State asks permission to speed up power plant construction

The Associated Press
Saturday February 10, 2001


The White House examined a request Friday from California to speed environmental reviews involving power plant construction, triggering a sharp disagreement over whether the request amounts to rolling back environmental rules. 

California Gov. Gray Davis, in a letter to President Bush, asked that federal agencies help the state speed up consideration of permits for new power plants to try to avoid electricity shortages this summer. 

Since state permits often are affected by federal decisions on water and air pollution and endangered species protection, Davis asked the president for “assistance to expedite permitting by all appropriate federal agencies” along the same time schedule being adopted by state agencies. 

Asked about the letter, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said it was being reviewed by the special energy task force, headed by Vice President Dick Cheney. 

“Is the state asking to waive environmental laws?” Fleischer was asked. 

He said the administration views the letter “as a request to lift or relax environmental protection” in order to maximize power production in California, which for weeks has been under threat of rolling blackouts. 

Fleischer described the request as involving not only the issuance of permits for new power plant construction but also the permission to ease environmental rules on existing plants and for “relaxation” of current restrictions on pzlants using pollution permits. 

“The governor made no such request,” said Roger Salazar, Davis’ spokesman in Sacramento.  

“The only thing the governor requested is that the federal government direct a number of agencies to expedite the permit review process and essentially cut through the red tape” for new power plants. 

Salazar made available Winston Hickox, head of the California Environmental Protection Agency, who reiterated that Bush is not being asked to ease any federal environmental rules. 




“We have not waived any air quality standards to accommodate the need for maximum power production” and have no plans to do so, insisted Hickox. He said state regulators have “run every ounce of flexibility out of the system” to give power plants ways to produce maximum power and still meet air-quality requirements. 

Hickox was named by Davis as a power plant siting overseer who will direct the state effort to get an additional 5,000 megawatts of electricity capacity into operation by summer. The request to Bush was not aimed at environmental changes that apply to existing power plants, he said. 

In a series of orders issued Thursday, Davis directed state agencies to take no longer than 21 days to consider and act on permits involving power plant construction. 

The governor asked that federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, which handles air and water pollution matters, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service, which have jurisdiction over endangered species, be required to also make their reviews in the same timeframe. 

The governor was not asking for a relaxation of the regulations but only expedited action on the regulations, said Salazar, and only as the rules apply to construction of new power plants. 

The governor’s plan calls for getting three large, base-load power plants, being built by Calpine Corp., of San Jose, Calif., completed by this summer. They are expected to add about 1,200 megawatts of power. 

Another 2,200 to 2,500 megawatts of capacity is hoped to be made available from smaller plants either near completion or at various stages of development, said Hickox. 


On the Net: Federal Environmental Protection Agency: http://www.epa.gov/ 

California Environmental Protection Agency: http://www.calepa.ca.gov/