Friday, March 31, 2006

Goodbye, Sempra

Sempra's decision to abandon its planned $1 billion coal-fired power plant for south-central Idaho was a robust victory for citizens and politicians who understood the threat of pollution to their health and livelihoods and orchestrated a remarkable grassroots campaign for stricter siting regulations. The resulting passage of a two-year moratorium on such power plants will provide a breather for the Legislature to develop a comprehensive state energy plan.

The Sempra experience was a revitalizing experience for Idahoans who cherish their environment and for state lawmakers who paused to weigh smokestack industry's considerable drawbacks.

Sempra's pullout from the Jerome project was accompanied by abandonment of plans for a coal plant in Nevada as well. The company says it will invest instead in natural gas projects in other states.

This fortuitous finale probably would not have happened had not state Sen. Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum, persisted with his alarms and repeated attempts to educate other legislators about a coal plant's damaging effects on environment, wildlife and farm animals in several counties. It would not have happened if ordinary citizens hadn't rallied in opposition.

Stennett deserves a great deal of credit for lonely battles in which he was treated like a political leper. Citizens deserve credit for their fortitude and willingness to weigh in with legislators.

Yet, more work may lie ahead. Sempra plans to sell its options on the Jerome site to another company that might try where it failed. Opponents should not rest easy.

Longer-range, the Legislature must get on with its promised study of how to properly evaluate and regulate coal projects that affect air and water quality.

Sen. Stennett's insistence that the state, not counties, should be entrusted with that authority is the obvious and reasonable answer.

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