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Filner trying to plug gas pipeline pending review on pollution impact

January 26, 2002|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Congressman Bob Filner asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to reconsider its recent issuance of a presidential permit that could allow North Baja Pipeline LLC to bury an 80-mile natural gas pipeline from Blythe to the Mexican border through east Imperial County.

North Baja Pipeline was formed by San Diego-based Sempra Energy and Pacific Gas and Electric Corp. of Bethesda, Md.

The permit "could allow" North Baja to set up the pipeline because the California State Lands Commission has yet to approve North Baja's plans.

The three-person lands commission meets at the state Capitol on Wednesday morning. Imperial County officials plan to appear before the commission at the public hearing.

On Jan. 16, the four-person federal energy commission approved North Baja's plans to build a pipeline connecting a huge Texas-Los Angeles pipeline owned by El Paso Energy Co. with a Tijuana-Mexicali pipeline under construction by Sempra and its Mexican partners.

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Filner and Mexicali/Imperial Valley officials decried the federal approval because they fear the natural gas delivered by the pipeline will be burned by Mexicali power plants that could affect air quality in the Imperial/Mexicali valleys.

On Friday, Filner sent a letter to FERC's office of the secretary requesting status of an intervener for purposes of requesting a re-hearing.

Filner wrote, "A re-hearing is necessary. At issue is the actual plant that the natural gas pipeline will serve in Mexico. The re-hearing should review the huge air pollution impacts the plant will have on the residents of Imperial County, as well as on the endangered species of the Salton Sea, which will be deprived of water by the plant's use of wet cooling.

"The draft environmental assessment conducted by the Department of Energy was incomplete, and a full-blown environmental impact statement or mitigation measures to deal with the air pollution and the jeopardy to endangered species should have been ordered."

In the Jan. 16 order, the federal commission stated it had no jurisdiction over the potential emissions from Mexican power plants.

Regarding the potential degradation of habitat for endangered species, the order states, "North Baja shall not begin construction activities until:

a. FERC completes formal consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

b. the California Department of Fish and Game makes a consistency determination of the biological opinion pursuant to a section of the Fish and Game code.

Meanwhile, Filner applauded recent resolutions from various Imperial County city councils. El Centro, Holtville and Brawley have passed resolutions in opposition to the Mexicali plants, the transmission lines that would export electricity from the plants or the proposed pipeline.

"We are searching for everything we can get," Filner said.

The Calexico City Council will consider a resolution after hearing from local air-quality experts.

In addition to resolutions, Filner said there needs to be some sort of organized public demonstration.

Asked for his opinion on the effect on the local air quality of field burning by Mexicali and Imperial farmers, Filner said he needs to study the issue further.

Filner will run for re-election in November in a congressional district including the vast majority of the California/Mexico border, the Imperial Valley and parts of the South Bay area in San Diego County. Duncan Hunter currently represents Imperial County in Congress.

Some Imperial Valley and Mexicali residents have accused county and elected officials of coming down hard on Mexican power plants while ignoring local field burning.

Farmers burn wheat and Bermuda grass fields because it is the most cost-effective to remove chaff and other waste left after threshing.

Asparagus fields are burned before harvesting to remove the "fern part" of the plant. After the field is burned, a new shoot will grow. That shoot is then harvested.

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

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