Tag Archive for Kern County

Lead Democrat for “Reform” of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) Never Mentions Unions as the Major Instigator of CEQA Abuse

UPDATE: The January 28, 2013 Sacramento Bee has a profile of Senator Michael Rubio in the context of his campaign to reform the California Environmental Quality Act (Moderate Michael Rubio Takes on California’s Environmental Law):

State Sen. Michael Rubio says he first wondered if something were wrong with California’s environmental review law during his days as a Kern County supervisor, when he saw it used to slow wind and solar projects he considered green by their very nature…he said he was “shocked” to see projects that could improve the environment and public health “delayed significantly by misuses and abuses of a wonderful statute.”

As you might expect, Rubio says nothing about how construction unions used CEQA to try to force a Project Labor Agreement on the Big West/Flying J refinery modernization in Bakersfield (see below) or on Recurrent Energy solar projects in Kern County.

Also, a January 20, 2013 letter to the editor of the Sacramento Bee responds to Rubio’s January 13, 2013 op-ed by noting that Rubio Would Gut CEQA for Public, but Not Touch Unions.


For more background on CEQA reform, see my three articles A First Crack at Analyzing the Proposed CEQA Reform: “The Sustainable Environmental Protection Act” of 2012CEQA Reform is Over for This California Legislative Session: Sustainable Environmental Protection Act May Return in 2013, and Looks Like CEQA Reform Talks Are Underway…Good Luck People.


State Senator Michael Rubio (D-Bakersfield) is the leading voice in the California State Legislature for amending the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to prevent people from using CEQA to block projects for reasons unrelated to environmental protection. (With less than one-third control of the Assembly and Senate, Republicans currently are not recognized as relevant by the state’s Establishment.)

I analyzed Senator Rubio’s proposed Sustainable Environmental Protection Act, introduced near the end of the 2012 legislative session, and concluded it would do little to prevent “greenmail” by unions that exploit CEQA with an objective of coercing developers into signing Project Labor Agreements, neutrality agreements, or other labor agreements. The bill mainly appeared to suppress the flailing and railing of small-time community activists.

On January 13, 2013, the Sacramento Bee presented a point-counterpoint entitled Should California Make Changes to Landmark 1970 Law? Writing for the position YES: Opponents Abuse CEQA to Derail Worthy Projects was Senator Rubio, and writing NO: We Should Resist Efforts to Weaken a Law that Works Well was Tom Adams of the law firm Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo, who was identified as “the former board president of the California League of Conservation Voters, and a CEQA attorney.”

In his opinion piece, Rubio cites a few examples of groups of community activists or individuals using CEQA to prevent projects from getting built. But he never mentions unions.

Considering that Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo is the dominant law firm in representing construction unions in CEQA actions, this omission is particularly stunning! But I’ve seen from experience that Senator Rubio has sympathy for unions that abuse CEQA. I posted the following comment under the article:

Kevin Dayton

There’s a notable omission in Senator Rubio’s critique about parties that abuse CEQA.

On October 21, 2008, the Kern County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 to approve a $700 million expansion and modernization of the Big West/Flying J refinery in Bakersfield. This was the second Environmental Impact Report produced by the county for the project. The only remaining opposition of any substance to the project was from a South San Francisco law firm, which claimed to represent a mysterious organization called “Bakersfield Refinery Coalition.” At the October 21, 2008 meeting, an attorney for this law firm spoke during public comment and submitted a massive “document dump” objecting to the final Environmental Impact Report. It was a classic case of CEQA abuse.

Someone spoke from the public and revealed that the Bakersfield Refinery Coalition was six construction unions that wanted the refinery developer to sign a Project Labor Agreement so that only union workers would build the refinery project. The unions were the Plumbers and Steamfitters Union Local No. 460, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local No. 428, the Asbestos Workers Local No. 5, the Boilermakers Union Local No. 92, the Ironworkers Local No. 155, and the Road Sprinkler Fitters Union Local No. 669.

One of the Kern County Supervisors was irate about the criticism of the Bakersfield Refinery Coalition and criticized the commenter by name. He then praised the unions.

