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Feds: Gas pipeline ‘environmentally acceptable'

January 11, 2002|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

GLAMIS — Federal and state engineers claim construction of a 79.9 mile-long natural gas pipeline from Ehrenberg, Ariz., to Mexico's border would be "environmentally acceptable" despite red flag waving by Imperial and Mexicali valley officials.

The engineers recently released their findings in the final environmental impact report/statement for the North Baja Pipeline Project.

The two-volume report was paid for by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the California State Lands Commission.

North Baja Pipeline LLC is a limited liability corporation formed by San Diego's Sempra Energy.

Officials here are worried about a potential degradation of air quality by the under-construction power plants in Mexicali contracted to burn most of the 500 million cubic feet of natural gas per day that could flow through the proposed 36-inch wide pipeline.

One of those plants is being built by Sempra Energy. The company also is financing the construction of Gasoducto Bajanorte. That pipeline from Tijuana could connect with the proposed 79.9 mile-long U.S. stretch.

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Sempra needs the proposed U.S. stretch to connect the Mexican pipeline with a big pipeline owned by El Paso Natural Gas Co. The El Paso's company's pipeline carries natural gas from Texas through Ehrenberg to the Los Angeles area.

On Jan. 30 the three-person State Lands Commission will meet publicly in the state capital in Sacramento to review the engineers' environmental findings in the final report/statement.

The commissioners, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, state Controller Kathleen Connell and a state finance department representative appointed by Gov. Gray Davis are expected to certify the report. Two weeks later, the federal regulatory commission is expected to approve the findings as well.

Goodyear Walker of the State Lands Commission called the federal government "pro-pipeline." He said the Democrat- controlled Lands Commission is in favor of the pipeline as well because of last year's energy crisis.

As for local air quality concerns, Walker said the engineers who compiled the data on environmental effects associated with the North Baja Pipeline construction could not take into account the effect new Mexican power plants might have on the airshed of the conjoined Imperial-Mexicali valleys because the plants are being built in Mexico.

"Those plants are exempt from our standards," Walker said.

According to Imperial Valley and San Diego air-quality experts, one of the plants, called "La Rosita," will contribute the bulk of emissions spewed into the local airshed.

The company bankrolling the construction of that plant is called Energia Azteca X, a Mexican company formed by InterGen Energy Inc. of Boston and Mexican partners.

Representatives of InterGen have rebuffed a number of requests from public and private parties to equip La Rosita with top-of-the-line emission controls.

Walker said electricity produced by La Rosita will be sold to Mexican consumers. InterGen's second nearby plant will be equipped with high-tech emission controls. That plant will sell electricity to California consumers.

Bill Powers of the Border Power Plant Working Group said the 700-megawatt La Rosita would pump 10 times more nitrogen oxide into the air than the plant under construction by Sempra. The numbers break down to 2,100 tons annually from La Rosita and 188 tons annually from Sempra's plant.

Sempra will be supplying natural gas to the InterGen plant if the pipeline is approved.

The only thing standing in the way of that approval is an Erin Brockovich-esque civil lawsuit brought by Imperial Valley residents, public rallies in Sacramento Jan. 30 or some civil disobedience.

Rep. Bob Filner, D-San Diego, told a reporter he might stage a sit-in when local construction crews try to build transmission lines from the Mexicali power plants to a U.S. substation near Mount Signal owned by Pacific Gas and Electric Corp. of San Francisco.

Electricity produced by the plants would be sent to San Diego via the huge PG&E transmission lines cutting through the mountains separating San Diego from the Imperial Valley.

Incidentally, PG&E was the corporation sued by Ed Masry's law firm after Brockovich uncovered medical results about low T-cell counts and other problems among residents of the desert city of Hinkley. PG&E settled out of court for $333 million.

Meanwhile, critics have accused Imperial County officials of ignoring the effects of farmland burn-off and concentrating unfairly on the Mexican power plants.

The mayor and Chamber of Commerce of Blythe have thrown out the welcome mat for construction workers on the pipelines.

Sempra officials contend the air quality locally will improve if the pipeline is built because dirty diesel power plants in Mexicali would be phased out in favor of new cleaner-burning natural gas.

They also point out that their operation would contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars to the county's tax base.

Powers agrees with Sempra on the point regarding natural gas versus diesel but said La Rosita is the lone potential emission producer that could bring about an increase in pollution to the local and San Diego airsheds.

If InterGen decided to equip La Rosita with emission controls it would cost the company around $7 million, Powers said.

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

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