Published by Pacific Coast Business Times on May 26, 2017. 

Quixotic lawsuit targets Diablo Canyon closure

A showdown in a Los Angeles courtroom this summer will put to test an agreement between the state agencies and PG&E on the closure of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant.

The World Business Academy, a nonprofit organization that says it has been advocating for more than three decades for the public and environment, alleged that the California State Lands Commission and Pacific Gas & Electric Co. have turned a “blind eye” to dangers from increased rates of cancer and infant mortality around the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, and ignored the need for an Environmental Impact Report.

Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant near San Luis Obispo County’s Avila Beach is the last operating nuclear plant on the West Coast. (Photo courtesy of PG&E )

Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant near San Luis Obispo County’s Avila Beach is the last operating nuclear plant on the West Coast. (Photo courtesy of PG&E )

The academy filed court papers May 22 in Los Angeles County Superior Court leading up to July 11 hearing date, when PG&E and the State Lands Commission will ask that the suit be thrown out.

The nonprofit is suing the State Lands Commission and PG&E, demanding that the state order an environmental impact report to investigate possible environmental and health dangers that would result from the nuclear plant’s continued operation.

Although the plant has agreed to close down by 2025, the academy wants the plant to shut down when the original land lease permits expire in 2019.

In a statement, PG&E spokesman Blair Jones said Diablo Canyon “is a safe, clean and reliable energy resource for PG&E’s customers. We are strongly committed to operating all of our assets at PG&E in an environmentally responsible manner and Diablo Canyon’s operations have a minimal impact on marine life.”

PG&E in November 2016 agreed to pay up to $147.5 million to seven San Luis Obispo County cities, the county and the school district to offset some of the negative impacts from the eventual closure of Diablo Canyon. PG&E announced plans in June to close its power plant by 2025, leaving the area without one of its most prominent employers and source of property tax revenue and high-paying jobs.

The academy’s lawsuit was filed Aug. 2, 2016, after the June 28, 2016, decision by the State Lands Commission to extend tidewater leases allowing Diablo Canyon to continue operating through 2025.

The academy alleges that the commission did not have the legal authority to exempt Diablo Canyon from an EIR and that substantial harm to people in adjacent communities and the marine ecosystem will occur in the eight years leading up to Diablo Canyon’s proposed closure in 2025 as the aging plant reactors become even more brittle.

The academy wants the court to order the commission to void the lease extension and immediately commence preparing an EIR, as CEQA requires.

According to the court documents, the existence of any “unusual circumstances” automatically requires an environmental review under CEQA, and the Diablo Canyon plant is replete with numerous “unusual circumstances,” which should trigger a CEQA review.

PG&E spokesman Jones said the lease extension was “developed by PG&E, labor and leading environmental groups.” He added that “all parties to the agreement believe it is the most appropriate and responsible path forward in achieving the state’s clean energy vision and reducing GHG-emissions, while at the same time providing for a successful transition for our employees and the local community.”

Academy attorney J. Kirk Boyd wrote in new pre-trial papers filed May 22 that: “A 2014 scientific report and 2016 published peer-reviewed study show that there is an increase in infant mortality and cancer around the Diablo plant, yet the Joint Opposition Trial Brief, filed herein by Respondent, State Lands Commission and PG&E on June 24 asks this court to turn a blind eye to the requirements of CEQA.”

“Meanwhile, the SLC and PG&E ask this court to look away from this concern for eight years by granting an exemption from the applicability of CEQA for PG&E’s requested Lease Extension. Eight years is a long time to cross one’s fingers and hope that nothing happens while hundreds of thousands of lives are at risk,” the court papers say.

According to last year’s agreement, a $75 million Essential Services Mitigation Fund will be distributed to the county in nine equal annual installments through 2025. The county will divvy up the funds to impacted local agencies.

PG&E will also create a $10 million Economic Development Fund. The Coalition of Cities — including Arroyo Grande, Atascadero, Morro Bay, Paso Robles, Pismo Beach and San Luis Obispo — will receive $5.76 million, the county will receive $3.84 million and the remaining $400,000 will be allocated for regional economic development activities. The county will share a portion of the $3.84 million with the city of Grover Beach as well.

The third part of the agreement includes payments between $37.5 million and $62.5 million over the course of 15 to 25 years in continued funding for offsite community and local emergency preparedness and planning efforts until all spent fuel is in dry-cask storage and the two nuclear reactors are fully decommissioned.

The Diablo Canyon plant provides about 1,500 jobs, with an average salary of more than $100,000.