Concerns of Local Water District over HECA

Shafter-Wasco Irrigation District

January 9, 2014

Re:  Amendment to Conditional Use Permit 489-87

The Shafter-Wasco Irrigation District (SWID) wishes to submit comments to the City of Wasco concerning the expansion of the Savage Coal Depot operation through an amendment to CUP #489-87.  This expansion from the current level of less than 200,000 tons annually to the proposed level of 1.5 million tons annually is being done to facilitate the delivery of coal to the Hydrogen Energy California project in the Buttonwillow area.

Even though the California Energy Commission is the final permitting authority for the HECA project, the City of Wasco has a duty to solicit public comment on this proposal and to analyze the potential impacts to the residents of Wasco and to the surrounding area.  The proposed increase in coal handling and trucking by Savage represents a significant change from the current status at the facility.  We recommend that a thorough Environmental Impact Report be prepared reflecting the new conditions before this amendment is approved.

SWID has many concerns with the project in general.  The additional air pollution from HECA (over 500 tons) is significant and not easily absorbed by a region already impacted with serious pollution levels well above federal standards for good health.  The proposed  use by HECA of over 7,500 acre-feet annually of usable irrigation water in a region of severe groundwater overdraft is also of concern.

Our immediate concern, which the City of Wasco needs to address, are the 150 daily truckloads of coal that will potentially pass by our office at the intersection of Kimberlina and Hwy 43.  If these coal trucks are to take Wasco Road south and turn right at Kimberlina Road and then left onto Highway 43, there will be severe impacts to traffic at the Highway 43 intersection.

Currently, when a truck or car traveling west on Kimberlina Road attempts to make a left turn onto Hwy 43 all traffic behind this truck or car must wait until vehicles traveling east on Kimberlina have cleared the intersection.   Currently, there are several times during the day when traffic backs up eastward from this intersection to the point where SWID related traffic cannot exit the SWID facility onto Kimberlina in either direction.  Traffic often is backed up to the railroad crossing as well which presents a danger if a train is passing through the area.  When a large truck and trailer is waiting to make this left turn onto Hwy 43, there is often no opportunity for other vehicles to safely and legally pass through the intersection headed west during a particular light change sequence.

The issue described above will directly affect SWID.  The City of Wasco has the authority to put conditions on the operation of the Savage Coal facility which would mitigate our concerns.  One such condition would be the forbidding of coal trucks to use Wasco Road to leave the facility heading south.  Instead, the current approved route for coal trucks leaving and entering the facility on J Street should be maintained.

The original HECA proposal specified a truck route for the coal trucks using J Street to Hwy 46 and west to I-5.  We feel this would be a more appropriate route than the current proposal.  We also understand that the City of Shafter and Rio BravoSchool District also object strongly to allowing the coal trucks to use any route that passes along Hwy 43 through their respective areas.

Finally, the City of Wasco has the duty to update completely the Environmental Impact Report originally issued for Savage Coal in 1987.  The amount of coal is changing significantly from 900,000 tons to 1.5 million tons.  This will increase, from the current situation, the number of trains, the number of trucks, the amount of coal dust and other pollution related to the facility, the amount of coal spillage along the tracks, the local noise and vibration levels, the periodic blocking of the Poso Street railroad crossing, the speed with which the coal cars will be unloaded, the potential for coal heating and fires, the type of coal being imported, and the impacts to pedestrians crossing the railroad tracks (both legally and illegally).

SWID recommends that a decision not be made on January 13, 2014 and that more time be taken by the City of Wasco to receive more public comment and to study more thoroughly the proposed changes to the CUP and their impacts to the City of Wasco and to the surrounding area.


Jerry Ezell, General Manager


Actions Speak Louder Than Words in HECA Dealings

Letter to the Editor, Bakersfield Californian, January 9, 2014

I want to thank The Californian for publishing the profile of Tom Frantz on Jan. 3 (“Shafter farmer helps bring focus to valley’s environmental issues”).

The director of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, Seyed Sadredin, is quoted as saying, “We need to build relationships with the environmental community.” Seyed said the conversation with the environmental community needs more depth.

Well, exactly! How about if it starts with Sadredin and his Board? Why did the Board slip through its final vote on the mitigation for the Hydrogen Energy California (HECA) plant proposed between Tupman and Buttonwillow before the close of the public comment period last spring? How receptive was the Board to the public’s comments at its standing-room-only hearings on HECA? Dismissive at best.

