At its February 8, 2011 meeting, the San Bernardino County (California) Board of Supervisors voted 3-0 to reject a scheme by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 477 to block a permit to build a 40-megawatt solar photovoltaic generating facility in the Mojave Desert, near Kramer Junction.
The San Bernardino County Planning Commission had approved the permit for the solar plant at its October 7, 2010 meeting. The Planning Commission had originally planned to approve the project at its June 3, 2010 meeting, but at the last minute the law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo swooped in on behalf of the IBEW with environmental objections based on water supply for dust control during construction and for cleaning of the solar panels. This union action delayed the project for four months while the county performed a water supply assessment. Three days after the project was finally approved by the county Planning Commission, Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo filed an appeal of the decision to the Board of Supervisors.
The controversy over the IBEW greenmail and the vote was reported in the February 9, 2011 Barstow Desert Dispatch and Victorville Daily Press (Kramer Junction Solar Project Approved by Board of Supervisors/Supervisors OK Kramer Junction Solar Project – same article text in both stories).
Remarks by ABC of California are in the article, along with remarks from the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction:
Members of two organizations that are opposing labor unions that attempt to stop or delay solar projects say that the labor unions are essentially using elements of the California Environmental Quality Act to “greenmail” project developers into signing project labor agreements. Once a developer signs a labor agreement, the opposition to the project disappears, said Kevin Dayton, state government affairs director for Associated Builders and Contractors of California.
Dayton said that labor unions are the biggest obstacle to solar projects in California because of their attempts to get project developers to sign labor agreements. He said that he hoped that Gov. Jerry Brown would amend CEQA in order to keep labor unions from blocking solar projects throughout California.
A representative of another organization opposing the “greenmail” tactics used by labor unions said that he believes that the lawsuits and environmental injunctions filed on the behalf of labor unions are going to become increasingly common in Southern California. Eric Christen, a representative of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction, said that the project developers normally win such disputes, but pointed out that such delays cost money and can cause a developer to cancel the project.
“Is the delay and the cost of the delay worth the win?” asked Christen.
Neither the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) nor the representative of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo was available to the reporter for comment.
A Senior Vice President of the solar facility developer, LightSource Renewables, stated “we believe our project was decided correctly by the [Planning] Commission based on its merits” and explained its efforts to minimize the environmental impact of the project. An assistant director for the county’s Land Use Services Department concurred.
During public comment concerning the agenda item, Jackie Nutting of the Southern California Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors and Eric Christen of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction blasted Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo for “standard rhetoric” acting as a front for an “extortion racket.” They pointed out that the environmental objections were a scam for unions to pressure the developer to sign a Project Labor Agreement or other union-only labor agreement and cited a February 5, 2011 Los Angeles Times article exposing the tactic against renewable energy generation facilities.
Christen declared that “this nonsense and abuse of CEQA [California Environmental Quality Act] needs to end” and called for a county ban on Project Labor Agreements as a way to send a message about this reprehensible tactic. Such a ban has been enacted in Orange County (Orange County, California PLA Ban – Code of Ordinances §1-8-3) and San Diego County (San Diego County Administrative Code Article XXIII, §428).