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Group vows to hold power plants, agencies accountable for local air quality

June 15, 2001|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

MEXICALI — The smoldering sentiment behind an upcoming letter could spark a class-action lawsuit.

Concerned citizens, business leaders and community activists have formed a binational watchdog organization that aims to hold power companies and government agencies accountable for contamination of the air that Mexicali and Imperial Valley residents breathe.

The group, Imperial Valley Clean Air Stakeholders, met Thursday in Mexicali to decide how to react to construction of new power plants in Mexicali and upcoming Mexican elections.

The group decided to compose a letter that will inform elected leaders in the two nations of the group's formation, call for cleaner air and threaten legal action if not enough is done.

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After the meeting, Carlos Yruretagoyena said the primary plan the group came up with of published letters and formal pleas to government officials is fine.

But, with a raised eyebrow, he said, "If that doesn't work, we will sue."

Yruretagoyena is special director for a Mexicali paper mill and president of a Mexicali clean-air coalition, Centro Regional de Estudios Ambientales and Socioeconomicos.

He said he has sued "the big guys" before and would be happy to do it again.

However, he doesn't advocate lawsuits until after the Mexican elections in July.

"We have to see who gets elected, find out what they are going to do, before we can go forward," he said.

He added: "Mexico and the U.S. have similar problems and similar concerns but different solutions."

He said the stakeholders' group could be a way to iron out the differences and come up with one solution.

Kimberly Collins said before the group can even consider litigation it has to determine "what is going to be released (from the new and existing plants) and what is it going to do to us."

Collins is director of the California Center for Border and Regional Economic Studies at San Diego State University-Imperial Valley campus.

She said Mexicans should be even more concerned about the plants than Imperial Valley residents.

"Are there colonias near those plants?" she asked.

Heads were nodded in affirmation.

"You'll die first if something is seriously wrong," Collins said.

"You can send me flowers," Yruretagoyena quipped.

Jan Cortez, a program coordinator for the American Lung Association, said she will continue to press the power companies in order to find out what safeguards are in place at the power plants, what contaminants are being emitted and how those contaminants affect humans and animals.

She said specific scientific facts concerning emission potential will be added to the letter to strengthen the group's message.

"The letter will be accusatory but solution-oriented," Cortez said.

Earlier in the meeting, Collins placed a hefty share of the blame for the rush to produce more and more power on Gov. Davis.

"… especially Davis," she said. "He has forgotten everything except for the production of power."

Collins, who said she voted for Davis, said Davis is worried about looking like "the failure of all failures and just wants to get re-elected."

Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419.

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