Senate Leader Questions Nevada Agency's Statements on Coal Plant

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CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) - U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid,
continuing his clean-energy efforts, has challenged a state environmental agency's stance on potential emissions from a proposed coal-fired power plant in eastern Nevada.

In a letter to Leo Drozdoff, Gov. Jim Gibbons' environmental protection chief, Reid said Drozdoff's permit supervisor who's reviewing the Sierra Pacific Resources project disagreed with experts who said it would harm Great Basin National Park's air quality.

Francisco Vega, the state Division of Environmental Protection supervisor, said in January that emissions from the 1,500-megawatt
plant about 70 miles west of the national park would be "as low or lower than any coal-fired plant in the nation" and would meet all state and federal air quality standards.

But Reid, D-Nev., said Sierra Pacific's own analysis estimated that the power plant's particulate and sulfur dioxide emissions would exceed the top standards "by more than 300 percent" in burning millions of tons of coal each year.

Reid said he wants to see the information that would support Vega's claims to reduce concerns that the state agency "may have rushed the permitting process and insufficiently informed Nevadans about the detrimental impacts" posed by the power plant.

Dante Pistone, spokesman for the agency, said Drozdoff was preparing a formal response for Reid, adding, "We are convinced
that our technical evaluation is complete and accurate."

Pistone said the agency would provide Reid with "whatever he wants. He has requested a lot of information and we are going to provide it to him."

Michael Yackira, Sierra Pacific Resources president and chief executive officer, said new coal technology planned for the Ely project "will meet or exceed air quality requirements." When it's completed, Yackira said the plant "will be the cleanest coal plant in the nation."

The project also came under fire from critics who questioned Yackira's statement that coal is a good fuel resource because prices for coal are more predictable than prices for natural gas.

The critics said that at a recent energy conference Peabody Energy, the world's largest private-sector coal company, predicted the price per ton of coal will increase nearly 60 percent by 2009. They also pointed to a new Citigroup forecast that world coal prices could double.

"Under the realistic scenarios ahead, it is quite possible that the price of goal for generated power is going to go up, and that renewable energy is going to become very competitive," said Dan Geary, Nevada representative of the Pew Environment Group.

There's also uncertainty from Wall Street over financing of coal-fired power plants because of a possible federal cap on greenhouse-gas emissions to help cope with global warming.

"The opportunity for the successful passage of mandatory caps on emissions has never been greater," Geary said. "There's increasing bipartisan consensus that the United States has to do something about climate change."

The Ely project is one of three currently in the works in Nevada. The opposition to the projects mirrors fights by environmental groups across the nation against at least four dozen coal plants.

Coal plants provide just over half of the nation's electricity. They also are the largest domestic source of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, emitting 2 billion tons annually, about a third of the country's total.

Mining companies, utilities and coal-state politicians promote coal in the name of national security, as an alternative to foreign fuels. With hundreds of years of reserves in the ground, they're also pushing coal-to-diesel plants as a way to sharply increase domestic production.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)