The Air District’s Dave Warner agreed at that hearing that we have the dirtiest, if not the second dirtiest, air in the nation. He agreed that polluted air causes illnesses and deaths. When asked if in the last dozen years he had dealt with a power plant that projected to release more pollution than HECA, Warner admitted, ”probably not.” The public questioned the 500 tons of new pollution that the coal-powered HECA plant would add to our already horrible air. Yet the Air District trivialized the public’s concerns and instead determined HECA would be a net air quality benefit. How does Sadredin think actions like this build better relationships with the public and the environmental community?

Chris Romanini Bakersfield

California Energy Commissioners Greeted by Protesters


HECA plant hearing draws friends, foes
Published November 21, 2013
BY JOHN COX Californian staff writer
If it wins state approval, the Hydrogen Energy California clean coal project proposed near Tupman would create jobs, boost tax revenue and provide a test of carbon-burying technology that would help local oil production.

But it would also pollute the air, store dangerous chemicals and generate more waste than Kern County knows what to do with.

Such were the comments that emerged at a public hearing Wednesday night in Buttonwillow, as more than 100 people spoke in support or opposition, or just came to hear Massachusetts-based SCS Energy LLC’s plans for a $4 billion chemical production and power plant.

The hearing was conducted by a committee that included two members of the five-person California Energy Commission, which has been reviewing the proposal for several years. A revised staff assessment of the project is expected later this year or early next year, leading to more public comment and, ultimately, a final vote by the commission sometime in 2014.

HECA, as the project is known, would turn coal and petroleum coke into fertilizer and, during times of peak demand, electricity for sale to the state’s power grid. Some 90 percent of the carbon dioxide generated there would be buried in nearby oil fields, which would help oil production, since it makes petroleum less viscous.

The federal government has pledged $408 million in subsidies to the project, largely because it represents a novel and relatively clean use of the nation’s coal.

The economic benefits would be substantial: more than 2,400 construction jobs, some 200 permanent jobs and an estimated $52 million a year in annual labor income from direct, indirect and induced employment.

But as the project moves through the approval process, environmentalists are trying to raise concerns about its impacts on public health and safety.

They worry that its emissions would worsen the region’s already poor air quality. Opponents also question the wisdom of storing anhydrous ammonia at the site. If that chemical were accidentally released, it would present a great safety threat to nearby residents.

Nearby residents and environmentalists from across the county took the podium Wednesday to urge the commission to reject the plan.

Brad Bone, a fourth-generation farmer who lives south of Buttonwillow, said he worries what impact the project’s emissions would have on the health of his 18-month-old daughter. Bone, 30, also questioned claims that HECA’s plan to use only local brackish water would improve the overall quality of the area’s groundwater.

“Things just never work out that way, it seems like,” he said.

Richard Chapman, president and CEO of the Kern Economic Development Corp., was among a number of people who spoke in support of the project because of its economic benefits.

He said KEDC’s mission is to support enterprises that attract capital investment to the county, create jobs and increase tax revenue — and the HECA project “hits it out of the ballpark in all three metrics.”

Elected county and appointed officials also spoke to the committee Wednesday to express concerns about the project.

Supervisor David Couch and Planning Director Lorelei Oviatt said there have not been enough measures incorporated into the plan that would lessen the project’s potential negative impacts. Among these would be contingencies for dealing with a hazardous emergency at the proposed plant.

Additionally, Nancy L. Ewert, senior engineering manager of Kern’s Waste Management Department, said HECA would produce 857 tons of waste per day

— double the amount now created in the county’s entire unincorporated area.

Meanwhile, she said, California regulators are pressuring the county to reduce the amount of waste Kern already diverts to landfills. Meeting the state’s goal with HECA up and operating, she said, would be “physically and mathematically impossible to do.”

Bakersfield Californian, November 20, 2013

Letter to the Editor

HECA: Tell us the whole story

I raised my family on a ranch that is about one mile from the proposed Hydrogen Energy California (HECA) facility, and I still have family living there. I wonder how safe we are with the HECA project so close to us in Button-willow.

