission offsets at the center of the day’s events as “Lazarus Credits” that date back to the closure of an oil refinery in 1977, which she said cannot legally be used by Palmdale to offset its plant emissions.
“Those offsets reflect pollution that hasn’t been generated since 1977,” she said. “Which means pollution which is not being generated now is being resurrected by these credits. That’s not a valid approach. The power plant requires contemporaneous credits that offset pollution that is being created right now.”
Williams declared that if the AQMD board voted to accept the credits, DCAP would have no choice but to file suit against the AQMD.
It would appear to be a formidable threat, to anyone who knows anything about DCAP. Since its formation in 1986, William’s group has been on the winning side of several noteworthy pollution-related battles affecting the high desert including landfills, tire burning in cement kilns, nuclear waste transport and dumps, gold mines, hazardous waste dumps, and protecting critical habitat for the endangered desert tortoise. And as with so many in the high desert, the passionate environmental activist has a clear stance on the current dispute.
“I don’t want to see any fossil-fueled power plants built anywhere,” Williams said. “That’s an old technology. We don’t need power plants. We need clean energy, clean jobs and clean air.”
So the AQMD meeting and vote, which many thought to be the “last word” on the issue, may turn out to be anything but. Though Palmdale appeared to be victorious, the city may not actually be significantly closer to breaking ground on the ever-contentious power plant, with further court battles yet to come.
UPDATED 12/20/13 (Editor’s Note): Palmdale Communications Manager John Mlynar responded to the above article. Read his response below:
“I read the article on The Antelope Valley Times today regarding the AVAQMD meeting. Once again, Tim Barkas revealed his prejudice in this matter. He, unlike the Antelope Valley Press and Time Warner Cable, totally ignored the fact that Vern Lawson is a Lancaster City employee, and that Vern, like the rest of City staff, was directed by the Lancaster City Council on July 22, 2010, to come up with a plant to stop the power plant. It would have been a blatant conflict of interest for Vern to serve on that board. We have pointed that out tirelessly over the past few months. (See attached minutes from the Lancaster City Council meeting, page 13.)
Mr. Barkas continues to post his views on Facebook, views which are eerily similar to those of Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris and the City of Lancaster, particularly in regards to the voting rights lawsuit and the power plant. I respect Mr. Barkas’ right to free speech. However, as someone who has studied communications and journalism, I do know the difference between news reporting and editorializing. Mr. Barkas seems to be practicing the latter.”
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect the views of The AV Times.
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