Which Supervisor? Michael Rubio, who would get union support in his campaign for California State Senate. See the video of the October 21, 2008 Kern County Board of Supervisors meeting, and go to 2:57:40 for Supervisor Rubio’s specific comments about the document dumpers:

http://www.co.kern.ca.us/bos/AgendaMinutesVideo.aspx

Eight-minute video showing the part of the September 15, 2008 Kern County Planning Commission meeting with the CEQA abuse:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oR_jrXdbAgw

And what was the law firm that dumped the documents in front of Supervisor Rubio and the other Kern County Supervisors? Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo.

What’s my point? Whatever CEQA reform you see in 2013 is going to be aimed at people who are trying to stop projects such as “affordable housing” from coming into their neighborhood. Unions won’t be hindered in their comprehensive, professionalized CEQA strategies.

Bakersfield and Kern County Experience Economic Growth and Job Creation

UPDATE: Here’s a December 29, 2012 Associated Press article Din of Hammers, Oil Wells Signal Bakersfield Boom. Excerpts from the article:

Bakersfield and surrounding Kern County find themselves in lofty positions on key national lists measuring economic vitality: No. 1 metro area for long-term private sector job growth, No. 1 county for construction gains and No. 1 large metro area for annual economic growth.

Cheap land, affordable housing, proximity to Los Angeles, a location that’s within a three-hour drive of 90 percent of the state’s population, and a planning department that doesn’t throw up roadblocks are driving the region’s economic revolution, business leaders say.


The Los Angeles Times had a September 10, 2012 article reporting that Many Signs Point to a Bakersfield Boom. It opens with the following:

This mid-size city has become the surprise star of the Central Valley.

The state’s economic recovery has largely been concentrated on the coast, leaving behind much of the hard-hit San Joaquin Valley. But Bakersfield, perhaps best known for oil, agriculture and country music, has reclaimed an old title: boomtown.

Bakersfield has been adding population and jobs at a brisk pace and is a few thousand jobs from matching its peak employment level of five years ago. A price-fueled energy bonanza, low corporate operating costs and an advantageous location are contributing to the area’s good fortune.

Employment has grown across many sectors, including manufacturing. Even construction, which suffered mightily statewide during the housing bust, has strengthened. And unlike many struggling municipalities, in Kern County officials have recommended a budget increase that would allow hiring of more than 150 people.

Signs of growth are obvious.

Actually, it isn’t surprising that Bakersfield and Kern County are prospering. Kern County’s economic activity focuses on commodities, such as oil, natural gas, mineral mining, agriculture, and energy production. The states of North Dakota and Alaska are prospering for the same reason.

Of course, economic prosperity attracts parasites, such as state legislators from coastal cities who want to tax Kern County’s commodities and send the money to the University of California at Berkeley. (See my May 22, 2011 article in www.FlashReport.org entitled Culture Clash: The “Bakersfield Oil Field to Berkeley Sports Field Tax.”) Bakersfield’s business and political leaders also need to remain wary of the union political agenda that is so dominant in other parts of California.

I was disappointed to see that the Los Angeles Times article turns to Bakersfield union officials to report on the current status of the local construction industry, even though the region’s construction workers overwhelmingly do not belong to a union. The reporter should have contacted the Bakersfield-based Central California Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) to get the status of construction in the region. Any major construction projects in Kern County monopolized by unions have to bring in numerous union workers from outside the Bakersfield area.

Even worse, the article omits some important context in these two union references:

“We have work in the oil fields,” said Danny Kane, business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 428, based in downtown Bakersfield. “We have a lot of solar work. We have wind. We are just fortunate to have those opportunities in Kern County.”

John Spaulding, executive secretary of the Building Trades Council for Kern, Inyo and Mono Counties, said that although hiring has increased in the last year, larger and more long-term projects needed to get off the ground to see the recovery accelerate. Spaulding said he was looking forward to the start of construction on a hydrogen energy plant late next year, which is expected to be a multiyear project that would employ thousands. “I think it’s going to get better,” he said. “There’s some movement.”

Why are unions officials so confident about working on the proposed hydrogen energy plant and on proposed solar and wind projects in Kern County? It has nothing to do with union productivity, efficiency, or competitiveness – it has to do with their “greenmail.” A Sacramento-based group called California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) routinely uses the Bay Area law firm of Adams, Broadwell, Joseph & Cardozo to object to such projects using the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) until the developer agrees to sign a Project Labor Agreement giving unions monopoly control of the construction.

