Out of area union groups file comments opposing geothermal plant


‘Here we go again,’ says a Roseville-based construction worker advocate

It didn’t take long for two mostly non-local membership union advocacy groups to dump hundreds of pages of comments challenging the proposed new geothermal plant slated for construction in the next few years off of Casa Diablo Road.

The new geothermal plant proposal is still in the draft environmental review document process. The comment period for the new Casa Diablo IV plant closed on Jan. 30 and county officials are currently reviewing them.

Comments from locals on wildlife and the impact to recreation near the Shady Rest area were expected, but reams of comments from union advocacy groups are a relatively new thing in Mono County history.

The groups have challenged almost every renewable energy project in the state, including Casa Diablo IV and a proposed replacement of an old geothermal plant at the existing Ormat Technologies Inc. site.

The tactics of the two groups called California Unionsfor Reliable Energy(CURE) and Laborers International Union of North America, or LiUNA (a group that states is has “one million plus” members), is adding a new element to local politics and processes.

In fact, LiUNA sued the replacement project late last year after Mono County supervisors approved it. That lawsuit is still in its developing stages, causing the project to be put on hold—a project that had been expected to be completed by now and to provide dozens of jobs for local, non-unionized contractors.

Kevin Dayton, president of a Roseville-based public policy consulting firm and a former lobbyist for Associated Builders and Contractors, has tracked construction union involvement in environmental complaints since the late 1990s.

He believes union groups such as LiUNA and CURE are using the state California Environmental Quality Act to essentially “greenmail” projects in an attempt to sew up lucrative construction contracts for their unionized members.

Groups use the regulatory strength of CEQA to require project developers to conduct many studies and follow so many specific steps that a project can essentially be sued to death. If the developer does not have the luxury, time, or money to withstand the court process, the unions settle in exchange for contracts to do the construction.

“At that time (in the 1990s), unions were intervening in the permitting process at the California Energy Commission for numerous gas-fired merchant power plants,” Dayton said.

“The chief objective of union leaders is not environmental protection. They want developers to sign Project Labor Agreements and 30-year Maintenance Labor Agreements to give unions a monopoly on construction trade work. It’s a jobs grab.”

He said construction unions are targeting other Ormat Technologies projects, including proposed geothermal plants in Imperial County, using the same tactics used in Mono County.

“Like the Mono County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors, the Imperial County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors rejected the union environmental complaints as baseless,” he said.

It will be several months before the Bishop Bureau of Land Management Field Office responds to all the comments, as it is required to do by law.

After that, a final report of the combined Environmental Impact Report (state EIR) and Environmental Impact Statement (federal EIS) document for the Casa Diablo IV project will be filed, a process that could take years.