Border Plant Imports Lawsuit Near End

By Published On: December 8, 2006

The battle over the air and water impacts of two power plants near the California-Mexico border is probably finished. On November 30, a San Diego federal judge held that the Department of Energy’s environmental assessment of the transmission lines carrying power from Sempra’s 600 MW project and Intergen’s 1,065 MW plant in Mexico, which feed into the Southern California grid, was “adequate.” Earthjustice, which represents the Border Power Plant Working Group – which challenged the transmission permits in 2003 – is not sure it will appeal the ruling. “At this stage of the game, there is a fair amount of agency deference” that would be given by a higher court, noted Martin Wagner, Earthjustice attorney. Sempra welcomed the ruling. Spokesperson Art Larson touted the low emissions of Sempra’s three-year-old Termoel├ęctrica power plant in Mexicali, saying they were on par with those of subsidiary San Diego Gas & Electric’s new 580 MW Palomar power project in Escondido. “It is one of the cleanest plants in North America,” he said of the Mexicali facility. He acknowledged that Mexico did not require emissions offsets for the plant but added that the Termoel├ęctrica plant’s air emissions are well below those of “major emitters” in the Imperial Valley, which are primarily vehicles and agricultural operations that create high levels of dust. The Imperial Valley suffers unhealthy levels of particulate matter and ozone. More than three years ago, the Border Power Plant Working Group alleged in a summary judgment motion that the rationale underlying the federal permits for the parallel power lines – which run from the Imperial Valley to Mexicali – was deficient. The group maintained that the permits violate the Clean Air Act and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The suing party asserted that the power plants would worsen air pollution in the Imperial Valley and that a hybrid cooling system that uses 90 percent less water than the wet cooling systems should be installed. In July 2003, Judge Irma Gonzales ordered the Department of Energy to conduct an extensive environmental assessment of the power supply imports’ fallout. In November of that year, the department announced that it would conduct an environmental impact statement under NEPA (Circuit, Nov. 21, 2006). At the end of last week, the court threw out the case. Gonzales found that the Department of Energy’s environmental analysis – which concluded that the power plants created a minimal impact on the air and water resources in the Imperial Valley – “did not undermine informed decision-making or informed public participation.” – Elizabeth McCarthy

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