Through the legal work of Adams, Broadwell, Joseph & Cardozo, California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) intervened in the power plant licensing process at the California Energy Commission and won Project Labor Agreements in the late 1990s and early 2000s for natural gas power plants in Kern County, including the High Desert, Elk Hills, La Paloma, and Sunrise power plants. Six unions hired the same law firm and for two years (2007 and 2008) used CEQA to try to block the proposed (but later abandoned) expansion of the Big West/Flying J refinery in Bakersfield. And California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) is again active in Kern County, this finding environmental problems with solar and wind electrical generation facilities proposed by companies such as Recurrent Energy and getting a Project Labor Agreement for the proposed Hydrogen Energy California power plant.

Will unions and taxes slow this boomtown down? I wouldn’t be surprised.

Sierra Club Seeks Accountability for Union Claims about Project Labor Agreement Imposed on Proposed Hydrogen Energy Power Plant in Kern County, California

Whether or not you agree with the vision and political agenda of the Sierra Club California, most people in politics would acknowledge that this group’s objections to proposed projects and activities under the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA (California Public Resources Code Section 21000 et seq. are genuinely based on environmental concerns. In other words, they don’t seek some kind of unrelated economic payoff from the project developer under the guise of environmental activism: they ARE environmental activists.

Sometimes the Sierra Club and other legitimate environmental groups find themselves on the same side with California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) or other coalitions of unions in opposing proposed projects. Surely this is an awkward relationship, because those unions will fight viciously on environmental grounds until they get their Project Labor Agreement or other union agreement. Then they suddenly announce that their environmental issues have been adequately addressed, and they SUPPORT the project, thus turning on the real environmental groups.

The awkwardness in the relationship between labor unions and environmental groups (the so-called Blue-Green Alliance) was revealed as early as 2004, in a Sacramento Bee article (“Pressure by Labor Group Alleged” – Sacramento Bee – September 19, 2004)

Some environmentalists who once welcomed CURE’s involvement now question its motives.

Sierra Club lobbyist V. John White once told the Contra Costa Times that CURE raises “valid issues and (moves) those issues forward.”

Interviewed for this story, White said he still thinks CURE has “done some good things.” But he’s troubled that CURE attacked an Imperial County geothermal plant [the Salton Sea Unit 6 Geothermal Power Plant, later called the Black Rock 1, 2, and 3 Geothermal Power Project – ed.] for which he has lobbied, a project designed to produce renewable energy from underground reservoirs of steam.

“They added costs and significantly delayed it, and the reasons had little to do with the environment,” White said.

Sierra Club Questions Claims of Project Labor Agreement Imposed on Proposed Hydrogen Energy California (HECA) Power Plant

The Sierra Club has long been concerned about the proposed Hydrogen Energy California (HECA) Power Plant, what it calls a “complicated and controversial project” near Buttonwillow in rural Kern County. This project has received extra attention because of up to $408 million in funding authorized for the project through the U.S. Department of Energy – much of it from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), also known as the Obama stimulus package, or H.R. 1 from 2009. The www.Recovery.gov web site has more details about the $90 million in stimulus money already spent on Hydrogen Energy California (HECA), but as stated in this April 22, 2011 Federal Energy Regulatory Commission order on Hydrogen Energy California (HECA):

Hydrogen argues that the United States Department of Energy (DOE) has recognized the project’s importance to the nation and California by providing substantial financial assistance. According to Hydrogen, its project was awarded $308 million in financial assistance on September 28, 2009, in connection with DOE’s Clean Coal Power Initiative and an additional $100 million in financial assistance was added by DOE in September 2010.

Originally the project was planned by a joint venture of British Petroleum (BP) and Rio Tinto, but in 2011 the project was transfered to SCS Energy, based in Concord, Massachusetts (a socio-economic world away from Buttonwillow). In 2012, the Sierra Club became active in exercising its status as an approved intervenor in the California Energy Commission’s licensing process for the proposed Hydrogen Energy California (HECA) power plant. It submitted a letter dated August 2, 2012 to the California Energy Commission questioning numerous aspects of the proposed project and demanding more information.

