I am writing today to announce the closure of the New Mexico Independent. After three and a half years of operation in New Mexico, the board of the American Independent News Network, has decided to shift publication of its news…
Sierra Club will sue over San Juan coal ash disposal
In December 2009, the Sierra Club told state authorities and the San Juan Coal Company saying that it intended to sue the owners of the company over water contamination caused coal combustion waste being dumped in unlined pits at the San Juan mine, near Farmington, New Mexico. Almost 90 days later, the environmental group says it hasn’t seen any movement by the state or the San Juan Coal Company to address the water pollution they say is caused by coal combustion waste, so it intends to follow through with the suit.
“We aren’t aware of any efforts by the state or the San Juan Coal Company to address any of the pollution caused by the dumping of 40 million tons of coal ash at the mine,” David Graham-Caso of the Sierra Club told The Independent, “so it looks like we will be filing a lawsuit.”
Meanwhile, another group working with The Sierra Club’s on this issue, the Environmental Integrity Project, issued an extensive report this week alleging coal ash waste pollution at other sites around the country, including at the Four Corners Power Plant, which is also near Farmington, New Mexico.
Alleged water pollution from coal ash dumping at the San Juan mine
According to the notice of intent to sue, the Sierra Club will allege that the company’s “…past and continuing practices may, and do, present an imminent and substantial endangerment to health or the environment and that [the company's] practices constitute open dumping under RCRA [Resource Conservation and Control Act].”
It will also allege violations of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977, as well as the rules and regulations issued pursuant to that act which comprise New Mexico’s regulatory program.
A representative of the coal mine’s parent company, BHP Billiton, told The Independent in December that the company was confident the coal combustion waste isn’t causing water pollution. But New Mexico authorities don’t dispute that the water pollution exists, although they aren’t sure what causes it, New Mexico Mining and Minerals Division Director Bill Brancard told The Independent last December.
“The data they have is our data,” he said of the Sierra Clubs analysis at the time, “and there are some levels [of pollutants] that go beyond state standards. But it’s unclear what the source of the pollution is.”
Brancard said his department has ordered more water monitoring wells in place to try to pinpoint the cause of the pollution.
The Sierra Club’s expert consultant, Jeff Stant of the Environmental Integrity Project, said the geography of the area and the preponderance of the metal Boron–which is indicative of coal ash pollution at sites around the country–make it clear that the pollution comes from the coal ash pits.
New report alleges similar pollution caused by coal ash at the Navajo Mine
Off-site contaminant levels caused by coal ash disposal at the Navajo Mine are above New Mexico water quality criteria, states the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice report. The coal ash is the waste byproduct from coal-burning at the Four Corners plant, which has been supplied by the Navajo Mine since 1968. Both the power plant and the mine are under the regulatory authority of the Navajo Nation EPA. (The full description in the report about the Four Corners power plant can be found on pages 58-62.)
The potential danger of coal ash disposal came to national attention in December 2008, when a billion gallons of coal ash sludge flooded rural Tennessee after the dam of a retention pond broke at a Tennessee Valley Authority plant. Just after the spill, attention focused on storage of wet coal sludge near rivers, and recommendations that risk be minimized by “putting dry ash into landfills with caps, linings and collection systems for contaminated water,” as the New York Times noted.
The disposal of combustion waste is currently unregulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, but that may soon change. The EPA has been working to develop a regulatory framework for coal ash disposal since the Tennessee spill, and is expected to issue new disposal rules in early 2010.