DOE mum on environmental impact of Mexicali power plants

October 09, 2001|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A Department of Energy spokesperson here would not answer questions on the record regarding the potential environmental impacts of two power plants being built in Mexicali.

The official was asked if the department would require proof that the plants would not negatively affect residents of the Imperial Valley before it approved presidential permits for projects proposed for land in Imperial County to transport the fuel for and transmit the electricity produced by the plants.

The official was asked if Imperial Valley residents and public officials could affect a delay in the permitting process for the projects, a natural gas pipeline and transmission lines.

Neither question was answered on the record.

The plants are being built separately by San Diego-based Sempra Energy International and Boston-based InterGen.

The pipeline

The first project connected with the plants under scrutiny by county and state officials is a natural gas pipeline.

To fire the Mexican plants, Sempra and its Mexican partners are proposing a 70.9-mile-long natural gas pipeline from Ehrenberg, Ariz., to Mexico.


The pipeline would cut through land in Imperial County managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and would cross Interstate 8 near Ogilby Road.

The public has until Oct. 25 to comment to the lead agencies, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the California State Lands Commission, before a final decision on the project is made.

Tamara Young-Allen, a FERC spokeswoman, was asked Thursday if the federal government, at the behest of the Bush administration, would push the project through despite concerns the plants would spew thousands of tons of particulate into the regional airshed.

She said, "If that is an issue, the staff will address it and that particular problem will be mitigated to address any adverse environmental impact."

She didn't go into detail on how FERC would mitigate an emissions problem, but said "problems" in general would be mitigated before the pipeline project is approved.

"There is no quote-unquote ‘done deal.' There is not an expedited time frame for comments," she said.

"We are processing the application and going through the usual channels. We're not doing anything significantly different.

"We're getting comments but I hope that anyone who feels there has been an issue that has been overlooked should bring it up so that it can it can be addressed in the final document..

"Every comment we receive is added to the public record. It can be accessed through the Web site at by punching in the docket number CP01-22," she said.

A spokesman for the state Lands Commission, who asked to remain anonymous, said, "This has had a 90-day review period. I don't know how one could call that rushed."

After the Oct. 25 review deadline, the commission's staff and FERC will address each of the concerns raised by opponents of the pipeline and publish mitigation measures in the final environmental impact statement. The EIS should be released early next year, according to FERC, with a decision by the commission to follow.

The three members of the commission are Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, state Controller Kathleen Connell and B. Timothy Gage, state finance director.

The Lands Commission spokesman said it is still possible staff could recommend mitigation measures that would address the air pollution concerns of local residents.

He said the issue is complicated because another sovereign nation is involved in the process.

Any emissions produced by Mexican power plants would have to be dealt with legislatively by Mexico, he said.

A working draft of an environmental statement released in July by the Lands Commission and FERC said, "The burning of natural gas in power plants could increase ambient pollutant concentrations in the regional airshed.

"However, the demand for additional power in the project area cannot be met by currently available non-polluting sources of energy."

The spokesman empathized with local residents who may be affected by the emissions from the plants. He said reports by the American Lung Association linking increased air particulates with asthma and emphysema are "true."

However, "There has been an emphasis placed by (Gov. Gray Davis) and the state and ultimately the federal government to firm up natural gas supplies for California. There is a high focus to achieve that goal."

Despite the "high focus," the spokesman said the project is not a done deal.

"At least from staff's perspective no project is a done deal. It is a decision that must be made by our commission," the spokesman said.

If the project is approved by FERC and CSLC, Sempra would need a presidential permit from the Department of Energy before it could begin construction.

The DOE spokesperson would not comment on the record regarding the permitting process.

The transmission lines

The second project being examined by local officials is the transmission line system needed to export electricity after it is produced at the plants.

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