San Francisco's plan to build a 145 MW power plant is near approval at the California Energy Commission - despite environmental justice complaints. The agency held what was expected to be a final evidentiary hearing in the licensing proceeding for the project May 31. The peaker plant is the cornerstone of the city's "action plan" to shut down old power plants with heavy emissions. The proposed facility remains the subject of a federal civil rights complaint filed by residents of a nearby neighborhood, which is overburdened with air pollution and high levels of asthma. "We don't think it's appropriate at this site," said Michael Boyd, Californians for Renewable Energy executive director. He said that the U.S. Department of Justice is working with the federal Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency to investigate whether the plant would violate civil rights in the neighborhood, where most of the population is "nonwhite." He characterized the federal agencies' acceptance of the complaint for investigation as "unusual." The group amended the complaint earlier this year to claim that the CEC and other agencies were engaging in retaliation. The plant, known as the San Francisco Electric Reliability Project, would be built near Mirant's Potrero power plant and the recently shuttered Hunters Point plant owned by Pacific Gas & Electric. Nearby residents have long fought to close the existing power plants on grounds of environmental injustice (Circuit, May 19, 2006). Many residents are continuing to press for closure of Mirant's Potrero plant and to prevent any new plant from opening in the area. "Children in the southwest section of San Francisco are hospitalized for asthma at about four times the rate reported statewide," Lynne Brown, a resident of the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood and vice-president of Californians for Renewable Energy, told the CEC in testimony in the licensing proceeding earlier this spring. The group wants the city to build the plant at San Francisco International Airport instead, or to drop it altogether. However, the CEC's final assessment on the project concluded that the proposed location is the only one that would allow the California Independent System Operator to release the Potrero plant from reliability-must-run contracts, a precondition to its ultimate shutdown. The CEC also said that it "did not identify any unmitigated significant direct or cumulative adverse impacts" in its "environmental justice screening" analysis for the project. Therefore, it said, the "project is not considered to have a disproportional impact on an environmental justice population." "The commission in all of its proceedings has always provided due process for every intervenor," said Susanne Garfield, CEC spokesperson. She said that the commission may vote on the license for the plant before the year is out.