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Citizens Group Objecting to Solar Power in Kern County Is Union Front Group

Construction trade unions in California remain distressed about how solar power is harming the environment. Their latest worry is the 150-megawatt Willow Springs Solar Project proposed for Kern County, in Antelope Valley at the Los Angeles County border.

March 8 2016 Kern County Citizens for Responsible Solar LetterAn energy company called First Solar has been planning this project since 2010. In February 2015 Kern County released a Draft Environmental Impact Report for the solar project. Substantial objections to this project then emerged from an unincorporated association called “Kern County Citizens for Responsible Solar,” represented by the law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo in South San Francisco.

This group claims the county isn’t complying with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in its evaluation of the environmental impact of the solar power plant. Although the county has tried to modify subsequent versions of its Environmental Impact Report to address these objections, the association’s law firm continues to insist that the report is inadequate.

This process became absurd. At one point a change made by the county to mollify Kern County Citizens for Responsible Solar even triggered a new objection – from the East Kern Air Pollution Control District!

Finally, the Kern County Planning Commission had enough and scheduled a hearing on March 10, 2016 to approve the Final Environmental Impact Report. On that morning, the law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo submitted a new set of objections. Later that day, a lawyer representing “Kern County Citizens for Responsible Solar” warned the Planning Commission that Kern County had failed to properly evaluate the environmental impact of the solar project. Also at the meeting to speak out against the project were the head of the Kern-Inyo-Mono Building and Construction Trades Council and the head of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local Union No. 428 in Bakersfield.

What’s the true identity of “Kern County Citizens for Responsible Solar?” Construction trade unions, working under another unincorporated front group called California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE). A Kern County official bluntly revealed the true agenda of this fake organization at the subsequent April 12, 2016 meeting of the Kern County Board of Supervisors:

“The primary opposition to this project has been from law firms representing labor unions who have requested First Solar sign a Project Labor Agreement.”

The Planning Commission unanimously recommended county approval of the project despite the newly-submitted union objections. After postponing a Board of Supervisors hearing originally scheduled for March 15, county staff refined the Environmental Impact Report to address the new set of objections. The Kern County Board of Supervisors considered final approval of the Willow Springs Solar Project on April 12.

For Kern County officials, the morning of April 12 began as expected, with 31 pages of fresh objections from the law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph and Cardozo. But this time there was blowback: as reported later that day to the Board of Supervisors, “a variety of entities” had also submitted letters “taking issue” with how unions use the California Environmental Quality Act as leverage to squeeze Project Labor Agreements out of solar energy developers.  The letters documenting the practice can be read via the links below:

April 11, 2016 Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction to Kern County Board of Supervisors – California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) Objections to Willow Springs Solar Project

April 11, 2016 Western Electrical Contractors Association et al to Kern County Board of Supervisors – California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) Objections to Willow Springs Solar Project

April 11, 2016 California Construction Advancement Group to Kern County Board of Supervisors – California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) Objections to Willow Springs Solar Project

These letters did not shame Kern County Citizens for Responsible Solar. A lawyer for Adams Broadwell Joseph and Cardozo spoke at the Board of Supervisors on their behalf and objected to alleged failures of the Final Environmental Impact Report to “disclose” things.

Of course, the REAL lack of disclosure was the true identity of “Kern County Citizens for Responsible Solar” and its ulterior motives. But everyone knew what was happening. A representative of First Solar openly told the Board of Supervisors that it had not concluded negotiations on a Project Labor Agreement.

Following that statement, an official with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local Union No. 428 in Bakersfield claimed that since 2013 the union had signed Project Labor Agreements with First Solar, 8minuteenergy, Recurrent Energy, SunPower, and Sun Edison for construction of solar photovoltaic power plants in Kern County. Apparently he suspected that the surging unemployment of Kern County construction workers (caused by cutbacks in the petrochemical industry) was encouraging solar companies to be bolder about resisting union demands for Project Labor Agreements.

April 12 2016 Kern County Board of Supervisors Vote on Willow Springs Solar ProjectIn the end, the Kern County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 to approve the Willow Springs Solar Project. Unions now have the opportunity to use the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to challenge the board’s decision in court.

Solutions?

