North County Times: By Ted Owen
As 2009 ended, the latest attempt to derail the Carlsbad Desalination Plant was rejected by the Coastal Commission. The celebration was short-lived, as two fringe environmental groups, undaunted by yet another defeat, kept up their assault on the project by filing yet another request that the Commission revoke the permit granted to Poseidon Resources in 2007.
For those of you keeping score, that's five lawsuits and another five permit appeals spearheaded by lawyers representing the Surfrider Foundation and Coastkeeper. To date, these challenges have been rejected. In fact, during the last six years, every permitting and regulatory agency has approved this desalination facility and every court petitioned to overturn the approvals has declined to do so.
A recent public opinion survey conducted by the San Diego County Water Authority showed that a whopping nine out of 10 county residents support seawater desalination, and every state and federal elected official from San Diego County has endorsed the project. No matter what your opinion of the project is after all these years, there is no doubt that it is supported by sound science and the law. With construction of the project under way, environmental extremists have no chance of stopping the desalination facility from being built.
So why do they keep up their antics? Because these obstructionists hope to delay this new water supply and add so much cost that Poseidon will eventually be forced to abandon the project. This is foolish.
Nine San Diego County public water agencies have entered into long-term contracts to purchase every drop of water the plant will produce during the next 30 years, and the only thing the opponents are achieving at this point is driving up the cost the ratepayers will have to pay for the plant's drinking water. San Diegans already struggling in tough economic times should be incensed.
It is a shame that San Diego's news media have failed to press opponents to justify their continued opposition. Instead of asking the tough questions, the news media have lackadaisically reported that a new litigant, the California Environmental Rights Foundation, has joined the fray. Who is this group and where did it come from?
The truth is the project's chief antagonist, overzealous litigator Marco Gonzalez, recently represented the Surfrider Foundation, until Surfrider abandoned its legal strategy when it determined that a significant number of its members did not agree with its position on desalination, and there was little chance they would ever prevail in court. So Gonzalez started the group, an organization with hardly any members, designed to lend credibility to his continued legal assault.
Other than the obvious ethical questions, why is this fact important? Because Gonzalez, under the auspices of his foundation, has twice petitioned the Coastal Commission to revoke the project's permit. However, his foundation has no legal standing to request revocation because it was not a party - and it did not even exist - at the time the commission considered and approved the permits that are the subject of its revocation request.
In his latest permit revocation request, Gonzalez wrongly charges that Poseidon misled the Coastal Commission when it approved the project's greenhouse gas mitigation plan, a condition to the development permit. Never mind that the desalination plant doesn't emit greenhouse gases or that the Coastal Commission does not have the legal jurisdiction to require air quality mitigation, Poseidon did make this voluntary commitment.
In response to Poseidon's voluntary commitment, project opponents attempted to use the greenhouse gas mitigation plan to load up the desalination facility with unprecedented costs they hoped would result in the project's financial collapse. No good deed goes unpunished.
Project opponents were unsuccessful, but now that the Coastal Commission has four new members, Gonzalez is trying to revisit the issue in hopes of generating a different outcome. This tactic begs for review by the attorney general, as the Coastal Commission cannot unilaterally place additional requirements on a vested permit simply because opponents did not like the original decision.
In the end, Poseidon will get past this challenge, too. The public record on this matter is unmistakable and the commission, recognizing the revocation request is frivolous and without merit, will not compromise its integrity ---- and risk a lawsuit ---- to cater to project opponents.
Gonzalez was recently quoted on signonsandiego.com saying he does not care if his legal challenges are ever successful; his objective is to endlessly file appeals in hopes of delaying the project until it finally collapses. This legal conduct might be why Surfrider parted ways with him. Or it could be because opponents have found themselves marginalized by their unjustified opposition to a project that has proven to be environmentally benign.
Consequently, these groups have lost membership and revenue, and if they continue this senseless, obstructionist behavior, they will cost the ratepayers a lot more.
My wish for the new year is that opponents will stop with the nonsense and allow the region to get on with the business of creating high-paying jobs and providing a reliable water supply.
TED OWEN is the president and chief executive officer of the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce.
What's the latest?