Groups line up against proposed Nevada coal plants

Proposed agreements that Nevada officials negotiated with coal plant developers fail to protect the public against carbon dioxide pollution, environmental groups complain.

The agreements are "at best meaningless," Nevadans for Clean and Affordable Energy concluded in written comments filed with the state.

"And, at worst, they act as a misleading evasion of the enormous pollution anticipated from the plants and the state's responsibility to safeguard Nevadans from the effects of that pollution."

Dante Pistone, a spokesman for the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection, said Monday the agency was withholding comment until the statements can be reviewed.

Nevadans for Clean and Affordable Energy filed the comments late
Friday, said Charles Benjamin, president of the environmental organization and Nevada office director of Western Resource Advocates.

Benjamin previously asked the state Environmental Commission to suspend the processing of air permits for coal-fired power plants.

The commission in September refused but directed the division to follow a process suggested by Gov. Jim Gibbons.

Gibbons suggested the division ask the coal-fired power plant developers to enter into memorandums of agreement calling for capturing carbon dioxide from the plants when the technology is feasible.

The power plant developers are Sierra Pacific Resources, which is developing a coal plant at Ely; LS Power Group, which plans another coal plant at Ely; and Sithe Global Power, which proposes a plant near Mesquite.

The environmental groups say they fear carbon dioxide pollution from coal-fired power plants would lead to global warming.

The groups argue that Nevada can reduce power consumption through
energy efficiency and obtain additional power from renewable resources, such as solar, wind and geothermal energy.

Advocates of the coal plants reject those arguments and contend the state needs to reduce its reliance on natural gas, which is subject to price spikes, with the addition of coal-fired power plants.

Thomas Johns, senior vice president of Sithe Global Power, commended Nevada for trying a new way to address the carbon dioxide issue.

"While the (memorandums of understanding) may not be perfect, they are a great step forward," Johns said.