Saturday, May 19, 2007 | 6:49 a.m.
A coal-fired power plant proposed for White Pine County would pollute Great Basin National Park, ruin views and kill trout that make the park so popular, the National Park Service said in a harsh letter to state officials.
The Park Service said a merchant power developer should do more to protect the park from its 1,590-megawatt generating station, which could power more than 1 million homes - or find a different site.
Among the Park Service's concerns are:
If the power plant developer wants to be situated near a national park, "it should assume a burden of protecting the resources in that park from the effects of its operations," the Park Service said in an unsigned report. "That may mean 'going the extra mile' to employ advanced ... pollution control technology. If (the builder) is not willing to do so, it should consider an alternate location."
The remarks came in response to New Jersey-based LS Power Group's application for an air quality permit from the Nevada Environmental Protection Department. LS Power builds and operates power plants across the country, selling the electricity to utilities.
The comments are some of the most stinging environmentalists have ever seen from the Park Service.
"From a bureaucratic perspective, this is the equivalent of putting up a giant neon sign," said Charles Benjamin, director of Western Resource Advocates in Nevada.
LS Power wants to build its plant about 40 miles from Great Basin, on 1,230 acres north of Ely. The plant would be just miles from a second proposed power plant of similar size by Sierra Pacific Resources.
Construction of a plant that could fuel the Las Vegas Valley and drive pumps to transfer water from White Pine County to Southern Nevada is evidence of how growth in Southern Nevada is coming at the expense of rural Nevada's environment, said Launce Rake, spokesman for the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, a social-advocacy group.
"These coal plants are related to the (Southern Nevada) Water Authority water grab and this idea that Nevada is some kind of sacrifice zone," he said. "By God, Nevada is not a sacrifice zone."
Great Basin National Park, with 13,000-foot Mount Wheeler as its centerpiece, is known for its elk, prong-horned antelope, limestone caves and streams thick with trout.
Benjamin said Sierra Pacific Resources, parent of two utilities that power most of Nevada, will likely receive similar comments from the Park Service.
Both plants would burn pulverized coal. They also would use air-cooling technology to cut water use.
At the White Pine site, LS Power wants to develop three 530-megawatt units. It would also build a related transmission line to carry power north to Idaho and south to Las Vegas.
Sierra Pacific has said utility-owned, coal-fired generation would reduce reliance on volatile wholesale energy markets and natural-gas-fired power. Three-quarters of the company's power comes from natural-gas-fueled facilities.
Gov. Jim Gibbons supports development of coal-fired power in Nevada to diversify the energy supply, although he has also said he encourages development of renewable energy.
Eric Crawford, director of project development for LS Power, said it would use the best available technology to reduce emissions.
LS Po wer has built and operated 19 power plants across the country and is working on a handful of other power projects, including a wind farm in White Pine County. The company also plans to purchase a 531-megawatt plant outside Las Vegas this year.
Crawford says there's no evidence that the White Pine County coal plant would affect the park.
"This will be one of the cleanest coal plants in the country," he said. "The community is very supportive and actually desires a project like this in (the) region."
Brent Eldridge, White Pine County Commission chairman and an Ely resident, said the plant would bring jobs and tax revenue to an economically struggling community. He said he supports the plant as long as it uses the newest technology.
But local environmentalists aren't as welcoming.
Jennifer Brickey of Ely fears acid rain from the plants would destroy limestone caves, one of the park's main attractions.
And Don Duff, president of the Great Basin chapter of Trout Unlimited and a former aquatic ecologist with the National Forest Service, said acid rain from the plant could kill fish in the park.
Although Crawford said the plant wouldn't violate any air quality laws, environmentalists say that's not good enough.
Because Great Basin was designated a national park after amendments to national air quality laws were passed in 1977, utilities are held to a lower standard when determining whether their projects would pollute there, despite the park having some of the most pristine air in the West.
Crawford said LS Power has gone beyond legal requirements to reduce water use by 80 percent and has accepted mercury emissions limits five times lower than the national standard.
But in an interview this week he wouldn't promise LS Power would commit to further reducing emissions that could affect Great Basin.
A decision on the air quality permit rests with the Nevada Environmental Protection Department, which will consider the Park Service's comments. The public may comment on the permit by contacting Matthew DeBurle at (775) 687-9391 or [email protected]
The Bureau of Land Management is also accepting public comment on a draft environmental impact statement for the LS Power project through June 19, although comments will not affect the status of the air quality permit.