Groups Say They Will Hold Governor to His Word on "Respect for Environment"

NRDC Offers Recommendations for Responsible Solutions to Electricity Crisis

SACRAMENTO (Feburary 14, 2001) - Environmental groups today urged Gov. Davis to resist suggestions by the Bush administration and industry business groups that California’s electricity crisis can be solved by relaxing air quality and public health protections. NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) offered recommendations to help Davis honor his public commitment to find solutions that "maintain our respect for the environment."

"You don’t have to compromise public health and the environment to keep the lights on," said Ann Notthoff, NRDC California advocacy director. "We understand that the electricity crisis calls for drastic measures, but we’re going to hold the governor to his word that California can find a way to solve this problem without harming the quality of our air, oceans and rivers."

Last week, the governor issued an executive order to increase the state’s generating capacity by boosting the output of existing power plants and streamlining the permitting and construction of new plants. Today the California Energy Commission held a workshop to look more closely at how air quality regulations may affect the siting and output of electricity generating projects.

"We’re concerned that the governor’s plan would sacrifice air quality if it allows dirtier power sources to operate in California," said Gail Ruderman Feuer, an NRDC senior attorney who testified before the commission. "If we delay installation of state-of-the-art pollution emission controls at power plants, we will have more pollution, but not more power."

The environmentalists said the state should invest heavily in energy efficiency and renewable energy. Such investments lagged over the last decade due to cheap fossil fuel prices and uncertainty about the restructuring of the state’s electricity market. Even so, existing investments have contributed more than 15,000 megawatts (MW) out of California’s total demand of 50,000 MW. Opportunities for more investments abound. For example, the California Energy Commission recently issued upgraded efficiency standards for new buildings and equipment. The new standards will yield through energy savings about 1,000 MW, which is equivalent to the output of two giant natural gas-fired power plants, but without the air pollution.

"The fastest, cheapest, cleanest way to lighten the load on the energy grid is to make major new investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy," said Sheryl Carter, NRDC senior policy analyst. "That’s why we support legislative solutions, such as Senate Bill X5 by Sen. Byron Sher."

NRDC offered additional recommendations, which it said will help Davis keep his promise to meet the state’s electricity needs without harming the environment:

  • Repower older, dirtier plants by replacing their generators with newer, cleaner equipment. Older plants are notoriously inefficient and contribute disproportionately to air and water pollution. Repowered plants are less polluting and more economical to operate.

  • Continue efforts to streamline, but not weaken, California’s environmental protections and processes. Environmentalists say the state’s clean air, water and land-use safeguards did not cause the electricity crisis. They note that developers of new, cleaner generation -- using both renewable energy and fossil fuel -- are taking advantage of expedited siting processes, which will result in more electricity and less pollution.

  • Require and do not delay the installation of state-of-the-art pollution emission controls at existing power plants and refineries. Installing so called "Best Available Control Technology" (BACT) will create emission reduction "offsets," which the federal Clean Air Act requires for the siting of new power plants or expansion of existing plants to ensure that any resulting pollution increases are offset by pollution reductions in the same region. This, in turn, makes it possible to increase total electric output without increasing total air pollution.

  • Ensure that state and local air quality agencies enforce and do not weaken rules limiting the use of emergency diesel generators to up to 200 hours per year and only during Stage 3 power emergencies.

A coalition of environmental groups, including the California League of Conservation Voters, Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies, Environmental Defense, and Global Green USA, joined NRDC in a letter to the governor asking him not to relax environmental and public health protections while solving the state’s electricity crisis.