What is the danger of making 1 million tons of fertilizer and storing close to 4 million gallons of anhydrous ammonia? The California Energy Commission submitted lots of data after the West, Texas, fertilizer plant explosion this past spring that killed 15 people. The CEC concluded that the HECA project’s danger would be less than significant because HECA will be using the best available safety measures. The accident in Texas was from only 30 tons of fertilizer, and HECA will be making almost 3,000 tons per day. Did the CEC seriously study the potential for accidents should those safety measures fail?

HECA did do a study on an accidental release of anhydrous ammonia from one 1.9 million-gallon tank; there are several tanks in this proposal. They studied how far concentrations of fumes would travel under different accident scenarios. Curiously, HECA submitted it to the CEC under confidential cover, and the CEC accepted it, hiding risk factors from the public.

Knowing how lethal anhydrous ammonia is, how it hugs the ground, and how it can travel up to 20 miles in concentration, we wonder why the report can’t be shown to the public? I am outraged that we, living so close, can’t know the truth.

Marilynn Feuerstein Creston

HECA Coal Trucks in Fog Dangerous

Letter to the Editor, Bakersfield California, November 17, 2013

Tupman vs. the fertilizer giant

I live one-and-a-quarter mile from the site of the proposed fertilizer plant known as Hydrogen Energy California, or HECA. I’m 71, I’ve lived here 36 years, and I’m scared. We can’t fight big energy companies and really wealthy people. But this plant should not be built here; not just because of its proximity to the little town of Tupman, but because of the vulnerability of all the surrounding areas. It is a disaster waiting to happen — a disaster that could be very deadly.

The roads in the surrounding areas are going to be blood alleys. Think about the parade of big trucks HECA will require, then think about the fog. Well, I don’t give up without a fight. I don’t have anywhere else to go.

Sarah Goatcher, Tupman

HECA Pollution a Serious Problem

Letter to the Editor

Bakersfield California, November 19, 2013

HECA may reverse air progress

So there is hope that the Central Valley might be released from its $29 million fine for one-hour ozone violations. That is great news to this former Buttonwillow resident, especially if it means we will also have fewer unhealthy air days.

But wait. If we get off the hook for paying that fine, how soon will they impose a new fine on us from the hundreds of tons of new emissions from the Hydrogen Energy California (HECA) project? Certainly HECA’s thousands of diesel trucks delivering coal daily into our valley air will put us right back into noncompliance.

Wouldn’t it be grand if we truly had clean enough air to burn a nice Christmas fire in our homes? Seems like if we could go in the right, clean-air direction for awhile, we should try to stay the course. It seems like we should not celebrate the $29 million fine’s possible cancellation by permitting a major new air polluter. I bet HECA will put us right back into a fine.

Buttonwillow will be having a HECA meeting in the local recreation center Nov. 20. The California Energy Commission’s voting commissioners will be hearing public comments beginning at 5 p.m. The CEC needs to be truthful and transparent to the public about risks involved. There is insufficient information to prove the risks are less than significant.

Susanna Matchniff, Hacienda Heights

Buttonwillow Residents Opposed to HECA

Letters to the Editor

Bakersfield Californian, November 17, 2013

More questions about HECA

I am pleased the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is questioning health risk studies done by the California Energy Commission on the Hydrogen Energy California project.

The EPA found that the CEC’s health-risk assessment on HECA had insufficient information. The EPA noted that the CEC concludes the HECA project would not result in significant risk of cancer or short- or long-term health effects to the public. Yet the CEC does not show how it justifies its conclusion.

CEC states Kern County ranks as one of the lowest California counties in overall health. The mortality rates for asthmatics and those suffering from coronary heart disease in Kern are higher than the state overall. It identifies Valley Fever as an existing public health concern that appears to be on the rise in Kern. The CEC states that their analysis uses a conservative health-protective methodology that accounts for impacts to the most sensitive individuals, including a developing fetus, newborns, infants and the elderly. Yet it is not clear through their methodology how the preexisting health conditions were considered or how this information affected their conclusions, if at all.

I support the EPA’s questioning. The CEC needs to clarify how the health-risk assessment considered the pre-existing health conditions. We, in the dirtiest air in the nation, deserve robust studies that show the health risks of hundreds of tons of new emissions from this dirty coal-fueled plant. The CEC needs to do better.

Marie Parsons, Buttonwillow