Coastal Commission Staff Requests Denial of PG&E Permit

In their November 2 report, California Coastal Commission staff are requesting a denial and objection of Pacific Gas and Electric’s Combined Consistency Certification and Coastal Development Permit application. The application is for the first phase of a proposed two-phase series of Central Coast Seismic Imaging Project, which would use acoustic pulse-generating air guns to study active faults adjacent to the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant. The project was reduced in scope to cover Zone 4, which is 1.4 miles off the coast of Morro Bay.

The Coastal Commission is hearing PG&E’s request for a permit on Nov. 14 in Santa Monica.

Commission staff wrote: “The key Coastal Act issue of concern is this project’s significant and unavoidable impacts to marine resources. Seismic surveys are among the very loudest anthropogenic underwater sound sources and can cause disturbance, injury, and loss of a large number of marine species due to air gun noise.

“Even with extensive monitoring, and implementation of measures to minimize impacts, the Commission staff believes this project would still result in significant disturbance, injury and loss of marine biological resources and is therefore inconsistent with the Coastal Act’s marine resource protection policies (Sections 30230 and 30231).” The project does qualify for an “override” of the act if PG&E satisfied the following conditions: (1) alternative locations are infeasible or more environmentally damaging; (2) to do otherwise would adversely affect the public welfare; and (3) adverse environmental effects are mitigated to the maximum extent feasible.”

However, Commission staff concluded that PG&E was not able to meet the first condition. They stated that there is “insufficient information to determine that alternative locations are infeasible or more environmentally damaging.”

“Because applying Section 30260 [the “override” policy] requires that a proposed project meet all three tests in order to be approved, if the project fails to meet the first test there is no need for the Commission to apply the two remaining tests.”

Commission staff recommended additional analysis of all available data using updated techniques, which they say “may result in the opportunity for a smaller or shorter proposed survey.”