(September 5, 2005) -- Surely you've seen them, the parade of government officials trying to save themselves as bodies float through New Orleans, calling Hurricane Katrina a "high-consequence, low-probability" event.
We've heard that glib formula before -- "high-consequence, low-probability" -- bureaucratically dismissive of the risks of putting an 80+ million gallon Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminal in the Port of LB -- the nation's port -- roughly two miles from downtown LB.
On August 23, 2005, while Hurricane Katrina was gaining strength, LB City Councilmembers (Vice Mayor) Jackie Kell (her motion), Patrick O'Donnell (his second), Laura Richardson, Tonia Reyes Uranga and Val Lerch brushed aside what LB's first responders (police and fire), city management and LB's City Attorney told them.
These five Councilmembers squandered LB's legal right to tell a powerful federal agency that the City encourages the remote siting (distant from populated, urbanized areas) of LNG facilities. The five Councilmembers did this even after City Manager Miller and City Attorney Shannon told them the City was entitled to do so while waiting for the EIR...and if the City didn't do so now, that opportunity would be lost.
Much to their credit, four of their colleagues -- Councilmembers Lowenthal, Baker, Colonna and Gabelich -- offered a statesmanlike compromise to let the City be heard while awaiting the EIR.
Councilmembers Kell, O'Donnell, Richardson, Reyes Uranga and Lerch rejected that too.
By not taking the opportunity to discourage a low-probability, high-consequence event, Kell, O'Donnell, Richardson, Reyes Uranga and Lerch bear responsibility for making it more likely.
We are disappointed that Councilman Lerch, who chairs the Council's Public Safety Committee, didn't hold a single hearing on the public safety impacts of the proposed LNG facility. Likewise disapponting: Councilman O'Donnell serves on that Committee and the Council because LB's first responders helped elect him...yet he didn't call for such hearings.
A subsidiary of two mega-corporations that wants to build and run the LNG facility for its profit has urged the Council to "wait for the EIR." The Press-Telegram, which ran the company's ads, editorially echoed "wait for the EIR." Union bosses, whose members want to build the plant and leave it in our belly (but could help ambitious Councilmembers seeking higher office) advised "wait for the EIR."
Here is what we believe "wait for the EIR" really means.
As Wrigley Association President Joan Greenwood put it at the Aug. 23 Council meeting, the EIR/EIS will be an advocacy document. It will offer justifications for putting 80+ million gallons of LNG exactly where the applicant wants it. It will examine alternatives and come up with reasons to reject them.
Based on what LB's LNG cheerleaders have already said, we presume the EIR will acknowledge LNG's potential hazards but portray it as similar to other materials at the Port...and perhaps safer. It will include fancy modeling based on assumptions and predictions that invite the inference they're facts when they're not. It will censor facts that it decrees security-related, preventing the public and the Council from learning the full impacts and risks.
The EIR is being produced by the Port of LB, whose real-world principle is business über alles, and the EIS will be generated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, whose business is energy, not LB's interests.
After the EIR is unleashed, the same robots who told the Council to "wait for the EIR" will tell the Council "do what the EIR says; you waited for it; others know better." For the record, the Port's last major high visibility EIR (for Pier J) understated impacts and was debunked through the efforts of others. The LNG EIR involves material that under circumstances some may consider "high consequence, low probability" could kill and disfigure people and destroy property and infrastructure at some distances. PoLB and FERC have given themselves nearly two years to produce it; the public will have barely 45 days to review it and find any fatal flaws.
In late August, as previously reported by LBReport.com, the City of LB sent the CA Energy Commission a document, prepared with input from LB's first responders (LBFD and LBPD), citing safety considerations regarding the proposed PoLB-LNG site. It speaks for itself. To view the City's document, click here. Whether the CA Energy Commission sends LB's materials to FERC as LB stated them, or deletes or neuters LB's words, remains to be seen.
One thing is certain: it will not include the view of CA's fifth largest city on whether it is desirable to encourage remote siting of LNG facilities because of what Councilmembers Kell (motion), O'Donnell (second), Richardson, Reyes Uranga and Lerch did on August 23.
We urge the Council to undo some of the damage done by taking the following overdue actions:
- 1. Agendize an item commencing proceedings to put an item on the April 2006 LB ballot letting voters create an elected, recallable Harbor Commission;
- 2. Agendize an item directing the City Manager to put out to bid the contract for City Hall's DC legislative advocacy services currently handled by the same firm that provides such services for the Port of LB; and
- 3. Amend the City's federal legislative agenda to delete support for rebuilding the Gerald Desmond bridge that under current PoLB policy will open the floodgates to more containers and more pollution without ensuring no net increase in pollution.
On matters of health, safety and quality of life, LB residents deserve more than (what LB writer Bry Myown has termed) Council hand-washing, followed by hand-wringing.