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Suit Demands GE Modify Its Romoland Power Plant

A school district and environmentalists want lower particulate emissions at the Riverside County site.

April 26, 2006|Cynthia H. Cho | Times Staff Writer

A coalition of environmental groups and a local school district filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday to force General Electric to modify a $1-billion power plant under construction in Romoland, an unincorporated area that already has one of the highest levels of particulate pollution in California.

Romoland Elementary School, which has about 800 students, is about 1,100 feet from the Inland Empire Energy Center in Riverside County.

"We agreed to participate in this action to remedy the situation so that the final power plant built there doesn't pose any safety issues or harm to our students or families in the area," said Roland Skumawitz, superintendent of the Romoland School District.

Marc C. Joseph, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said the plant would release triple the amount of downwind particulate matter -- soot, smoke and chemical pollutants -- allowed by federal law.

"GE says the plant is the latest and greatest in technology, but we can't let them set a precedent that increased pollution is OK," said Joseph, who also represents the California Unions for Reliable Energy and other environmental groups. "We're not against power plants, but they need to follow the law."

The suit alleges that the Energy Center, a GE subsidiary, will remain in violation of the Clean Air Act unless it modifies the plant or stops construction. The South Coast Air Quality Management District is also named as a defendant for issuing the construction permit.

Dennis Murphy, spokesman for GE Energy, said the plant was "a state-of-the-art, advanced gas turbine technology that has unprecedented efficiency levels and reduced emissions."

It is the first of its kind in North America and the second in the world; a similar one is in Wales.

"I haven't seen the lawsuit, so it's premature for me to make any comment on it," Murphy said.

"We'll take a look at it and see if there is any response we need to make."

The lawsuit alleges that the plant also violates federal law because the Inland Empire Energy Center did not provide the required emission offsets -- or payments for pollution -- to compensate for the pollution by the plant.

Joseph said the South Coast Air Quality Management District granted GE special, less-expensive emission offsets reserved for emergency providers, such as police stations and hospitals.

District spokesman Sam Atwood said the emission reduction credits were obtained legally.

"The emission reduction credit was purchased in accordance with all AQMD information and regulations," Atwood said. "Going back four or so years ago, during the energy crisis, AQMD decided to make these emission reduction credits available to proposed power plants."

He said the district submitted the amended credit rule for approval to the Environmental Protection Agency four years ago, and the matter was still pending.

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