How can the State of California protect the environment while discouraging parties from brazenly abusing environmental laws to extract economic concessions from public and private developers? State Senator John Moorlach has a solution based on the concepts of openness and transparency. He has introduced Senate Bill 1248, which would require a plaintiff or petitioner in a CEQA action to disclose information about parties that provide more than $100 to fund the action. It would also require the plaintiff or petitioner to disclose the financial or business interest in the project for those parties that provide more than $100 to fund the action. See Senate Bill 1248.

With Senate Bill 1248 enacted as law, Kern County Citizens for Responsible Solar, community champions of the environment, would acquire a new identity: International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, demanding a Project Labor Agreement.

Sources

April 13, 2015 Adams Broadwell Joseph Cardozo Draft EIR Comments on behalf of Kern County Citizens for Responsible Solar – Willow Springs Solar – First Solar – Kern County – Letter

March 9, 2016 Adams Broadwell Joseph Cardozo Final EIR Comments on behalf of Kern County Citizens for Responsible Solar – Willow Springs Solar – First Solar – Kern County – Letter

April 12, 2016 Adams Broadwell Joseph Cardozo Final EIR Comments on behalf of Kern County Citizens for Responsible Solar – Willow Springs Solar – First Solar – Kern County – Staff Report & Response

Video of April 12, 2016 Kern County Board of Supervisors Meeting – Item 4 – Request from Willow Springs Solar, LLC by First Solar: allow construction of a 150-MW solar facility


Kevin Dayton is the President & CEO of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC, and is the author of frequent postings about generally unreported California state and local policy issues at www.laborissuessolutions.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaytonPubPolicy.

Collect Them All: Environmental Objections of California Unions in 2013

Attendees of the annual leftist “Netroots Nation” conference in San Jose, California on June 20-23, 2013 had ample opportunities to learn how to use the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to advance the labor union political agenda.

They could have attended a June 22 panel (CEQA: An Example of Linking Environmental and Labor Movements) on how union and environmental movements must work together using CEQA to keep “progressivism” relevant.

Or they could have been inspired by a June 21 panel (Building Renewables, Building Workers Lives – a Door to the Middle Class) to discuss how unions can better use CEQA to attain monopoly control of small solar power plant construction.

Obviously there was no shame or worry at this conference about exploiting environmental laws for ulterior purposes. Perhaps there were even some snickers about the irony of Ronald Reagan signing CEQA into law in 1970.

But monitor the public statements of the supporters of CEQA reform, or read the news media coverage about CEQA reform, and you would barely be aware such abuses are happening.

For anyone who doubts that unions are one of the primary wielders of environmental law to attain economic objectives unrelated to environmental protection, here’s a list of union CEQA activity so far in 2013.

1. Glenarm Power Plant Repowering Project, City of Pasadena

March 13, 2013 – Comments on Final Environmental Impact Report – California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE)

Here’s a chronology of how the law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo, representing California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE), objected on environmental grounds to a municipal power plant project on one hand while negotiating a Project Labor Agreement for the same project on the other hand:

2012-2013 – Interaction Between California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) and City of Pasadena – Glenarm Power Plant Repowering Project

2. Napa Pipe Project, County of Napa

May 20, 2013 – Request for a Subsequent Environmental Impact Report – Sheet Metal Workers Local Union No. 104, Plumbers and Steamfitters Local Union No. 343, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union No. 180, pretending to be the “Napa Coalition for Responsible Development.”

I wrote about the union environmental objections to this project in my May 28, 2013 www.UnionWatch.org article Spread the Word: Brazen Union CEQA Abuse in Napa Valley.

3. Agincourt Solar Project and Marathon Solar Project, County of San Bernardino

February 1, 2013 – Comments on the Initial Studies/Mitigated Negative Declarations – California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE), pretending to be “San Bernardino County Citizens for Responsible Solar.”

This one had a happy ending!

April 23, 2013 – Announcement from California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE), pretending to be “San Bernardino County Citizens for Responsible Solar” – the Western Burrowing Owl, the Desert Tortoise, the LeConte Thrasher, and the Joshua Tree are saved – let’s build!

4. VWR International Supply and Distribution Facility, City of Visalia

February 14, 2013 – Visalia VWR Employees Vote to Join Teamsters Union

After the Teamsters Joint Council 7 and fellow plaintiffs flipped a lower court decision by winning CEQA arguments (among other arguments) on appeal in Coalition For Clean Air v. City of Visalia, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local Union No. 948 won an NLRB-supervised representation election for employees of the new VWR International facility in Visalia.

