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Board Questions PUC’s Report on Utility Merger

In a strongly worded challenge to the proposed merger of Southern California Edison and San Diego’s chief power utility, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors charged Tuesday that a state study “may significantly underestimate” the danger the merger poses to the county’s air quality.

The county will oppose the merger unless the state Public Utilities Commission takes a more realistic view of the merger’s threat to the environment, the supervisors said.

The County Air Pollution Control District claims that under the merger the Ormond Beach and Mandalay plants in Ventura County would pour an additional 2,885 tons of smog-creating nitrogen oxide into the air over the next 17 years. That is because the utility would curtail operations of less efficient plants in San Diego.

The PUC said the increase in smog will be less than the pollution control district’s estimate. The difference is significant because the utility has agreed to take steps to offset any increased air pollution from the Oxnard plants. A lower pollution estimate would mean that the utility would be allowed to take less drastic measures to offset the nitrogen oxide emissions.

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In some years, as much as 706 tons of this and other pollutants would be added to the county’s air, according to Air Pollution Control Officer Richard H. Baldwin. In other years, according to a PUC report, additional pollutants would amount to less than 100 tons a year--an amount the PUC describes as insignificant.

“Given the seriousness of our air quality problems, we cannot support any document which states that an increase in emissions in Ventura County of less than 100 tons per year is ‘insignificant,’ ” Madge L. Schaefer, chairwoman of the Board of Supervisors, declared in a letter to the PUC. “There are serious flaws” in the state study that “may significantly underestimate the expected air quality impacts in Ventura County,” the letter says.

Reactions from other supervisors to the proposed $2.4-billion merger between Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric were similar.

“We will oppose the merger until and unless a commitment is made to provide emission offsets” exceeding pollution caused by the merger, Supervisor Susan K. Lacey said after Tuesday’s meeting.

Edison has said it will offset added pollution by helping industries that use internal-combustion engines to replace them with electric motors.

Supervisor John K. Flynn, agreeing with other board members on the need to speak out strongly to the PUC, commented: “Sometimes you need to hit people on the head to get their attention.”

However, Flynn said after the board meeting that he hoped the PUC would change the figures in its report and that Edison would agree to increase its efforts to offset pollution.

The supervisors issued their rebuff to the PUC in their dual role as the county’s Air Pollution Control Board. Schaefer signed the letter just hours before the PUC’s deadline for comments on the merger ran out.

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Elaine Russell, a PUC staff member, said public hearings will be held before commission members vote on the merger. The commission’s ruling could then be challenged in court, she added.


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