NRDC Calls for Stop to PG&E Seismic Test, Urges Coastal Commission to Deny Permit

National Resources Defense Council

In a significant, eleventh-hour break from the State Lands Commission (SLC), the lead state agency permitting PG&E’s controversial offshore California Central Coast 3D seismic test, the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the influential national environmental organization, has withdrawn its support for the test it only recently endorsed. Furthermore, it has asked the California Coastal Commission to deny PG&E a coastal permit to conduct the test.

Less than a month ago, the NRDC worked closely with SLC staff to craft the mitigation measures for significant impacts to marine protected areas as result of PG&E’s high-energy high-decibel test of the fault lines around and under the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant in Avila Beach. Although the NRDC’s action is belated — as the test is set to begin November 1 — their reversal of support could cause a ripple effect through upper state government circles and throughout the international environmental community, which is already solidly lining up against the test and its EIR-certified “significant and unavoidable” consequences. (See GROUPS LINE UP article.)

In a September 17 memo from Karen Garrison, a senior policy analyst with NRDC’s oceans program and co-director of its ocean program, to Coastal Commission staff, she stated: “In summary, we have concluded that the survey will provide only marginal additional informational information that will not affect the safety of the Diablo plant.”

Despite NRDC’s overall change of position on continuing the test, they still endorse mitigation and monitoring measures should the test not be stopped, as they suggest, and Coastal Commission grant a permit. Wrote Ms. Garrison: “We recommend that the Coastal Commission deny the permit. If the project goes forward, all possible steps should be taken to minimize to harm to the marine environment, and to mitigate impacts that are unavoidable.”

The memo appears to raise “public trust issues” as a primary catalyst for the NRDC’s about face. Wrote Ms. Garrison: “NRDC started with the view that the proposed survey would provide valuable information that could improve the earthquake safety of the reactor. However, after reading numerous relevant reports and consulting experts, we have become convinced that the survey would at best very marginally improve our understanding of the dip of Hosgri fault.

“PG&E has already modeled earthquake risk using worst case assumptions about the fault angle and concluded that the Diablo plant is safe. The survey might further constrain the uncertainty and tell us it is safer than indicated by the worst case scenario, but no changes would be made at the reactor. In light of this fact, we now conclude that the projected harm from this project far outweighs the public benefits, and that the seismic survey should not go forward.”

NRDC’s participation in helping to define mitigation measures to aid State Lands permitting the test was at the time viewed by some in the environmental community as an unacceptable compromise. With NRDC now having reversed its decision upon further review, after reconsidering the lack of critical information to be gleaned from the test — and the fact that no changes would be made to the reactor as a result — the test has become an unsustainable tradeoff of environment and economies for passive data that won’t make the aging plant any safer in a seismically active fault zone.

The test is scheduled to begin November 1 and run through the end of December.

Read their September 17, 2012 internal memo here.

Further Details to Follow.