The Nevada Environmental Commission Friday denied a request by environmental groups to delay approval of permits for three big coal-fired power plants, environmental groups and state officials said.
Air permits for the plants, which if built could serve about 2.5 million Nevada homes, may be approved by the end of the year, said Scot Rutledge of the Nevada Conservation League, who attended Friday's session in state capital Carson City.
The 11-member environmental panel -- largely appointed by Gov. Jim Gibbons, who was against a permitting suspension -- denied a request to suspend the approval process for air permits until Nevada sets greenhouse gas emission caps.
The petitioners, led by environmental group Western Resource Advocates, wanted the commission to delay the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection from issuing the permits.
After a hearing lasting most of Friday afternoon, Western Resource Advocates said its next steps may be taken in court.
"If carbon dioxide is a pollutant, which the U.S. Supreme Court says it is, and the Department of Environmental Protection of Nevada has the authority to regulate pollutants and they aren't doing it, I guess we should ask some judge to look into it," said Charles Benjamin, director at Western Resource Advocates Nevada.
While reliable as a source of electricity, conventional coal-fired power plants emit higher levels of carbon dioxide -- the major contributor of greenhouse gases that cause global warming -- than do natural gas and nuclear power plants or renewable sources like solar, wind and geothermal energy.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, has said he will try to wield his influence against coal-fired power in his state.
But in a letter to the environmental commission, Republican Gov. Gibbons said the three coal plants would diversify the state's energy mix and to keep it from importing about half of its electricity, which he said costs $1.5 billion a year.
And, Gibbons wrote, the state can't rely on major renewable sources of power for years to come.
"While there is a lot of well-founded excitement about Nevada's renewable resources, we must recognize that it will be years before these facilities can come on line in a meaningful way," Gibbons said. "They are intermittent sources that can not be relied upon exclusively for reliable baseload energy."
The proposed plants are the 1,600-megawatt White Pine plant by LS Power Group, the 1,500-MW Ely Energy Center by Sierra Pacific Resources , and the 750-MW Toquop Energy Project by Sithe Global Power, which is owned 80 percent by Blackstone Group and 20 percent by eservoir Capital Group.