If The Cemex Mine Comes To Pass It Will Be Due To CEQA Abuse and Buck McKeon’s Inattentiveness to the District
Last evening’s City Council meeting should act as a wakeup call to local and statewide environmental organizations and Congressman McKeon’s sleepy re-election campaign – a campaign that seems to be based on keeping him away from adverse issues and the candidates running against him.
The mine, slated to begin production in Soledad Canyon in a matter of days, is an issue that the very active California environmental community has been oddly mute on. Other than a member or 2 from the Sierra Club speaking out against the mine, Santa Clarita has not had assistance from one of the most well-funded and organized special interest groups in the state.
There may be a very good reason for this: The Desert Ground Squirrel. It has not been widely reported that the closest we have come to preventing the mine from beginning operations involved a “land swap” deal that would have compensated Cemex for the loss of the mining rights using the proceeds of a Mojave Desert land sale to The City of Victorville. Victorville had its eyes on the property for development of rail and business ventures. The potential for profit was huge. But then that damned squirrel showed up. Actually it wasn’t the squirrel that showed up. It was a union-funded pseudo-environmental organization called California Unions for Reliable Energy (C.U.R.E.). C.U.R.E. came to dispute the DRAFT E.I.R. on a separate project that Victorville is heavily invested in -- a state-of-the-technology hybrid Solar Power Plant called Victorville 2. One would think that environmental groups would be for solar power plants – and they generally are. But C.U.R.E. is not a legitimate environmental organization. They are professional interveners on California energy projects and are run by a union-funded, San Francisco law firm called Adams, Broadwell, Joseph and Cardozo.
[In 2008, I successfully defended a clean fuels refinery project by Flying J from the environmental extortion of C.U.R.E. Lawyer, Gloria Smith with Adams, Broadwell, Joseph and Cardozo. She lied to the Kern County Planning Commission about her identity in this entertaining 8 minute YouTube video]
C.U.R.E has a successful racket whereby they intervene in the CEQA process for environmental approval of large energy projects, claiming to be interested in protecting plant and animal species that would allegedly be disrupted by the project. Meanwhile, the local union business managers meet with the elected officials responsible for the project and promise to make the C.U.R.E. intervention go away if the officials approve a union-only Project labor Agreement on the project. In the case of the Victorville 2 project, the species of squirrel they purported to represent was not even an inhabitant of the area where the project would be built. But an administrative law judge did not care and placed erroneous and costly environmental mitigation requirements on the project. You see, the City of Victorville dealt Big Labor a rare defeat when they refused to be the victim of the extortionist tactic. But in the end, they also condemned the Victorville 2 project.
All of this went down between 2009 and 2010, just as the Cemex/Victorville land-swap legislation was working its way through the House and Senate. If Congressman McKeon was anywhere near the asset to the 25th Congressional District that he claims to be, he would have gotten the legislation through Congress that would have caused the Bureau of Land Management to sell the Mohave Desert property to Victorville and allocated the proceeds of said sale to Cemex to end the mine in Soledad Canyon.
By late 2010, the Victorville 2 Hybrid Power Plant project was cancelled. As a result, the City of Victorville was on the hook for $50 million owed to General Electric for equipment that had been manufactured for the project. To add insult to injury, the City was now being investigated by corrupt bureaucrats that were unwilling to accept that Victorville chose to abandon the project rather than become yet another victim of Big Labor extortion. This set of circumstances killed any chance that Victorville would be a buyer for the Mojave Desert property.
If the story ended there, mining would have already commenced in Soledad Canyon. But through remarkable lobbying efforts by the City of Santa Clarita and Senator Barbara Boxer’s unwillingness to follow Congressman McKeon’s lead in abandoning the effort, hope is still alive for a land swap deal using the Mojave Desert property.
But the stakes and the cost have risen. Time is also short. Congress is the only authority that can stop the 56-million-ton mine from commencing operations next month. But McKeon and his fellow Republican Representatives are sticking to their guns on the excuse that the land-swap deal constitutes an earmark or bill intended solely to benefit the residents of a congressional district. I happen to agree that earmarks need to be limited. However, what most voters are opposed to is the type of special interest spending that gets inserted into omnibus spending bills and even military spending bills at the last minute without discussion. The Cemex land-swap deal is far from that kind of earmark. Ask any city council in America if they would sit by while a mining project as large as the Soledad Canyon one were to go into operation only a few thousand feet from 167,000 residents. The Cemex mine needs to be stopped, not because Cemex is an evil Mexican/multinational corporation hell-bent on mining near homes and businesses (just the opposite is true), but because a project like this – if it were subject to today’s environmental laws – would never get off the ground.
As for the California environmental community that seems to come out against every land-use project ever devised but has been A.W.O.L. on Cemex, you have proven that your goal is to limit human interaction with the environment rather than protect it from irresponsible use.
To learn more about the Cemex mine and the hazard it poses to this suburban community of 167,000 souls, please visit. http://www.safe4environment.org
Kevin D. Korenthal is the President & CEO of KOREN Communications, A Santa Clarita-based Public Relations and Government Affairs firm that specializes in California construction issues. He can be reached at contact at korenthal dot com.