Union Tribune

June 6, 2002 

Ban sought on gas exports to plants that pollute

By TOBY ECKERT 
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE 

WASHINGTON Targeting controversial power-plant projects
near Mexicali, three California lawmakers launched a bipartisan
effort yesterday to ban exports of natural gas to plants on the
Mexican side of the border that fail to meet regional U.S.
air-quality standards.

The two plants being built about four miles south of the border
near Mexicali would be fueled by natural gas from the United
States.

Legislation introduced by Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-El Cajon, and
California Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer
would apply to plants within 50 miles of the border that start
operating after Dec. 31, 2001.

The lawmakers said they were responding to concerns about
possible cross-border air pollution from the Mexicali power
plants.

As currently designed, one of the plants, being built by InterGen of
Boston, will not comply with California emission regulations.

A second plant being built in the area by San Diego-based
Sempra Energy will comply with California emission regulations.

If the plant were built in neighboring Imperial County, however,
the company would have to pay to reduce, or offset, other
emissions to meet clean-air standards specific to the heavily
polluted region.

The plants, which would supply electricity to customers on both
sides of the border, are expected to release more than 3,000 tons
of emissions into the air each year.

Sempra also is a partner in the construction of a 215-mile,
cross-border pipeline that will supply natural gas to the power
plants.

The legislation is the latest escalation in a dispute over the plants'
impact on Imperial Valley-Mexicali air quality. Local activists and
lawmakers who fear they will cause more pollution have failed to
stop the U.S. government from granting permits for construction of
the U.S. portion of the pipeline and power lines from the plants.

"It's been a constant effort that we get mainly InterGen to step to
the plate and do the right thing," Hank Kuiper, chairman of the
Imperial County Board of Supervisors, said yesterday. "We
haven't failed yet. Maybe this is the answer."

The power companies say the pollution concerns are baseless.
The Bush administration has touted joint U.S.-Mexican power
projects as a way of alleviating California's energy woes.

"It makes some common sense to treat this air basin from a
binational approach," Hunter said. "It certainly doesn't make sense
to ban a U.S. company from polluting our air on our side of the
border and allow it to move a few miles over the other side of the
border to do the same thing."

Feinstein said, "I do not believe the fact that we need more power
in California should allow companies to take advantage of this
need and use it as an excuse to devote less attention to clean air
and public health."

InterGen issued a statement saying its plant "will comply with or
exceed recognized World Bank and Mexican environmental
standards. The expanded units of the facility that are being built to
serve California will be equipped with Best Available Control
Technology to reduce emissions, which is currently required by
state law for plants built in California."

However, the generating units that will produce power for
Mexican consumers will not have such equipment.

Hunter said the legislation "will ensure that if this facility does not
meet environmental emission standards, it will not be allowed to
receive natural gas from the U.S."

Sempra "is voluntarily being built to California air standards and it
will be one of the cleanest plants in North America," company
representative Michael Clark said.

A Mexican Embassy spokesman had no comment on the
legislation.

In issuing permits for the U.S. portion of the natural gas pipeline,
U.S. energy agencies concluded the plants would not increase
pollution "above the EPA-defined significant impact levels" on the
U.S. side of the border.

The Environmental Protection Agency questioned that conclusion,
however.

Hunter noted that Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham "has
indicated interest in trying to come up with a solution. As of now,
we don't have a commitment."

Staff writer Diane Lindquist contributed to this report.