Coastal Commission asked to take control of low-energy surveys done off Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant

Environmentalists want state agency to be in charge of such projects

dsneed@thetribunenews.comJanuary 9, 2013 

Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant

JOE JOHNSTON — jjohnston@thetribunenews.com Buy Photo

Flushed with success at stopping high-energy seismic surveys off of Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, environmental activists are now setting their sights on low-energy surveys.

At a meeting of the California Coastal Commission Wednesday in Pismo Beach, numerous speakers said that, at a minimum, the process that the state uses to issue permits to do low-energy surveys needs to be updated. Several speakers asked the Coastal Commission to take the permitting authority away from the State Lands Commission.

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. has already conducted numerous low-energy surveys off Diablo Canyon as part of a $64 million effort to map earthquake faults. The utility used standing permits that geophysical companies have from the State Lands Commission to do such lower energy seismic work. Such surveying and the information it could yield became more critical after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011.

Activists said that low-energy surveys can use sound blasts as loud as 216 decibels. The decibel-level planned by PG&E for the high-energy surveys was 250 decibels.

Eric Greening of Atascadero said the Coastal Commission is the better agency to issue the permits because it has much better resource-protection expertise than the Lands Commission.

When questioned by Commissioner Wendy Mitchell, commission staff said that the Lands Commission is reviewing the permitting process for low-energy surveys using a grant from the state Ocean Protection Council. Charles Lester, the commission’s executive director, said there may be a way for the commission to take over the permitting authority.

“We don’t know what the answer is, but there would be significant staffing issues if we took on permitting for low-energy surveys,” Lester said.

On Wednesday, the commission held a follow-up hearing on the issue of PG&E’s high-energy surveys. Commissioners unanimously approved updated findings denying the use of high-energy permits in the waters off San Luis Obispo County. A number of local residents thanked the commission for its determination.

At a well-attended, daylong hearing in Santa Monica in mid-November, the Coastal Commission denied PG&E’s request to use very loud blasts of sound to map earthquake faults around Diablo Canyon.

Hundreds of environmental and wildlife activists from across the state attended the hearing to protest the damage the high-energy seismic surveys could do to ocean life, particularly marine mammals. Staff recommended denial of the permit.

During their deliberations, commissioners analyzed whether PG&E’s request qualified for a coastal dependent industrial override, a clause in the Coastal Act that applies to facilities like Diablo Canyon that use the ocean for cooling water or other functions.

Activities such as high-energy seismic surveys are allowed under the override if the applicant can prove that alternative locations are not feasible, to do otherwise would hurt public welfare and any harm to the environment is minimized to the maximum extent possible. The commission determined that PG&E’s proposal failed all three of those tests.

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