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Vargas keeps busy with power plant issues

September 08, 2001|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

CALEXICO — Mexican Consul Rita Vargas Torregrosa reads a number of newspapers each day, looking for articles concerning the border.

She supplements her reading by watching cable news channels and monitoring the radio for breaking events.

"I have to keep up to date on everything," she said.

Recently, that has been a tough job.

In addition to recent stories about the power plants under construction in Mexicali, Vargas has been reading up on Mexican President Vicente Fox's visit to Washington, D.C., Mexican trucking issues, immigration amnesty proposals suggested by the White House, Mexicali concerns about electricity rates, the controversy over the airport in Mexico City and inter-party squabbles involving Fox's National Action Party.

On Thursday, from her Calexico office, Vargas was asked specifically about the Mexicali power plants and effects they could have on both the Mexicali and Imperial valleys.

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Vargas reached into a wooden tray she uses as a message in-box and picked up a piece of white paper with a news article clipping pasted to it.

"This one?" she asked, referring to an Imperial Valley Press story about the Imperial County Board of Supervisors' discussion of the power plants being built in Mexicali.

She was asked about another story.

"Ah, this one," she said and held up a story about a binational coalition of environmentalists and concerned citizens that sent a letter to 160 elected and business leaders in late August.

In the letter, the Border Power Plant Working Group asked that the governments of Mexico and the United States develop an accord addressing the emissions of the under-construction power plants and other plants planned for the Mexicali Valley.

Vargas had heard about the letter but had yet to be briefed on a second letter sent Wednesday from another binational group of environmentalists and concerned citizens. That letter was sent to policymakers in California, Baja California and the capitals of Mexico and the United States.

Instead of three general suggestions offered by the previous group — air-cooled power plants in non-coastal cities; state-of-the-art air-pollution control systems and emissions limits; and no net increase in pollution by the plants — nine specific recommendations were made by the Imperial and Mexicali Clean Air Stakeholders.

The recommendations include:

· emissions from the new Mexican power plants should conform to U.S. standards.

· power companies should be asked to put in writing that their turbines will burn only natural gas unless an emergency condition occurs.

· both countries should review their energy policies and increase support to alternative methods of energy production.

Vargas addressed the issues raised in the letter sent by the Border Power Plant Working Group, as well as touched on issues raised by the Clean Air Stakeholders.

"This is very easy," she said as she rolled her chair toward her bookcase and pulled from the shelf a dog-eared and paper-clipped copy of the North American Free Trade Agreement. She flipped to the section regarding the environment.

Noting the thickness of the section, Vargas said all issues raised in the letter have already been addressed in NAFTA.

"If they would just read this … there is a legal frame in place," Vargas said.

She added, "There is a lack of knowledge about the cooperation" between the countries on environmental issues.

She said Mexico wouldn't build power plants or sign off on any activity that would negatively affect the water and air.

When asked if she thinks U.S. companies are using Mexican resources to build power plants and produce electricity for export without addressing the needs of the Mexican people, she said, "If we can support you we're going to help you.

"We're going to also help the population in Mexicali with their bills," she said.

According to Vargas, Mexico would only export any electricity not needed in Mexico.

Vargas said the Mexican people she talks to aren't worried about a possible increase in emissions along the border. She said they are worried about their electricity bills.

She said Mexico is considering three factors before signing off on new power plants.

They have to be in safe places, avoid any negative environmental impacts and follow stringent regulations, she said.

Vargas has heard of the plans to build a coal-burning power plant near Mexicali but said that it is still only a proposal.

In addition to the natural gas plants planned for the area and the possibility of a coal plant, she said Mexico is looking into other alternative power sources.

Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or claverie7@hotmail.com

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