Why we Believe that the Environmental Impact Study

Regarding the Biomass Plant will be Flawed

 

Ascent Environmental Incorporated:  The Problem of a no bid Contract

 

The purpose of hiring an independent firm to perform an environmental impact study regarding a proposal by a developer or government agency is to assure that all facts, pro and con, are reviewed candidly and without bias.  Often, however, they result in the findings that the funding entity desires.   We believe that is the case in this instance and therefore that the EIS/EIR (Environmental Impact Statement / Environmental Impact Report) will be flawed on arrival.  The company hired to do the study is Ascent Environmental Inc. (Ascent) and, while one cannot be certain because the study is not yet complete, there are a number of reasons for our belief.   (We shall be pleased on this account if we are proven wrong by the final report.)

 

 The Ascent project manager for this study is Ms Sidney Coatsworth, a principal with Ascent.  She has done projects for TRPA in the past, while working for other firms.  After waiving the normal competitive bidding process regarding the expenditure of public funds, TRPA contracted her firm with her as project manager for this study.  We believe that the waiving of the bidding process was wrong and unwarranted.  Moreover, we believe that it might also be in violation of the Department of Energy’s (DOE) waiver requirements since the funding that Placer County is passing to TRPA comes from them.  A complaint has been filed with DOE. 

 

It is important to note in this context that Sidney Coatsworth was also the project manager for the TRPA’s EIS regarding an alteration to TRPA’s Shorezone Ordinances not long ago.  An entirely separate concern with no relationship to the biomass project, that EIS was found to be flawed by federal court in a recent lawsuit.  This matter involved amendments to TRPA’s ordinances regarding buoys, piers, ramps, and boating slips.  The suit, filed by the League to Save Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Club, argued that TRPA adopted new land-use regulations without thorough consideration of environmental and public access impacts.  Her EIS stated what TRPA wanted:  the amendments would not degrade the lake and its water.  The court saw it differently.

 

Again, while no one can be certain, it is one of the reasons why we believe that she was given the no bid contract for the biomass plant study and why the EIS she is managing regarding it will also be flawed.  The League to Save Lake Tahoe in conjunction with the Sierra Club, and the North Tahoe Citizen Action Alliance have filed extensive comments regarding the Biomass NOP and their concerns.  We, along with them, are eagerly awaiting her report.  (The Shorezone matter [the Judge Karlton Case] is discussed elsewhere in this web site.)

 

Specific Problematic  Contract  Provisions:

 

We are also bothered by a number of statements in her contract with TRPA regarding her study:

 

1.       “This proposal assumes that DOE will largely defer to Placer County and TRPA as to scope and content of the environmental document.”  http://www.placer.ca.gov/upload/bos/cob/documents/sumarchv/100518A/bosd_100518_03c__p89_p116.pdf

We are seeking to have DOE involve itself in the study and mandate that EPA be brought into the study and enforce NEPA regulations!  Moreover, we believe that the Loyalton Plant, with its history as a market for biomass fuel from the Tahoe Basin and its broad fuel specification that can burn Tahoe’s “dirty” material, should also be thoroughly analyzed in the EIR.

 

  1. We are also troubled that the contract states that “the analysis will address the environmental effects of the proposed project and up to three alternatives, including the no project alternative.”  This effectively limits alternatives to two.  And, since some procedures have already been skipped (probably in violation NEPA), such as a publically formulated “Purpose and Need Statement” regarding the project, there is no guarantee that any alternatives to the plant will be included.  And, if included, we believe that they will be summarily dismissed by the document in favor of the Kings Beach Plant. 

 

The Problem of DOE and the NOP (Notice of Preparation):

 

On the bright side, DOE can require a more stringent review of the environmental impact of the project than would occur under TRPA guidelines. 

 

According to Placer and TRPA’s “Notice of Preparation (NOP) of a Draft Environmental Impact Statement / Environmental Impact Report (EIS/EIR) for the Lake Tahoe Biomass Energy Facility (Placer County)”:   The document will be both an environmental impact statement (EIS) prepared in accordance with the TRPA Tahoe Regional Planning Compact, Goals and Policies, Code of Ordinances, and Rules of Procedure, and an environmental impact report (EIR) prepared in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the State CEQA Guidelines. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is contributing federal grant funding for the proposed project. It is anticipated that the EIR/EIS will be prepared to satisfy the requirements of an environmental assessment (EA) pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). If DOE determines that an EIS is required for NEPA purposes (similar to, but not the same as an EIS prepared pursuant to TRPA regulations), separate and subsequent noticing and scoping will be conducted to satisfy DOE requirements.  If DOE determines that the project, as mitigated, will not have significant effects on the environment, DOE may adopt a finding of no significant impact (FONSI) for the project .” http://www.trpa.org/documents/notices/LTB%20Biomass_NOP_07%2019%2010.pdf

 

The DOE can decide to require a full EIS or a lesser EA (Environmental Assessment, as per TRPA’s guidelines).   Given the Congressionally directed nature of earmarks, the DOE often defers these decisions to the local jurisdiction.  Therefore, we expect TRPA to choose only the minimum level of environmental documentation when, to protect the Basin, it ought to choose the maximum level of documentation. 

 

We are seeking to convince the DOE that TRPA’s guidelines are inadequate for a proper environmental impact study and they therefore need to involve themselves and ask for a complete federal EIS.   And, we are seeking to convince California’s US Senator Feinstein of the same thing.  

 

We would encourage all Friends of Lake Tahoe to do also!