Union advocacy group sues over geothermal plant project


A plan to replace an aging geothermal plant at the Casa Diablo site has been sued by a union advocacy group

Mono County’s hopes to host a brand new geothermal facility sometime in the near future might have taken a hit, after a group of renewable energy union advocates and individuals sued the county on Dec. 14 over a lesser geothermal project.

The lawsuit targets a proposed replacement of an aging geothermal power plant facility at Ormat Technology’s Mammoth Pacific plant site east of Mammoth, according to Stacey Simon, assistant county counsel.

This “replacement project” has been on the books for years, and was supposed to be a relatively simple replacement of the aging infrastructure of one of Ormat’s existing geothermal plants located at the site on the east side of Casa Diablo Road east of Mammoth near the S.R. 203 junction.

The replacement project would not change the footprint of the existing facility, officials have said.

But a few years ago, the replacement project began to get comments from various union advocacy groups. The groups claimed concern for the environment and filed pages of comments. Despite this, local officials continued with their support of the project, as recently as December, when the county supervisors approved the replacement project.

According to the lawsuit, the county violated its own general plan when approving the replacement project and the project’s environmental review document (Environmental Impact Report, or EIR) “falls well below CEQA (California Environmental Policy Act) minimums.”

 The lawsuit cites concerns about the endangered Owens tui chub, migrating deer, air pollution and more.

The names of the lawsuit’s petitioners include a renewable energy union advocate group called Laborers International Union of North America Local Union N. 783 (LiUNA) and “concerned Bishop residents, an unincorporated association, Russell Covington, an individual, Robert Moore, an individual, Randy Sipes an individual, (and) Randy Sipes Jr., an individual.”

The lawsuit follows hard on the heels of several other actions from LiUNA and another union advocacy group called California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURES). The two groups have been involved in commenting on and/or challenging the environmental review planning process for the past few years, making extensive comments about the inadequacy of the EIR, and appealing the Mono County Planning Commission’s and, the Mono County Board of Supervisor’s approval of the project.

The county has been critical of the tactics of the union groups in the past, calling it “greenmail,” wherein a group uses the pretext of environmental concerns about a proposed renewable energy project to try to gain construction work for its union members.

It’s a tactic that other counties in California are becoming familiar with.

A project in Imperial County was recently challenged by such groups, and according to a 2011 Los Angeles Times article, “all 12 renewable energy project proposed for the Southern California desert” have been participated in by some of these groups, either by comments, appeals of decisions, or lawsuits.

The end result is some renewable energy companies have caved, signing contracts to build geothermal projects and solar projects with the union groups, according to the article.