Code violations at controversial Potrero plant mark the latest in list of threats to public health, safety and the environment
SAN FRANCISCO (April 27, 2009) — City Attorney Dennis Herrera today filed suit against Mirant (NYSE: MIR) for potentially life-threatening building code violations at its controversial Potrero power plant, blistering the Atlanta-based energy giant’s “deplorable corporate citizenship” for long disregarding human health and safety in San Francisco. The 17-page complaint filed in San Francisco Superior Court charges the company with persistent violations of a City ordinance that requires seismic safety upgrades to unreinforced masonry buildings, whose structural failures in major earthquakes can cause significant loss of life and injuries. The aging diesel-fueled plant has been a flashpoint for neighborhood and environmental justice advocates for decades because of the facility’s longstanding air, ground and water contamination problems, and their suspected link to atypically high rates of asthma and cancer in neighboring communities. Today’s lawsuit comes after years of failed negotiations between Mirant and City leaders to address environmental, public health and safety issues — including seismic retrofits — and a series of letters over the past few months from Herrera and other City officials threatening to challenge the extension of Mirant’s water permit for the plant because it continues to pollute San Francisco Bay.
“To the list of corporate lawlessness that includes polluting our air, ground and water, we can now add Mirant’s defiant refusal to address safety risks to its own employees,” said Herrera. “City leaders have worked for years to shutter this filthy and dangerous facility — which has no business operating in the 21st Century, let alone in a major population center. But it increasingly appears that our good faith efforts to work with Mirant have been exploited and mocked. The imperatives of public health and safety in San Francisco prevent us from continuing to tolerate this deplorable corporate citizenship. I intend to pursue a court order to force Mirant to live up to responsibilities it has too long ignored. Mirant is at the end of its rope.”
Unreinforced masonry buildings, or UMBs, are masonry or concrete buildings constructed without the benefit of reinforcements. UMBs can be gravely hazardous in earthquakes, with a strong likelihood of failure in serious seismic events, including collapsing walls or the “pancaking” of entire buildings. In 1992, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors adopted the UMB Ordinance to require: (1) all owners of UMBs to be notified of potential hazards; (2) all owners to retain a licensed civil, structural engineer or architect to identify the hazard class of UMB buildings; and (3) all owners to seismically upgrade the buildings within specified requirements and time frames. While the ordinance established Feb. 15, 2006 as the deadline for most building owners to complete structural seismic alterations, the City, like other regulatory agencies, extended numerous accommodations to Mirant in the expectation that the closure of its environmentally injurious power plant was imminent. Today’s civil action details the history of the City’s enforcement efforts at the Potrero facility, and alleges that Mirant is operating a public nuisance in violation of the California Civil Code (Sections 3479 and 3480) and San Francisco Building Code (Sections 102 and 103). Herrera’s lawsuit additionally charges Mirant with unlawful and unfair business practices, in violation of California Business and Professions Code Section 17200. If successful, Herrera’s case on behalf of the City and People of the State of California could result in sweeping injunctive relief, disgorgement of all profits derived from the company’s unlawful conduct, civil penalties, and costs and fees associated with the action. The case is: City and County of San Francisco and People of the State of California v. Mirant Potrero, LLC, San Francisco Superior Court, filed April 27, 2009.
- Download the PDF of the City Attorney’s Mirant UMB Case Presskit, which includes the City’s civil complaint (Apr. 27, 2009)