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Disputed power plant for San Joaquin Valley clears hurdle

Valley transmission

Should all new power plants install the "best available technology" to control pollution? Not necessarily, the Obama administration said on Tuesday, reversing a long-held policy.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, battling an industry lawsuit, told a U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia that it would allow a controversial gas-fired plant to be built in the San Joaquin Valley, one of the nation's most polluted regions.

The $530-million plant, in Avenal, would be allowed to proceed because it had been in the pipeline for several years, having received a preliminary permit from the California Energy Commission in 2009, before new federal air pollution standards were issued, the EPA said. The plant's Texas-based builder, Macquarie Energy, had sued the agency for delaying approval.

Ten to 20 other proposed power plants across the nation could also be eligible to be "grandfathered" under the new policy, an EPA spokesman said. That would mean they could be built without the newest equipment even if they cause a region to violate new pollution limits on sulfur dioxide (S02), nitrogen oxides (NO2), or carbon dioxide (CO2), the planet-heating gas that is held to be most responsible for climate change.

The new policy comes as the Obama administration is under attack in Congress for seeking to control CO2 and other planet-heating emissions under the Clean Air Act. Legislation introduced this week would strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its ability to issue carbon-dioxide rules, which the Obama administration says are necessary to combat climate change.

Environmental groups in the San Joaquin Valley greeted the EPA decision with dismay. "This exemption is outrageous and unprecedented," said Tom Frantz, president of the Kern county-based Assn. of Irritated Residents, a plaintiff in several lawsuits over San Joaquin Valley air. "We have the worst air in the nation."

He said the builder of the plant should upgrade it. "A six-month delay to make the plant cleaner is easily justified," he said. "This plant will be here polluting our air for the next 40 years."

But  energy developers said that changing the rules in midstream, after they have applied for permits, is unfair. New pollution rules have effectively caused a "moratorium" on the construction of power plants and large industrial facilities, they argued.

The 600 MW Avenal plant, about 55 miles southwest of Fresno, in Kings County , would sell its electricity to Pacific Gas & Electric. It would use highly efficient technology to power 450,000 homes and small businesses, according to the Avenal Power Center LLC website.

The EPA is expected to solicit public comment on the new shift in policy.

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-- Margot Roosevelt

Photo: Pacific Gas & Electric power towers in Los Banos, Calif., north of Avenal.  Credit:  Justin Sullivan/ Associated Press

 
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As of October 2010, carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere is at a concentration of 388 ppm by volume.[1] Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide fluctuate slightly with the change of the seasons, driven primarily by seasonal plant growth in the Northern Hemisphere. Concentrations of carbon dioxide fall during the northern spring and summer as plants consume the gas, and rise during the northern autumn and winter as plants go dormant, die and decay. Taking all this into account, the concentration of CO2 grew by about 2 ppm in 2009.[2] Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas as it transmits visible light but absorbs strongly in the infrared and near-infrared.

Powerplants are indeed very helpful to us. But it doesn't necessarily mean that since it is beneficial to us, then the construction of these, would be one-way decision only. I t has to be studied very well. The negative effects should also be considered. If ever it accelerates pollution, then it must be solved for pollution kills every living organism. There is no sense at all though all are benefited but on the other side all too are harmed.

The administration should not allow companies to operate if it produces large amounts of harmful gases such as carbon dioxide which is the culprit for greenhouse effect, global warming and ozone depletion. Each one of us should do our part to save the earth and to have a better way of living free of pollution and hazardous chemicals.


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