DWP sues air district over Owens Valley dust rules

As a boy, Ted Schade couldn't get enough of old westerns with heroes standing alone in defense of towns that wouldn't stand up for themselves.

Now a 55-year-old man, Schade believes he is experiencing his own version of "High Noon."

As air pollution control officer in the 110-mile-long Owens Valley, Schade has forced the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to quell dust storms rising off the dry bed of Owens Lake, which L.A. drained to slake its thirst. Now the powerful utility is going after Schade.

The DWP filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Fresno earlier this month accusing the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District and Schade of issuing unreasonable and unlawful orders. The DWP argues that its ratepayers have already spent $1.2 billion for vegetation, gravel and flooding of Owens Lake that have reduced dust pollution by 90% — yet Schade wants more.

The lawsuit doesn't name Schade as a defendant, but it accuses him of bias and asks that he be barred from presiding over future decisions affecting the city. DWP General Manager Ron Nichols said in a statement that "our water consumers will no longer be victimized by an unaccountable regulator."

The Los Angeles City Council, with the support of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, is expected to vote on a resolution endorsing the lawsuit. The Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, the Central City Assn. of Los Angeles and the Valley Industry & Commerce Assn. took out a full page ad in the Los Angeles Times applauding the lawsuit. The ad said that other parties who share responsibility for the dust conditions are being given a free ride by Schade because "L.A. consumers are right where he wants them, like 'a fish on a hook.' "

Schade uttered the "fish on a hook" comment about the DWP during a 2009 Great Basin board meeting. He said the quote was taken out of context.

The attacks have left Schade in a position he didn't expect — abandoned by many Owens Valley community leaders and environmental activists. In a place where L.A. owns most of the land and water and has a grip on the region's economic stability, few people were willing to comment about the man whose career is on the line.

"It seems like everyone has a reason for staying out of it," Schade said.

His wife, Lisa, executive officer of the I Care animal shelter in Bishop, compares her husband's plight to that of "High Noon" frontier marshal Gary Cooper, a man of high principles and few words who must face enemies alone. "When she brings that stuff up," Schade said, "I just say, 'yep.' "

Actually, not everyone is staying out of the fight. Great Basin board chairman and Mono County supervisor Larry Johnston described Schade as "our guy" and said "we support him." Mark Bagley, executive director of the Owens Valley Committee, said, "Ted has a reputation for being a straight shooter."

Also in Schade's corner is S. David Freeman, who was general manager of the DWP in 1997 when it struck the first of two agreements with Great Basin to combat the powder-fine dust.

"Ted is simply a bureaucrat enforcing the law," Freeman said. "Ever heard of a polluter who didn't claim a regulator was biased?"

 

 

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