Both sides sound off on proposed coal plant |

Both sides sound off on proposed coal plant

RENO, Nev. ” Environmentalists say a water-sucking, carbon-emitting, coal-fired power plant shouldn’t be built anywhere in the world, let alone Nevada’s high desert, but union workers say they desperately need the 2,500 construction jobs the $5 billion project would create.

The two sides sounded off in Reno Thursday night at the first of four public hearings to be held through next week on the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s draft environmental impact statement analyzing the coal plant the state’s biggest utility wants to build 20 miles north of Ely.

NV Energy’s plan also calls for construction of 250 miles of transmission lines that for the first time would connect northern and southern Nevada’s power grid ” something even opponents of the coal plant say they would support if the lines were used to move renewable energy.

“This is viewed as a major federal action and possibly having major impacts,” said Joe Incardine, BLM’s national project manager leading the review.

“I’ve heard views on all sides of the coin and that’s what BLM needs to hear. … We want your comments. We want to know what you are thinking,” he told more than 100 people who turned out to speak or submit written comments the agency intends to collect through April 3.

Hearings also are scheduled Tuesday in Las Vegas, Wednesday in Ely and Thursday in Elko on the proposal that would require the sale of 3,000 acres of federal land to the utility and consume 8,000 acre feet of water a year. An acre foot is equal to 325,851 gallons of water and typically will meet the annual water needs of a family of four.

The BLM document issued Jan. 2 notes that state environmental regulators have concluded the power plant’s operation would not exceed federal or state air quality standards.

“It will be the cleanest coal-fired power plant in America,” said Mark Severts, project communications director for NV Energy, formerly Sierra Pacific Power Co.

But BLM’s review also acknowledges that “greenhouse gas emissions from the operations would include carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide totaling the equivalent of 10.6 million” tons of carbon dioxide annually.

“I’m very concerned about global warming. We don’t need to release any more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than we already are doing,” said Marge Sill, a longtime member of the Sierra Club Toiyabe Chapter based in Reno.

“It’s kind of nuts to even be thinking about this,” added Graham Stafford, another member of the club.

John Wilkinson, an avid outdoorsman who has hiked Nevada’s mountain ranges for years, said he took Amtrak from his home in San Jose, Calif., so he could speak “in defense of clean air in eastern Nevada.”

He pointed to BLM projections that the plant’s emissions would result in a 7 percent reduction in visibility in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest’s Jarbidge Wilderness near the Idaho state line some 150 miles away.

“This is a priceless, spiritual resource,” Wilkinson said.

“I’m sickened by the thought of what could happen,” he said. “I’m getting old and may not get back to these areas, but other generations should have the opportunity. They shouldn’t have to ask their grandparents what happened to the clean air.”

Arlan Kosters was among more than a dozen members of the Reno-based Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 350 who submitted written comments in support of the project. He said it would help lessen U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

“More than ever, technology can ensure a safe environment and a project like this is good for the economy,” he wrote. “At these dire times, more jobs are needed.”

Ken Heinbaugh, a former White Pine County commissioner who lives about 5 miles from the plant site in Steptoe Valley, said the project would help stabilize northeast Nevada’s turbulent mining-based economy.

“When mining is good, we have a boom and when it’s bad, we have a depression,” said Heinbaugh, chairman of the Steptoe Valley Energy Advocates. “This project would bring jobs and tax revenue into the county. I believe the benefits greatly outweigh the negatives.”

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