Reid Maneuver could block new coal plants in Nevada
December 6, 2007
WASHINGTON – Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is trying to slip language into a must-pass spending bill that could block new coal plants in Nevada by boosting air quality requirements at Great Basin National Park.
The behind-the-scenes gambit is running into opposition from fellow lawmakers, and as of Thursday afternoon it was not clear whether Reid’s language would make it into the final version of the spending bill, which Congress is scrambling to complete before Christmas.
Spokesman Jon Summers said that Reid – who didn’t alert fellow members of the Nevada delegation to his plan – was just living up to his commitment to “do whatever he can to prevent the construction of dirty coal plants in Nevada.”
As for complaints from GOP Reps. Jon Porter and Dean Heller, Summers said: “If they want to champion the construction of dirty coal plants in Nevada, that’s their choice.”
Reid’s one-paragraph provision would designate Great Basin National Park, in eastern Nevada by the Utah border, as a Class I air quality protection area instead of Class 2, its current designation.
Class I is the most protective level and would probably prevent coal-fired plants from being built anywhere nearby.
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That would include two planned some 70 miles away near Ely: the 1,500-megawatt Ely Energy Center by Sierra Pacific Resources and a 1,600-megawatt project by LS Power Group.
A third coal-fired plant, a 750-megawatt project planned by Sithe Global Power for farther south near Mesquite, would probably not be affected.
Reid is trying to get his language into a huge, omnibus package that wraps together 11 of the 12 annual spending bills that fund the federal government.
Although it faces a possible veto by President Bush depending on its final price tag, it’s considered must-pass legislation. If Reid does succeed in getting language into the final bill that reaches the floor of the House and Senate it would probably become law.
But despite his powerful position success is not certain, especially now that the maneuver has become public.
Members of the House spending committee want to keep extraneous measures out of the bill to boost its chances of passage, and House Appropriations staffers tipped off Porter and Heller earlier this week to Reid’s plan.
Porter and Heller then wrote a letter to leaders of the Appropriations Committee to announce their opposition.
“Unfortunately we did not know what was happening. We heard about it from the Appropriations Committee,” Porter said in an interview.
In their letter to the committee, Porter and Heller defended the plants as “cleaner than any in the West, perhaps the nation,” and noted the one of the projects would provide new jobs.
The Nevada delegation met Tuesday afternoon but Reid didn’t raise the issue, Porter said.
Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., is opposing Reid’s move and has raised the issue with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. Even Rep. Shelley Berkley, Reid’s fellow Democrat in Nevada’s congressional delegation, wasn’t ready to support Reid’s approach as of Thursday evening.
Her spokesman David Cherry said Berkley learned of Reid’s plan only after Nevada political commentator Jon Ralston circulated the language in his e-mail tip sheet Wednesday evening.
Under the Clean Air Act states can pursue the national park air quality designations. Reid wrote to Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons in July asking him to pursue the designation change but received no response, Summers said.
Roberto Denis, Sierra Pacific’s senior vice president for energy supply, said the company disagreed with Reid’s approach as well as the substance of what he was trying to achieve. “There’s a legal means that’s already in place, enacted by Congress, to achieve what he has in the budget resolution,” said Denis.
Sierra Pacific officials said they were concerned Reid’s language would even block construction of natural gas-fired plants. The company recently announced it was moving up expansion of a natural gas fire plant 35 miles north of Las Vegas ahead of building the coal plant near Ely. Summers said it was unlikely the natural gas plant would be affected.