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By Miriam Raftery

January 27, 2009 (San Diego)--East County Magazine today received a copy of a letter sent by the American Lung Association of California to President Barack Obama in opposition to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's request for the U.S. Forest Service to fast-track approval of Sunrise Powerlink. The letter cites concern that the project, if approved, would negatively impact air quality in San Diego and Imperial Counties, harming people with asthma and other respiratory conditions. Specifically, the Lung Association warns that fossil fuels from Mexico could worsen air quality and that smoke from future fires potentially caused by Powerlink could adversely impact the health of people in our region.

The letter criticizes SDG&E for marketing Powerlink as a project based on renewable energy, when in fact SDG&E stated to the California Public Utility Commission that "if the company were required to guarantee that the line would be substantially loaded with renewable energy, they would abandon the project." As a result, CPUC approved the project with no guarantee that it will carry any renewable energy, leading the Lung Association to conclude that "there are substantive reasons to conclude that the line may well wind up harming air quality and increasing greenhouse gas emissions by importing fossil fuel-derived electricity from Baja California and on the spot market. This is of vital concern to the American Lung Association, due to the potentially serious respiratory health impact on the Imperial Valley, which already suffers from the highest asthma rates in California."

San Diego County residents face even worse threats due to the fire hazard posed by Powerlink, concludes Debra Kelley, senior director of advocacy and strategic health initiatives, who signed the letter. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) has concluded that SDG&E power lines caused multiple major wildfires in San Diego County including the devastating 2007 Witch Creek fire, which "generated abysmal air quality impacting the one in ten residents who suffer from lung disease," Kelley concluded.

Her letter asks that the Forest Service give the project thorough consideration and not shortcut environmental legal requirements. Copies were sent to Senators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein, Congressional members Bob Filner and Susan Davis, and Forest Supervisor Will Metz of the Cleveland National Forest as well as to President Obama and his transition team.

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