Kern County Superior Court ruled this week that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power must pay more than $1 million in fees to the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District.
According to the courts, the fees were withheld by the LADWP as it contested orders for mitigation work on Owens Lake.
Great Basin said the $1.1 million the courts ordered the department to pay will be used to pay for legal costs incurred by the Air Pollution Control District in its legal battle with the LADWP over the utility’s obligation to prevent dust from blowing off Owens Lake.
The LADWP filed a lawsuit against Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District in October, claiming that it had mitigated all dust-related impacts it had created on the lake. LADWP has refused to begin work on new mitigation orders until the courts rule on the case.
In the meantime, the LADWP is continuing to maintain mitigation measures on the lake that it had already completed.
Last month, the State Air Board issued a decision rejecting all of LADWP’s challenges to the air pollution measures. The state court system will take up the issue next year.
“Today’s decision is important to protect the environment and public health,” Ted Schade, Great Basin’s Air Pollution Control officer, said Monday. “Hopefully it sends a message to leaders in the City of Los Angeles that its Department of Water and Power must comply with the law and its past agreements, that they must obey regulatory orders and, most importantly, that they must finish controlling the air pollution caused by their water diversions from the Eastern Sierra.”
The LADWP, on the other hand, said this week’s ruling is the first step in the litigation process, and it feels the court system will agree that it has completed its dust mitigation obligations.
“The judge did not rule on the merits of LADWP’s claim that the fees that Great Basin charges LADWP’s customers are unreasonable,” said LADWP Public Relations Director Joe Ramallo. “The judge ruled only that LADWP must pay about $1.1 million in legal and other fees first and then contest them at trial. Great Basin has already stockpiled more than $2 million in L.A. ratepayer funds for services that were charged for, but never performed. At trial, LADWP will challenge Great Basin’s levies on Los Angeles water customers, pointing to Great Basin’s hiring of outside attorneys at the rate of $750 an hour, Great Basin’s collection of more than $85 million in fees from LADWP over the last 17 years, and Great Basin’s use of L.A. water ratepayer money to fully fund its pension system and to pay for more than 90 percent of Great Basin’s annual budget.”
In December 2011 and May 2012, the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District ordered LADWP to pay fees associated with the development of dust control measures and legal costs to enforce Owens Lake air pollution control requirements.
While the LADWP refused to pay the fees, Great Basin footed the bill for legal expenses in its defense against the City of L.A.’s efforts to stop Great Basin from ordering more mitigation work
The LADWP has a budget of more than $2.5 million to pay two law firms to represent it on Owens Lake matters, in addition to a number of city attorneys working on these issues.
According to Schade, “In 1997, the California Air Resources Board ruled that Great Basin was also entitled to retain lawyers to respond to the city’s challenges, and that those legal costs were properly assessed to the city as part of the development of the air pollution control measures. The duty of the city to pay those fees prior to appealing district orders was established in 1997 by Court Orders against the city.”