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Power plants added to Good Neighbor agenda

February 21, 2002|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

CALEXICO — On the first of its two days of meetings here, the Good Neighbor Environmental Board rejiggered its agenda to hear the company line from San Diego's Sempra Energy and Boston's InterGen.

The two power companies talked about their respective power plants under construction in Mexicali.

Local residents and Imperial County officials then addressed the board and told it about environmental concerns associated with those plants.

The two power companies have raised the ire of a bi-national coalition of environmentalists, county officials and elected leaders for building power plants in Mexicali that could pollute the Imperial/Mexicali Valley air shed to send electricity to San Diego.

While InterGen's plant is expected to spew out 10 times more pollution than the Sempra plant, the San Diego company is co-financing a natural gas pipeline that will fuel both facilities.

While that's old news for most locals, it was an earful for Good Neighbor board members.

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The 30-person Good Neighbor board is a federal committee that advises President George Bush and Congress on border-related issues.

It's funded by the Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Cooperative Environmental Management.

Members of the board are hand-picked by EPA Administrator Christie Todd Whitman from a list of nominees sent in by congressional representatives.

Board members include community leaders from U.S. states bordering Mexico, professors from border universities, tribal leaders, federal administrators and private sector representatives.

On Tuesday, roughly half the board's members met in the library at San Diego State University-Imperial Valley campus to hear the power plant presentations and a day's worth of presentations on local water issues, energy concerns and environmental issues from Imperial County, Mexican and Native American perspectives.

The Washington, D.C.-based board meets three times a year in border communities along the U.S.-Mexican border.

Today, the board re-capped Tuesday's discussions and took a tour of Imperial Valley environmental hot spots.

During a break Tuesday afternoon, acting board chairwoman Jennifer Kraus said she was "thrilled" about the participation of Valley residents on the first day of the meetings. Kraus is one of the private sector representatives, a principal at San Diego's Global Environmental Consulting Co.

She said many people came prepared with specific questions regarding "hot topics" such as the Mexicali power plants, the pending water transfer of Imperial Irrigation District water to San Diego or the New River.

"Public participation is the most important part of the whole process. We have the responsibility of turning our ears on and listening to the community and then making recommendations to the President and Congress," Kraus said.

She took particular note of issues that were unique to the Imperial Valley such as the Mexicali power plant issue.

While the board doesn't yet have enough information to formulate a recommendation on that issue, she did say the overriding goal of the board is "to improve the environment along the border."

When asked if that goal was made more difficult by a pro-energy President, she said, "Every administration is unique. When there are challenges, we have to work within those situations. So far, we haven't seen that as a problem. In fact, it makes it more exciting," she said.

Asked if the board has recommended something subsequently enacted by Congress or the President, she pointed to recommendations the board made regarding the North American Development Bank.

She said those recommendations led to some changes. However, she wasn't specific as to what changes or recommendations were made.

During the same break in between presentations, board member Placido dos Santos was asked about the pitches of Sempra and InterGen.

Dos Santos has heard similar presentations in the past in his role as Border Environmental Manager for the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.

He said he was impressed that Sempra was willing to do more than is required by Mexican air-quality standards.

Sempra's plant will be built according to strict California regulations, according to company officials.

What intrigued dos Santos is the reason Sempra said it was doing so.

"They said it was the right thing to do," he said.

While he didn't doubt those intentions, dos Santos said more and more companies are finding it wise to invest in environmentally friendly measures because of the long-term benefit to the consumer base they serve.

He said companies that don't take environmental precautions often haven't done a thorough economic analysis.

Along those lines, dos Santos holds out hope that InterGen will install California-compliant emissions controls at all four turbines of La Rosita, a 1,000-megawatt under construction near Mount Signal.

As for a possible recommendation on that issue, he showed off the latest Good Neighbor report calling for bi-national planning among U.S.-Mexican environmental groups and energy companies.

The problem now, he said, is that often environmentalists don't know what energy companies are planning until a plant is under construction.

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

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