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Our Opinion: No real input

October 15, 2001

The federal government seems to have determined if the air pollution plaguing the Imperial Valley comes from across the border, it doesn't really count as much.

Recently federal experts decided that much of the Imperial Valley's dust problem, in air pollution terms known as PM-10, emanates from Mexicali. So the feds recently decided the strictures on the Valley regarding dust-based pollution won't be as stringent as they could be.

That likely will be good for Imperial County, at least as far as the economy goes. As far as our lungs go, well, that might be a different story. But at least those of us who have been in the Valley are accustomed to the dust.

Something new that will be plaguing our Valley are emissions from two huge new power plants set to go online right across the border from Imperial County in the Mexicali area. The natural-gas fueled plants will fill the air of Mexicali with pollution, and since we are in the same air basin as Mexicali, our air also will be plagued. The main pollutant will be nitrogen oxide, which can cause respiratory problems and play a factor in bringing acid rain and damaging water quality. Such emissions are dangerous to human health, both long-term and short-term. This in an area already marred by high allergy and asthma rates.

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We realize there is an energy crisis almost everywhere in California other than Imperial County and Los Angeles proper, and we don't mind doing our part to help ease the crisis for our fellow Californians. Still, we don't want to do our part by giving up our health.

What we also don't like is both the state and the federal government seem to be pushing these plants and their supporting systems through the approval process faster than they would normally, which gives both the public and experts less time than they might need to assess potential problems. Federal and state officials deny any unusual speeding up of the process, but they don't even seem to be convinced of that themselves.

We also don't like that the companies that will be operating the plants seem to be talking out of both sides of their mouths regarding both why they are building the plants across the border and what they will do to keep the plants as clean as possible. We are convinced that a big reason the plants are being built in Mexico is less-stringent pollution requirements, despite all denials from the companies.

San Diego-based Sempra seems to be forthcoming about matters in regard to the plant it is constructing and also seems to be more conscientious about pollution controls. Boston-based InterGen seems a bit more evasive and less committed to keeping the local air clean. It is making commitments to get involved in community projects in Mexicali, but we'd rather have the company commit to the community project of keeping the air as clean as possible.

What is frustrating about this situation is our input about the plants really means nothing. Gas pipelines and power transmission lines will pass through our county, but the only thing we can really do is complain. Nothing we do can really stop the process.

So all in all, a lot is being done to us with little input.

As much as we should be used to that in Imperial County, we are not.

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