Civil rights group sues to block Potrero power plant

A civil rights group sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in federal court in San Francisco today in a bid to block plans for a so-called “peaker” electric plant in the Potrero Hill district of the city.

The proposed plant near the southeast city waterfront would consist of three combustion turbines fired by natural gas and would be used to provide energy during peak demand.

That plant and a fourth turbine to be located at San Francisco International Airport are part of a city Electric Reliability Project developed by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

San Francisco PUC spokesman Tony Winnicker said the new turbines are needed to meet state requirements of generating some electricity within the city and thus ensure that the old and polluting Mirant Corp. power plant in the same neighborhood can be closed.

The lawsuit was filed by the San Francisco chapter of the A. Philip Randolph Institute and San Francisco residents Lynne Brown and Regina Hollins against the EPA and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. The district has the authority to issue a construction permit.

The lawsuit asks for a court order requiring the EPA to begin either regulating greenhouse gases or explaining why it cannot do so, as required in a decision issued by the U.S. Supreme Court in April in a lawsuit filed by Massachusetts and 11 other states.

The lawsuit says EPA regulation would be likely to require an environmental reassessment of the project. The suit asks the court to block the new project until the EPA has acted.

Josh Arce, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said, “The Public Utilities Commission advocates the combustion turbine plant because it will provide 'less pollution' than the existing Mirant plant.

But “legally, the community is entitled to no pollution,” Arce contended. He said the city should consider alternatives such as conservation or renewable energy options.

Winnicker said the proposed facility will generate 83 percent less pollution than the Mirant plant and appears to be the only way of shutting down that plant.

“It is important for people not to lose sight of the goal of closing one of the most polluting plants in the state,” Winnicker said.

— Bay City News

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