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SoCal Pollution Regulator Sues CPUC Over LNG Standards

Intimating that Southern California's highly compromised air quality could be made worse by large liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports in the future, the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) filed a lawsuit in state Superior Court Tuesday against the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), which established new gas quality standards for the state's major gas utilities last fall.

AQMD's chief administrator promised to "aggressively challenge" the state regulators on the LNG standard after it was adopted last September.

For natural gas quality, new, narrower standards were adopted Sept. 21, requiring Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and Southern California Gas Co. to change their tariffs on this subject. Leading up to the CPUC action, gas quality was an unexpectedly high-profile issue in the second phase of a statewide gas proceeding. Even the arcane global gas measurement for heating value, the Wobbe number, was elevated to central status in the regulatory debate.

Under the rules adopted by the CPUC, the Wobbe for any imports would be capped at 1,385, a compromise brokered by CPUC President Michael Peevey over a 1,400 level recommended by Sempra Energy's two utilities. (Southern California Gas Co.'s current limit is 1,437, Peevey said.) In the future, gas operators, such as Sempra Energy's utilities, are required to avoid getting slugs of gas in the system with excessively high heat content that could causes problems at a major gas-fired electric generation plant or in home and small business water heating systems.

In response to the CPUC-approved new standards, San Diego Gas & Electric and SoCalGas filed revised (Rule 30) tariffs that contain the following specifications: minimum Wobbe index of 1,279; maximum Wobbe index of 1,385; minimum heating value of 990 Btu/scf; and maximum heating value of 1,150 Btu/scf.

AQMD is challenging whether these standards will worsen the local area's fight against increased greenhouse gas emissions.

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