April 11, 2002
FERC stands by OK of pipeline
By TOBY ECKERT
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON – Despite opposition from environmentalists and
Imperial County officials, federal regulators yesterday
reaffirmed their approval of a natural gas pipeline to fuel new
power plants in Mexicali.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said "no basis" exists
for doing more environmental analysis of the Mexican plants. Opponents of the plants and the Environmental Protection
Agency said FERC's initial analysis was flawed.
The commission also stood by its original conclusion that the
pipeline will contribute to a reduction in air pollution in the
Mexicali area by providing a source of clean-burning natural gas
for residents and industries.
"The Commission has reviewed the issues raised by (the
opponents) and . . . finds that these matters have been
adequately addressed, and do not provide a basis for granting
rehearing," FERC said in a draft order.
Steve Birdsall, director of the Imperial County Air Pollution
Control District, said he wasn't surprised by the agency's
"We've been pretty disappointed in their response to the
situation," he said.
Imperial County is awaiting a decision in response to its request
to intervene in the government process, an action that is a
necessary precursor to filing a lawsuit. Officials have not decided
whether they will sue if the request is approved, Birdsall said.
"We're rapidly running out of options," he said.
FERC approved the North American portion of the 215-mile
North Baja Pipeline, including a presidential permit required to
extend it across the U.S.-Mexico border, in January. The
pipeline is a joint venture of San Diego-based Sempra Energy,
Próxima Gas of Mexico and a unit of PG&E Corp. of San
The pipeline will fuel power plants being built by Sempra and
Boston-based InterGen in Mexicali. The plants will provide
electricity to customers on both sides of the border.
Foes say the plants will aggravate air pollution in the Imperial
The energy firms deny that. Sempra says its plant will meet
California air emission standards. But it says it will not
implement offsets, required north of the border to balance the
plant's emissions with reductions at other sources, such as city
buses or local industries.
In approving the pipeline, FERC said it posed no major
environmental problems. The commission also cited a limited
Department of Energy study, concluding that the plants that will
export electricity to the United States would not significantly
increase air pollution on the U.S. side of the border.
The Energy Department made the conclusion when granting
presidential permits for the construction of electrical
transmission lines from the plants. Environmental groups are
challenging that decision in court.
Rep. Bob Filner, D-San Diego, an outspoken critic of the plants,
had asked FERC to reconsider the pipeline decision. He argued
that FERC's environmental assessment was incomplete and that
it "should review the huge air pollution impacts . . . on the
residents of Imperial County."
The EPA raised similar questions about FERC's assessment.
Filner also contended that water used to cool the plants would
ultimately lower water levels in the Salton Sea and harm
endangered species there. But FERC, citing the Energy
Department study, said "the potential environmental impact on
these water resources would be minor."
Filner urged FERC to require power plants that use gas from the
North Baja Pipeline to have strict emission controls. But FERC
said that power plants in Mexico are not subject to its
Megan Frey, a spokeswoman for PG&E National Energy Group,
which is spearheading the American portion of the pipeline
venture, said: "We applaud FERC's decision and appreciate the
timeliness. There was an extensive and comprehensive
environmental review of this project."
Staff writer Diane Lindquist contributed to this report.