Baja pipeline rehearing denied

April 11, 2002|By AARON CLAVERIE

Staff Writer

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will not reconsider its Jan. 16 ruling that allows Portland, Ore.-based North Baja Pipeline to bury a natural gas pipeline under east Imperial County desert and transport fuel to under-construction power plants in Mexicali.

Construction should begin in a few weeks.

North Baja Pipeline is a partnership between Bethesda-Md.-based Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. and San Diego's Sempra Energy.

PG&E spokeswoman Sandra McDonough said this morning, "We were obviously very pleased with the FERC decision. We had felt that the environmental review of our pipeline was very thorough. Issues that (Imperial County) is raising pertain to the plants in Mexico and not to our pipeline."

She said North Baja hopes to lay enough pipe to ramp up partial service this summer and full service later this year.


McDonough said, "In the months ahead, we're hoping to build our relations with the county."

Imperial County Air Pollution Control District officials and Congressman Bob Filner, D- Chula Vista, were not pleased with FERC's decision.

APCD Officer Steve Birdsall said, "We're really disappointed that FERC is not taking into consideration our health concerns down here."

Despite the federal setback, Birdsall said, "We haven't given up."

Birdsall said he'll be in Sacramento today meeting with State Lands Commission staffers to hammer out a possible settlement of the county's lawsuit against the commission's Jan. 30 approval of the pipeline.

Before the pipeline could be built, it needed to be approved by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the state and federal commissions.

With FERC's most recent ruling North Baja has cleared all the government's procedural hurdles. The only thing that could halt construction would be a judge's ruling in favor of the county's lawsuit against the lands commission.

Asked if the county would settle the lawsuit, Birdsall said the county wants to see any best available emissions technology installed on any power plant that uses natural gas transported through the Imperial Valley and then puts pollution into the Valley's airshed. No emission controls, no deal, according to Birdsall.

On Jan. 16, FERC issued permits, certificates and authorizations allowing North Baja to build an 80-mile stretch of pipeline from Blythe to the Mexican border that would connect an El Paso to Los Angeles pipeline to an under-construction pipeline from Mexicali to Tijuana.

The APCD and Filner had both asked FERC to reconsider because the Mexicali power plants would burn the natural gas and that would affect the Imperial Valley's air quality, and the water that would be used to cool the plants would affect salinity of the Salton Sea.

According to federal regulations, the commission had to entertain and consider the requests for a rehearing as long as the group or person submitted the request within 30 days. On Jan. 25, Filner filed a request. On April 3, the APCD filed its request. FERC dismissed the district's request because it was filed late.

It entertained Filner's request but ultimately dismissed it, releasing a 10-page paper explaining why it did so. Filner claimed the pipeline should not be approved because:

· The Department of Energy's water flow and salinity figures used in FERC's environmental impact statement are considered unreliable by experts and the statement contains no independent analysis of the impacts from decreased water flows and increased salinity on wildlife near the Salton Sea.

In Wednesday's order, FERC shot back, "Congressman Filner does not cite an expert opinion or provide any additional evidence indicating that the Department of Energy's figures are unreliable. Under the circumstances, we have no reason to conclude that DOE's water- quality analysis was faulty. Thus, we do not find any additional analysis is warranted."

Filner said this morning, "My expert advice is the people who live in the community. That's good enough for me."

Filner doesn't think he should have to disprove the Department of Energy's numbers. He asked for FERC to do the work itself and double-check the numbers with an independent firm. FERC didn't think that was necessary.

Besides issues pertaining to the Salton Sea, Filner took up the county's air pollution cause, asking FERC to require any power plant using gas transported by the pipeline to be equipped with the best possible emissions controls.

FERC staffers wrote back, "We further note that imposing the requested condition would not further the objectives of the North American Free Trade Agreement to eliminate international trade barriers."

Two turbines on one of the power plants being built near Mount Signal will not be equipped with best-available controls. Boston-based InterGen officials building that power plant claim they can't install the controls because the cost would violate the international bid the company put in to build the plant.

Regarding FERC's NAFTA comment, Filner said, "They don't answer the argument and NAFTA comes before our health and safety."

Sounding an ominous note, Filner added, "This is going to happen throughout the country. According to NAFTA, local environmental rules can be overruled in favor of free trade.

"I've got to find a way to make sure this is not seen as just something that is going on in the Imperial Valley."

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

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