Utah activists pack eastern Nevada power plant hearing

Ely, Nevada (AP) 1/08

Environmentalists from Utah crowded into a night hearing at the beginning of january in this town near the Nevada-Utah border to tell the state Division of Environmental Protection they don’t want to be downwind from a proposed coal-fired energy plant.

The division held the hearing to determine whether the proposed Ely Energy Center meets state and federal clean air standards and to get public comment as part of a technical evaluation for a permit to build the plant, one of two proposed coal-fired plants in White Pine County.

While a division spokesman asked that comments be limited to the 1,500-megawatt Sierra Pacific Resources project, some speakers talked about global warming or opposition to coal plants in general. Several ignored a three-minute limit on comments, and there were occasional catcalls from some of the nearly 300 people in the audience.

Ely resident Ernie Flangas, who backed the project, asked that the NDEP require each person commenting to state where they live. A majority of the people who spoke during the next four hours said they were Utah residents.

Also opposing the project was Paul DePrey, acting superintendent of Great Basin National Park which is about 70 miles east of the proposed plant. DePrey said an environmental impact statement for the plant is incomplete.

DePrey was backed by Ron Sundergill of the National Parks Conservation Association, who said the state “must put the brakes on dirty, coal-fired power plants.”

A representative of the Goshute Indian tribal government said his tribal council also opposes to the project, and will take the opposition to the Interior Department and Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Francisco Vega, the NDEP’s permitting supervisor, said emissions from the plant would be “as low or lower than any coal-fired plant in the nation” and would meet all state and federal air quality standards.

Greg Remer, chief of the NDEP’s air pollution control bureau, called the proposed plant an anchor for broader resources including transmission lines that would pave the way for renewable energy resources.

Remer added that there are currently no federal or state clean-air standards or regulations that govern carbon dioxide or greenhouse gas emissions.

Terry Morasko of Baker, Nev., asked what would happen if the plant exceeded emissions limits. Remer said the NDEP has an extensive compliance program with routine inspections and ongoing monitoring would be required.

White Pine County resident Eldora Johnson asked if the NDEP has the authority to shut down the plant if clean air standards are violated. Remer’s response was yes.

John Chachas of Ely of the Steptoe Valley Energy Advocates, a group that endorses the project, said about 17.4 tons of emissions come from existing Nevada coal-fired plants as opposed to 40.6 million in Utah – and if Utah activists are so concerned about coal-fired plant emissions they should work on cleaning up their own air.