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El Centro united against gas pipeline

January 17, 2002|By RUDY YNIGUEZ, Staff Writer

The El Centro City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to oppose a natural gas pipeline that will supply energy to two under-construction power plants in Mexicali and to oppose both power plants but for different reasons.

The council opposed the 750-megawatt Boston-based InterGen Aztec Energy power plant for failure to meet California's air pollution standards and provide offsets for its air emissions, and opposed the 600-megawatt San Diego-based Sempra Energy plant for failure to provide offsets.

Before voting, the council heard from both sides of the issues, although InterGen did not have anyone at the City Council meeting.

David Robertson, director of national affairs for pipeline owner PG&E, said the council should favor the gas pipeline because it will bring in $750,000 to $850,000 in new property taxes yearly through local assets, it will provide economic development for the county, it will provide several hundred living-wage construction jobs and it will result in cleaner air when companies switch from fuel oil to natural gas.

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"We certainly understand the council's concerns, but we are not in a position to do something about it," Robertson said regarding air-quality matters.

A labor union business representative from Los Angeles spoke in favor of the gas pipeline, but said he wished the power plants were being built in California. He said local labor halls would provide much of the needed workers.

Octavio Simoes, Sempra's Mexicali project manager, said the energy company's supply of natural gas in Mexicali has already resulted in a reduction of air emissions equivalent to 11 power plants. He emphasized the difference between the Sempra plant, which is meeting California air emission standards, and that of InterGen, which is not.

Simoes said it would be politically incorrect for the company to not meet such standards.

"We're part of the business fabric," he said.

Simoes said if Sempra were to provide offsets in the county it would preclude future development from using them, thus limiting the county's potential development.

Meanwhile, several people also spoke against the projects, the most eloquent of which was El Centro resident Jennifer Lee.

Lee told the council that it should lay aside the political and economic reasons for supporting the projects, and instead consider the health, safety and life issues.

"If these plants should go up, they place my life on the line," she said.

Lee said young women exposed to years of air pollution could have children who might suffer from a variety of birth defects.

Bill Powers, a San Diego-based independent air-quality consultant and engineer, said despite the council's inability to stop the gas pipeline, power plants or transmission lines, should pass the resolution in opposition to send a message to state and federal officials that people in the Imperial Valley are concerned about the potential effects from the plants.

He said it is important to such officials that projects have local support.

Other speakers in favor of the resolution included District 3 Supervisor Joe Maruca and Mexicali resident Carlos Yruretagoyena.

In the end, the council decided to send the message.

>> Staff Writer Rudy Yniguez can be reached at 337-3440.

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