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Issued : Sunday, February 19, 2012 10:12 AM
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Panel mapping plan to meet 'green' rules

By : JOHN MARINO

A day after Gov. Luis Fortuño created it through executive order, the Intersectoral Committee for Environmental Compliance & Energy Alternatives met Friday to plan its work in delivering a report in 90 days on how to best comply with new federal regulations on power plant emissions and air quality standards.

Headed by Environmental Quality Board President Pedro Nieves Miranda, the committee includes top government officials as well as representatives from the private sector.

“The committee’s principal mission will be to conduct a comprehensive study and submit a report to the governor of Puerto Rico, within 90 days after enactment of this order, on the necessary measures to comply with new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations, including the conversion to, and use of natural gas in, the Cambalache, Palo Seco, and San Juan power plants located in the north region of the island. In addition, the committee will be in charge of evaluating the impact of not complying with EPA regulations on the business and economic sectors,” the executive order reads.

The EPA has approved new regulations to reduce pollution from electric power plants using fossil fuel in U.S. jurisdictions, including Puerto Rico. The new Mercury Air Toxics Rule (MATS) will take effect in April and establish strict environmental compliance goals within 36 months, which require Puerto Rico to make short-term changes in its electric infrastructure in order to limit mercury and toxic air emissions.

The EPA has also established stricter National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), and Puerto Rico must become complaint with them in five years. It currently is below standards in four areas: San Juan, Manatí-Barceloneta, Salinas-Guayama and Guayanilla. While the excessive emissions in three of the areas stem from Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa) power plants, the Manatí-Barceloneta area’s lack of compliance is believed to be driven by private industry.

“Puerto Rico has the urgency to move to new energy alternatives to benefit the Puerto Rican economy, but at the same time comply with the new federal regulations,” Miranda Nieves said. “That is our goal with this effort that integrates the public sector, federal government private industries and environmental experts.”

The new federal regulations are a big reason behind the government’s push to convert its power plants to natural gas, which will substantially decrease emissions and save costs. Retrofitting oil plants with new anti-pollution equipment could cost $4.6 billion, according to previous government estimates.

While the Costa Sur plant will start burning natural gas in April, and a plan is in place to feed the Aguirre plant via an offshore barge system, government officials say that the conversion process at northern plants has presented a number of challenges in finding the proper mechanism to supply natural gas.

“Although there is consensus among most experts that the most appropriate alternative is to transport natural gas to the power plants through a pipeline, it is necessary to revisit the analysis of all feasible alternatives pursuant to EPA’s new regulatory requirements and the urgent need to reduce our dependence on oil,” Fortuño’s order states.

Last month, the governor said he had ordered Prepa to look for cheaper, quicker alternatives to the proposed Vía Verde pipeline project.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is poised to make its final decision on the pipeline, which is the last remaining hurdle for the project to move forward. However, other project consultants have said that months of additional studies would be required before construction could begin.

Other members of the committee are: Secretary of State Kenneth McClintock, Prepa Executive Director Otoniel Cruz Carrillo, Prepa Board Chairman José Ortiz, a representative of the Government Development Bank, a representative of the Engineers & Surveyors Association of Puerto Rico, a representative of the Puerto Rico Manufacturers Association, a representative of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration and a representative of the Puerto Rico Department of Consumer Affairs.

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