Commission approves gas pipeline

January 31, 2002|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Imperial County officials went down swinging.

On Wednesday morning, the three-person California State Lands Commission certified the environmental impact statement/report for a proposed 80-mile natural gas pipeline to be buried from Blythe to the Mexican border under east Imperial County desert land.

The commission approved the construction plans of North Baja Pipeline LLC despite lengthy presentations from Imperial County Supervisor Gary Wyatt, El Centro Mayor Larry Grogan, county Air Pollution Control Officer Steve Birdsall and a Sacramento attorney hired by Imperial County.

North Baja was formed by San Diego's Sempra Energy and Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. of Bethesda, Md.

The Portland, Ore.-based corporation wants to bury a pipeline under Imperial County land to connect a Texas-Los Angeles natural gas pipeline running through Blythe with an under-construction Tijuana-Mexicali pipeline. The pipeline could provide natural gas to at least four power plants in Mexicali, three under construction and one existing plant.


North Baja's plans were tentatively approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Jan. 16.

Wednesday's action by the lands commission means North Baja has cleared a second hurdle.

The only obstacles standing between construction are the threat of a lawsuit by Imperial County and a request by Rep. Bob Filner, D-San Diego, to the federal commission to reconsider its Jan. 16 decision.

If the commission doesn't reconsider its approval and Imperial County does not file a lawsuit or files a lawsuit and lose, construction could begin this year.

Paul Thayer, executive officer for the lands commission, said the commissioners listened intently to Imperial County officials and asked a number of questions.

Thayer said the commissioners posed questions to the representatives of North Baja.

Imperial County officials said the pipeline would supply natural gas to power plants in Mexicali that could emit tons of pollutants into the airshed of the Imperial and Mexicali valleys. The officials asked the commission to delay approval of the pipeline until the environmental effects of the potential air pollution are quantified.

Thayer said the discussion went on for more than an hour and there was a good amount of back and forth.

"The commissioners were interested that some of the power plants couldn't have some air emission controls," Thayer said.

The issue as explained by commission staffers centered on the bid that Boston-based energy company InterGen placed with Mexican federal officials.

Thayer said the commissioners were told InterGen could not put California-compliant emission controls on two of the four turbines at its under-construction Mexicali power plant called "La Rosita" because the $7 million cost would violate the bid put in to build the facility.

A variation on that explanation was given by Mexicali Mayor Jaime Diaz Ochoa during a recent meeting with the Calexico City Council.

Diaz told the council construction of the plant is being governed by federal Mexican authorities. After construction is complete and the plant is online, Baja California and Mexicali officials might have a say in its operation. Until then, their hands are tied.

Thayer said the $7 million figure was specifically brought to the attention of the lands commissioners.

A power plant expert from San Diego, Bill Powers, estimated it would cost about $7 million for InterGen to equip "La Rosita" with California-compliant emission controls.

While Thayer said the commissioners expressed "concern" about the air-quality issues associated with approval of the pipeline, they ultimately decided they did not have authority to block the pipeline for the potential ancillary environmental effects associated with the pipeline's operation.

The lands commissioners are Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, state Controller Kathleen Connell and state Finance Director B. Timothy Gage.

>> Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or

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