Footnote 4 in the September 14, 2012 appeals court decision states that “Respondent VWR International’s brief alleges that the CEQA action was originally commenced by the Teamsters union and one of its local officers, in an effort to halt construction of the Visalia facility, fearing that its completion as a non-union facility would lead to the closure of a unionized facility in Brisbane.”

5. Pioneer Green Energy Solar Project, County of Kern

January 7, 2013 – Comments on Draft Environmental Impact Report – California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE), pretending to be “Kern County Citizens for Responsible Solar.”

Unions don’t seem to regard this project as particularly “green,” but maybe the green of money from a Project Labor Agreement will change their minds.

6. Imperial Valley Solar Company 2, County of Imperial

February 15, 2013 – Comments on Draft Environmental Impact Report – California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE), pretending to be “Imperial Citizens for Responsible Industry” and also February 18, 2013 – Comments on Draft Environmental Impact Report – Laborers (LIUNA) Local Union No. 1184.

Two union groups going after this one. Do you ever wonder if the Sonoran desert toads know they’re being abandoned to be squashed by heavy equipment when unions get their Project Labor Agreements?

7. Casa Diablo IV Geothermal Plant, County of Mono

Enjoying its peaceful repose and diversity and rarity of species of plants and animals.January 29, 2013 – Comments on Draft Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report – California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) and also January 30, 2013 – Comments on Draft Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report – Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA) Local Union No. 783.

This project is getting a double whammy, including from a union whose members travel to Mono County to “enjoy its peaceful repose and diversity and rarity of species of plants and animals.”

8. Three Rocks Solar, County of Fresno

CEQA documents for proposed solar power plants in Fresno County as of August 7, 2012. A majority of these documents related to union CEQA objections.

CEQA documents for proposed solar power plants in Fresno County as of August 7, 2012. A majority of these documents related to union CEQA objections.

May 31, 2013 – Request to Fresno County Board of Supervisors to deny appeal of Planning Commission’s decision to deny Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration and conditional use permit – California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE), pretending to be “Fresno County Citizens for Responsible Solar.”

As if the Fresno County Planning Department didn’t already have enough paper from the law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo. Imagine the trees unions are cutting down to protect the environment.

9. Dignity Health Elk Grove Medical Campus Project, City of Elk Grove

January 18, 2013 – Request for all documents referenced in the Draft Subsequent Environmental Impact Report – Plumbers and Pipefitters Local Union No. 447, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union No. 340, Sheet Metal Workers Local Union No. 162.

Even if the developer pays for it, is there any dignity for city employees when law firms force them to spend a huge amount of time collecting a huge pile of paper? Is this how government employees should be serving the people?

10.  World Logistics Center Project – City of Moreno Valley (added to this list on June 27, 2013)

April 5, 2013 – Comments on Draft Environmental Impact Report – Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA), Local Union No. 1184

This would be the largest master-planned warehouse complex in the United States, and unions want their share of the estimated $3.5 billion in construction and 20,000 permanent jobs.

11. Ocotillo Wind Energy Facility Project, Imperial County (added to this list on June 27, 2013)

February 27, 2013 – U.S. District Court rejects lawsuit filed by plaintiffs that include Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA), Local Union No. 1184

Unions decided to file a lawsuit (Desert Protective Council et al v. United States Department of the Interior et al) challenging the Final Environmental Impact Statement/Final Environmental Impact Report to overturn a May 2012 decision made by the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, California Desert District, El Centro Field Office to allow 112 wind turbine generators.

12. Acheson Commons (2133 University Avenue), City of Berkeley (added to this list on July 15, 2013)

May 8, 2013 and June 13, 2013 – Requests for Zoning Adjustments Board not to approve Use Permits for the project – Alameda County Building and Construction Trades Council, pretending to be “Berkeley Residents for Sustainable Development.”

Allegedly the “largest apartment complex ever planned for Berkeley’s downtown,” this project moved forward after some sort of deal with the Alameda County Building and Construction Trades Council, as reported in this July 11, 2013 article City’s Largest Apartment Building Ever Gets Go-Ahead.

