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State Lands Commission faces lawsuit over Diablo Canyon lease

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A Santa Barbara-based public interest group, the World Business Academy, has sued the State Lands Commission for its decision to allow Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant to operate through 2025 without first studying the environmental consequences of allowing the plant to continue running.

The suit filed earlier this month in Los Angeles Superior Court contends that the state agency did not have the authority to exempt the PG&E-owned plant from preparing an environmental impact report and that attempting to do so was arbitrary and capricious.

“The commission refused to ask the tough questions about the safety and environmental impacts of Diablo Canyon because they feared that a full EIR process would alert the public to Diablo Canyon’s actual environmental and health impacts, thereby possibly forcing PG&E to shut down the plant immediately,” academy president Rinaldo Brutoco said.

The suit lists a number of unusual circumstances regarding the operation of Diablo Canyon that could have required a review under the California Environmental Quality Act. These include the plant’s high seismic risk, impacts of the plant’s cooling system on marine life and potential impacts of a terrorist attack.

“Under California statutory and case law, the existence of any unusual circumstances automatically requires a review under CEQA, and Diablo Canyon is a series of unusual circumstances, any one of which should trigger CEQA review,” Brutoco said.

The commission has until Sept. 2 to respond to the lawsuit filed by World Business Academy, a nonprofit with a goal of replacing energy derived from nuclear and fossil fuels with renewable energy.

During a lengthy State Lands Commission meeting June 28, dozens spoke in Sacramento and via telecast in Morro Bay on whether the panel should renew the plant's coastal lease for its cooling infrastructure.

On June 28, the three-person State Lands Commission extended the lease for the nuclear power plant’s ocean water intake and outfall structures until the plant’s two federal operating licenses expire in 2025, which is when PG&E plans to shut down the plant.

The commission and PG&E say an impact report is not necessary because the lease covers existing structures. The seawater is circulated through the plant for cooling purposes and then released back into the ocean.

“In its June 2016 decision, the State Lands Commission granted the lease extension as it determined there were no CEQA issues associated with PG&E’s application,” PG&E spokesman Blair Jones said. “This is because the intake and outfall structures were currently operating under approved leases, and PG&E proposed no new operational or design changes.”

The State Lands Commission said the plant and PG&E’s intake and outfall structures have been operating for more than 40 years and are now part of the existing environmental baseline.

“The activity in this situation is the authorization of a limited-term lease for the continued use and maintenance of existing facilities located on state sovereign land and used to support the” power plant, according to a commission staff report.

In June, PG&E announced it will not seek renewal of the plant’s two operating licenses with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that would have allowed the plant to run until 2045. The agreement, reached with a coalition of labor unions and environmental groups, calls for Diablo Canyon to close when the licenses for its two reactors expire in 2024 and 2025.

PG&E officials said the reason behind the decision not to pursue license renewal was driven by the state’s policy of getting half its energy from renewal sources by 2030.

Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant will be shut down in 2025 after its operating licenses expire.

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