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Filner lobbying for air agreement

April 15, 2002|By AARON CLAVERIE

Staff Writer

MEXICALI — Speaking from the Hotel Lucerna here before a press conference this morning, Congressman Bob Filner said U.S. and Mexican officials should draft a bi-national air-quality agreement to make sure border residents will not be choked by pollution churned out by power plants along the California-Baja California border.

The only agreement governing power plant construction along the border is the North American Free Trade Agreement. According to NAFTA, power plants in Mexico don't have to equip their turbines with the same emissions controls that power plants in the U.S. have to install.

InterGen of Boston is building a four-turbine power plant just south of Mount Signal. Two of the turbines on that plant will not be equipped with California-compliant emissions controls because the electricity produced by those turbines will be sold to Mexican consumers. InterGen officials have said they can't pay the $7 million to add the controls because it would violate the international bid it submitted to build the plant.

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According to NAFTA, InterGen doesn't have to install those controls even though Filner, power plant experts and Imperial County officials are worried that emissions from the two turbines without California-compliant controls will be bad enough to affect the quality of life in Mexicali, the Imperial Valley and San Diego.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission recently referenced NAFTA's provisions when it ruled to ignore concerns of Filner and Imperial County and allow San Diego's Sempra Energy and Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. of Bethesda-Md. to build an 80-mile stretch of pipeline from Blythe to the border that will connect an El Paso-to-Los Angeles natural gas pipeline with an under construction Mexicali-to-Tijuana pipeline that will feed border plants.

While Filner wasn't able to convince FERC to reconsider its approval, he's not giving up the fight against pollution, he said.

"We learn an awful lot in those fights. For instance, we need to know things more in advance, especially if we've got another dozen plants being built on the pipeline. It's not a question of tilting at windmills. You learn a lot in these fights," he said.

Filner proposed creating a binational commission of elected officials on both sides of the border. He wants the group to recommend a binational agreement governing power plant construction in the border area that addresses concerns that NAFTA doesn't.

Filner said, "One, state-of-the-art emission control systems must be installed on all new power projects. Two, there should be net-zero air emission. For instance, companies would have to offset any emissions produced. Three, plants in desert areas would need to use dry- cooling technology to conserve water."

The commission would create "new mechanisms to allow both countries to know what's going on in the other," Filner said.

Asked if federal representatives could put pressure on InterGen to find some way to add California-compliant controls on the turbines that would produce energy for Mexico, Filner said, "That's another request, a fourth request in the agreement that retrofits the existing things."

Filner said he came to Mexicali today to attend a meeting of a binational air quality working group at the Hotel Lucerna this afternoon and added, "I see it as one of my top priorities in Congress to make the binational connections. There aren't a lot of federal officials involved in that effort."

Filner, D-Chula Vista, is running for re-election in a district that morphed after redistricting to includes all of the Imperial Valley and most of his current district. He is running against Republican Maria Guadalupe Garcia of Chula Vista.

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

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