The Thousand Springs power plant died last month, but Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, discovered legislation for what may be called the "Son of Thousand Springs" moving quietly through Congress this week.
Worse, he found he couldn't kill it without also killing a land exchange important to Utah utilities.So he did the next best thing: He added an amendment mandating that the "Son of Thousand Springs" plant cannot be built if it would significantly harm air quality in Utah.
Scott Kearin, Owens' administrative assistant, said they discovered - to their horror - that a land-exchange bill moving through the House would give government land in eastern Nevada - just 60 miles south of the Thousand Springs site - to the city of Los Angeles for a future coal-burning power plant.
Owens and other politicians fought the Thousand Springs plan, charging it would give power to California, jobs to Nevada and pollution to Utah and Idaho. Investors dropped their support of that plant last month.
Kearin said the new bill at first glance "appeared to be a fairly innocuous land exchange." Los Angeles would give the government prime land in the Santa Monica mountains for a large U.S. Bureau of Land Management parcel in eastern Nevada - for a coal-fired power plant.
He added, "They said they don't know when the plant would be built - maybe 15 to 20 years from now - and that they wanted it there for whenever they need it."
Kearin said Owens discovered part of that complicated land trade involved the widening of a utility corridor through Nevada to California, which is needed by power plants in Utah to sell their excess electricity to California.
"So we couldn't just try to kill the land exchange, which we would have done otherwise," Kearin said.
Instead, the amendment was added by Owens in the House Interior Committee to not allow transfer of the Steptoe Valley, Nev., land until Los Angeles agrees that no plant built there will hurt air quality in areas struggling to meet Clean Air Act standards, or cause any air pollutant above standards anywhere else.
"Now if anything is ever built at that site, it won't hurt us. That served notice that we are being very watchful and vigilant. It seems that in order to solve its own pollution problems, California has to export its pollution to us. We won't allow that," Kearin said.
He worries that more such attempts could result in future years as California is considering such extraordinary measures to clean its air as pushing the use of electric cars. The full House is expected to act on the land-exchange bill now containing Owens' amendment next week. It also must pass the Senate.