One of the data requests in the Sierra Club’s August 2 letter on HECA to the California Energy Commission (which must be answered by the applicant for the project approval) questions the claims made about local hiring and employment under the Project Labor Agreement that the project’s prime contractor, Fluor Corporation, claims to have signed with the national Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO, the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, and the Kern, Inyo, Mono Counties Building Trades Council.

Project supporters held a press conference with union officials in Buttonwillow on May 31, 2012 to tout the alleged benefits of the Project Labor Agreement. An article in the Bakersfield Californian posted on May 31, 2012 (“Hydrogen Plant Agrees to Union Labor“) reported on the Project Labor Agreement but noted a few less savory aspects of the agreement:

The agreement gives Hydrogen Energy California significant new support as it looks to state agencies for approval. It also takes HECA’s owner, Massachusetts-based SCS Energy, a step further than the previous partners, BP and Rio Tinto, which a project spokeswoman said were in talks with construction unions but never formalized a labor agreement.

A spokesman for the trade group Associated Builders & Contractors Inc. [of Central California in Bakersfield – ed.], Russell Johnson, said the labor agreement was unfortunate because it could raise the project’s costs and “shut out” the 85 percent of California construction firms that are not union shops.

The article did not mention that California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) had become an intervenor in the California Energy Commission’s licensing procedure for HECA. Nor did it mention CURE’s reputed history of blocking or delaying approval of proposed power plants using the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) until the developer or its agent signed a Project Labor Agreement. As you would expect, California Unions for Reliable Energy has not expressed any concerns about the environmental impact of this 400 megawatt project – that’s so strange considering how adamantly CURE objects to relatively innocuous small solar projects in the San Joaquin Valley!

Obviously the Sierra Club is skeptical about the union propaganda about “local hiring” concerning Project Labor Agreements for energy generation facilities in the San Joaquin Valley of California. Here is the excerpt from its August 2, 2012 letter, which speaks for itself:

Background: CONSTRUCTION TRAFFIC TRAVEL DISTANCES

The AFC, p. 5.1-9, states that trip distances for estimating off-site construction emissions were based on the assumption that workers and delivery trucks are traveling within Kern County. Appendix E-2, p. 35, shows that the AFC assumes off-site roundtrip distances worker commuting vehicles, delivery trucks, and import fill trucks of between 38.0 to 39.8 miles, i.e., it assumes that all vehicles operate only within a radius of less than 20 miles around the Project site. The AFC does not provide any support for these assumptions. A 20-mile roundtrip distance appears unrealistically short for both the construction workforce and the delivery/fill import vehicles and may therefore underestimate emissions associated with vehicle travel.

Data Requests:

25. According to the AFC, p. 5.8-15, the average size of the workforce over the approximately 49-month construction and commissioning period would be 1,159 workers (including construction workers and contractor staff); the peak month of construction would require 2,090 craft workers (on site) and 371 contractor staff. It appears unlikely that a sufficiently skilled construction labor force would be available in Kern County within a 20 mile radius of the Project site. Further, based on the 1982 report Socioeconomic Impacts of Power Plants by the Electric Power Research Institute, construction workers will commute as much as 60 miles daily to construction sites from their homes rather than relocate, and considerably further on a weekly basis. This indicates that the construction workforce would likely come from farther than 20 miles from the Project site. Elsewhere, the AFC states that approximately 60 percent of the workforce is expected to be hired from within Kern County but that it is possible that some portion of the labor force will be drawn from Los Angeles County. (AFC, pp. 5.8-3, -16 and -18.) In addition, HECA has recently signed a project labor agreement (“PLA”) with the National Building and Construction Trades Department, the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, and the Kern, Inyo, and Mono Counties Building and Construction Trades Council. Thus, some of the construction workforce may come from Inyo and Mono Counties. The southern border of Mono County is more than 150 miles from the Project site.

a) Please provide a copy of the PLA and/or indicate whether the PLA contains a breakdown for the origin of the construction workforce by county.

b) Please provide a breakdown of the available construction labor workforce by county.

c) Please identify typical travel distances for the construction workforce by county.

d) Please discuss whether you anticipate that construction workers would commute from their residence on a daily or weekly basis or seek lodging closer to the Project site.

e) Please revise emission estimates for worker vehicle travel during Project construction according to your responses above.

Now more of the truth will come out about the union workforce locked in to build this power plant.