13. Campo Verde Solar Project, Imperial County (added to this list on July 17, 2013)

Laborers’ International Union of North America Local Union No. 1184, et al. vs. County of Imperial, ECU7294

Laborers Local Union No. 1184 filed a lawsuit against Imperial County to stop First Solar, Inc. from building the 139-megawatt Campo Verde photovoltaic solar project. 

14. Citation Residential Project, City of Milpitas (added to this list on August 2, 2013)

A California appellate court rejected an appeal from the Carpenters Local Union No. 405 related to the union’s efforts to challenge approval of a 732-unit condominium project. See the July 16, 2013 decision in May v. City of Milpitas.

15. Cordes Ranch Specific Plan, City of Tracy (added to this list on August 2, 2013)

July 24, 2013 – Objections to Final Environmental Impact Report for Cordes Ranch Specific Plan – Carpenters Union Local No. 152.

A construction union has CEQA objections to a commercial and industrial development proposed in Tracy.

16. Palen Solar Electric Generating System in Riverside County, at California Energy Commission (added August 2, 2013)

March 26, 2013 order granting petition to intervene from Laborers (LIUNA) Local Union No. 1184May 8, 2013 status report.

While California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) reached an agreement to end its interference with permitting for this solar thermal power plant, the Laborers union in Riverside County is just getting started.

17. Desert Harvest Solar Project, Riverside County (added August 2, 2013)

March 11, 2013 – U.S. Bureau of Land Management denies protest of Laborers (LIUNA) Local Union No. 1184 against Final Environmental Impact Statement.

Another solar project under assault. California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) has not objected to the project, perhaps because the IBEW Union Local No. 440 has the electrical work.

18. Los Angeles International Airport (“LAX”) Specific Plan Amendment Study, City of Los Angeles and Los Angeles World Airports (added August 2, 2013)

April 29, 2013 – Objections to the Final Environmental Impact Report – SEIU United Service Workers West; May 29, 2013 – Lawsuit Against City of Los Angeles and Los Angeles World Airports – SEIU United Service Workers West.

Another one of the those CEQA lawsuits that allegedly rarely happen. This one comes courtesy of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) United Service Workers West, which claims to represent 2,000 Los Angeles International Airport workers, including passenger service workers, security officers, sky caps, baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, janitors, and cargo handlers.

19. Sun Valley Energy Project in Riverside County, at California Energy Commission (added August 7, 2013)

August 5, 2013 – Request to California Energy Commission for Notices – Laborers (LIUNA) Local Union No. 1184.

Better late than never. California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) submitted a petition on February 8, 2006 to the California Energy Commission to intervene on this project.

20. One South Market, City of San Jose (added August 13, 2013)

Staff Report on Appeal of Santa Clara-San Benito Counties Building and Construction Trades Council to One South Market Street Project (includes June 25, July 9, and July 12 letters from law firm ofAdams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo)

I wrote about this union CEQA appeal in the August 13, 2013 www.UnionWatch.org article Union Environmental Appeal of San Jose Infill High-Rise Fools No One.

21. Avalon Bay Communities – Dublin Station – Transit Center, City of Dublin (added August 13, 2013)

Carpenters Local Union No. 713 objected to this project in order to control the work. The union filed a lawsuit after the Dublin City Council rejected their appeal. On March 7, 2013, a California Appeals Court sided with the City of Dublin in Concerned Dublin Citizens v. City of Dublin.

22. Basin Street Properties – Riverfront Mixed Use Project, City of Petaluma (added August 24, 2013)

Pretending to be “Petaluma Residents for Responsible Development,” the Sonoma, Mendocino, and Lake Counties Building and Construction Trades Council managed to delay an August 13, 2013 Petaluma Planning Commission meeting with its CEQA objections to the Riverfront Mixed Use Project.

23.  Eagle Mountain Pumped Storage Water Project in Riverside County, State Water Resources Control Board (added August 27, 2013)

April 10, 2013 – Comments on Final Environmental Impact Report – Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA), Local Union No. 1184

Water would move back and forth between two old mining pits at different elevations to generate electricity during peak hours of usage. The Laborers Union is concerned.


Kevin Dayton is the President & CEO of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC, and is the author of frequent postings about generally unreported California state and local policy issues at www.laborissuessolutions.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaytonPubPolicy.