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Federal Review of Power Plants' Impacts Incomplete, Judge Rules

The effects on water and air quality in San Diego and Imperial counties from the Mexican facilities were not fully considered, she says.

May 08, 2003|From Associated Press

SAN DIEGO — A federal judge has ruled that the Bush administration failed to complete an environmental review of plans to ship electricity into California from power plants in Mexico, dealing a potential blow to the project less than one month before operations are to begin.

Judge Irma E. Gonzalez found that the U.S. government's environmental review allowing the import of power from two plants near the border city of Mexicali, Mexico, failed to fully consider effects on air and water pollution.

Gonzalez's 41-page decision, issued Friday in U.S. District Court, came in a lawsuit brought last year by environmental groups challenging the permits issued to two companies building the plants, Sempra Energy and InterGen. InterGen is a joint venture of Royal Dutch Shell Group of Cos. and Bechtel Corp.

The judge scheduled a June 16 hearing to decide how best to remedy the inadequate permits.

A lawyer for the plaintiff, Border Power Plant Working Group, conceded that the ruling was unlikely to close the plants, which can continue to ship power as the court reviews the case. However, he said he hopes that the judge will order the Bush administration to undertake a more thorough environmental impact study, requiring more disclosure and greater public input.

"The Bush administration asked the court to ignore the fact that pollution is produced when power is produced and that such pollution directly impacts the health and environment of people living in San Diego or Imperial counties," said Mollo, an attorney with EarthJustice, the environmental law firm in Oakland that represented the defendants.

Andrew Smith, an attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice in Albuquerque, who represented the government, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

Art Larson, a Sempra spokesman, said the company wouldn't comment on the ruling until reading it. Sempra, based in San Diego, is already testing the plant in Mexicali and a transmission line into Imperial Valley. The plant is scheduled to begin commercial operations June 1.

Larson said the transmission line would be "very helpful" toward meeting energy demand during the peak summer season.

The Mexican government has authorized transmission of 500 megawatts, and Sempra has said it may add a second line with capacity for another 500 megawatts.

An InterGen spokeswoman, reached late Monday, did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Sempra and InterGen applied for permits from the Department of Energy to import electricity into California and the Bureau of Land Management to build power lines on property it manages. Both agencies found that the power plants would have no significant environmental impacts in issuing the permits in 2001.

Sempra Energy, based in San Diego, said its power plant will meet California air emission standards. InterGen, based in Burlington, Mass., does not make that claim, but has said its plant will be one of the cleanest in Mexico and will have "no significant" pollution impact on the border region.

Gonzalez found that the environmental assessment by the government failed to disclose and analyze the effects of the ammonia and carbon dioxide to be emitted by the plants.

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