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The following article was posted on September 27th, 2012, in the New Times - Volume 27, Issue 9 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from New Times [newtimesslo.com] - Volume 27, Issue 9

Fish and Game Commission hammers PG&E

BY MATT FOUNTAIN

Pacific Gas & Electric took a verbal beating from the California Department of Fish and Game Commission when the energy company went asking for a permit to conduct its upcoming seismic studies, which will result in some degree of harassment of local marine life populations.

On Sept. 24, the five-member commission voiced concerns over the surveys, but admitted they have no authority over whether department staff issues the permit or not. Department staffers told New Times that they’re holding off on finalizing the permit until a laundry list of other state and federal agencies have had the chance to weigh in.

Following the roughly 40 people who spoke before the commission against the proposed studies, commissioners minced no words in voicing their opposition to expected “take” of marine wildlife, as well as possible effects on marine protected areas directly to the north of where the surveys are to take place.

“It’s a marine life protected area, not a marine life killin’ area. And as long as I’m here, we’re not going to recommend to the department anything that’s killing anything we’re trying to protect,” Commissioner Jim Kellogg told a cheering audience.

PG&E Spokesman and Pismo Beach Mayor Pro Tem Kris Vardas—abandoned by his fellow PG&E staffers who left for another meeting—testified that the company is in the process of spending approximately $4 million on a monitoring program to make sure no wildlife is harmed, including an underwater remote-operated vessel to scan beneath the waves for signs of injured fish and marine mammals.

Should wildlife be found injured or worse, operations would be shut down and investigated by the U.S. Marine Fisheries Service, as the waters would essentially become “a crime scene,” which goes beyond the scope of PG&E’s permit, Vardas said.

The commission also seemed baffled about what useful information the studies would glean, and how it would contribute to the ultimate goal of improving understanding of the seismic risk around Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant.

“I’m not convinced that nuclear safety would be advanced, as some people have alluded to,” Commissioner Michael Sutton said. “The only useful significant outcome I can see in this is that it might give us sufficient information that the seismic risk is so great that the plant should be decommissioned.”

The California Coastal Commission is expected to decide on whether to issue a coastal permit at its Oct. 10 meeting.

“I would encourage [the coastal commission] to proceed with caution,” Commissioner Richard Rogers said. “Any uncertainty of this magnitude is a very dangerous thing.”

Aside from the coastal commission and the Department of Fish and Game, PG&E still needs permits from the National Marine Fisheries Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Regional Water Quality Control Board, and the California Department of Parks and Recreation before it may begin the studies.