BY TODD BRAY
The California Environmental Protection Agency Office of Legal Affairs has informed me that Whole Energy Fuels (WEF) has received the sum of $111,600 to fund the recently shut-down trenching operation on the grounds of the Calera Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant. But staff members of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) who are managing the funds that WEF has received clarified that announcement. WEF has received 20 percent of the CARB grant it was awarded specifically for reaching its first “milestone,” one of four such milestones. Milestone 1 receives 20 percent of the grant money, milestone 2 gets 40 percent, milestone 3 earns 30 percent, and milestone 4 the wins the final 10 percent of the publicly funded grant.
Milestone 1 required that WEF complete its plans, permits, land leases, and various other agency approvals, which to CARB staff’s satisfaction WEF has done. The recent stop-work order has no effect on the money WEF has received so far and it is not necessary for WEF to reimburse the taxpayers. Milestone 2 requires that WEF have a completed plant that is functional but not operational, meaning that the plant can produce fuel but still requires fine-tuning. Milestone 3 requires a fully operational plant producing the proper grade of fuel continually. Milestone 4 requires all final reports and sign-off notices from various agencies that provide permits and guidance.
A large part of WEF reaching milestone 1 was the environmental work the City of Pacifica did for WEF applications. To date, WEF has not repaid the City of Pacifica for that work, which totals $75,000, according to City Manager Steve Rhodes. Of the $111,600 WEF has received so far, it has used none of that sum to date to pay back the City of Pacifica. As of this writing, WEF has not replied to a question about whether WEF has a timetable or milestone of its own to repay Pacifica the $75,000 it owes.
The Enforcement Unit of the California Coastal Commission (CCC) has confirmed that WEF started the trenching without having satisfied the requirements of its Coastal Development Permit (CDP). Correspondence between WEF and the CCC staff explaining their actions has taken place, but copies are not yet being made available. The CCC is not pulling WEF's CDP but is working closely with WEF as it tries to complete the permit process.
WEF is still moving forward with the biodiesel refinery; neither the CCC nor the City of Pacifica are refusing WEF its permits or the opportunity to build the biodiesel facility regardless of WEF's admitted mistakes. But staff members overseeing the CARB grant say that funds for the remainder of the milestones will run out on June 30, 2009 and then will not be available. This means that WEF may not receive any further funds from the citizens of California, unless, of course, WEF can get through the permit process, build a functional plant, and show that it can produce fuel before June 30, 2009.