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…
State will challenge EPA’s air quality permit for Desert Rock coal-fired plant
Gov. Bill Richardson and New Mexico Attorney General Gary King announced today that they will immediately file an appeal of the U.S.Environmental Protection Agency’s issuance of an air quality permit for the proposed Desert Rock coal-burning power plant. The plant would be built on the Navajo Nation about 25 miles southwest of Farmington.
The EPA in a press release today claimed that the plant would be one of the cleanest coal-fired power plants in the nation.
But in a joint press release countering those claims, Richardson and King, along with NM Environment Department Secretary Ron Curry, called the permit "ill-advised" and suggested that the EPA and Sithe Global of Houston cut a deal to evade judicial review of the power plant. They allege that the EPA violated the Clean Air Act in issuing the permit, and didn’t require appropriate analysis of air requirements before issuing it.
“EPA is bending to the will of corporate, financial and misguided political interests that will pollute New Mexico’s skies,” Gov. Richardson said in a press release. “EPA’s decision ignores its obligations to protect the health of residents and the environment in New Mexico and the region. We will not allow this ill-advised decision to stand.”
New Mexico previously filed a motion to intervene in the case July 10. By filing the appeal today, the company is blocked from proceeding until the appeal is resolved.
“I want to assure New Mexicans that from a legal standpoint, Desert Rock is far from a done deal,” said Attorney General Gary King. “We will immediately review the permit and analysis that the EPA is obliged to provide in conjunction with its permitting decision. There are significant legal hurdles ahead and we intend to challenge the permit before the Environmental Appeals Board (EAB) in Washington, D.C.”
The press release also described the current conditions in the four corners area, with two existing coal-fired power plants, San Juan Generating Station and Four Corners Power Plant already emitting 28 million tons a year of carbon dioxide. Desert Rock would add another 10 million tons a year of carbon dioxide, the press release stated, making the four corners region a major contributor to global warming.
The EPA, though, says that in addition to already "stringent controls", the facility has an agreement in place with the Navajo Nation to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by retiring sulfur dioxide credits, and has also committed to invest in other environmental improvement projects.
But New Mexico’s leaders say that ozone levels in Farmington have already reached the new federal standard and are expected to exceed that in the next year.
The Bush Administration’s decision to issue the permit, they said, will add to the region’s growing ozone problem. Ozone levels, also known as smog, in Farmington have reached the new federal standard and are expected to exceed that standard within the year.
“EPA is shirking its responsibility to require an analysis of several pollutants, including mercury, ozone and carbon dioxide – a greenhouse gas,” said New Mexico Environment Department Secretary Ron Curry. “This plant will increase the region’s annual greenhouse gas emissions by more than one third and wipe out our efforts to reduce these emissions across the state. The Four Corners area is already burdened with the high levels of mercury contamination and smog and this facility will only worsen those problems.”
The EPA also noted the "staunch support" of Navajo Nation leaders given the jobs and the revenue the plant would bring to the Nation. Navajo Nation Joe Shirley Jr. confirmed this in a press release welcoming the decision:
As a Nation, we’re working very hard toward standing on our own two feet, and this permit goes a long ways toward bringing all that into fruition. We know that there will continue to be challenges, but, hopefully, day’s end we will prevail.
However, there is an active Navajo citizen group within the Navajo Nation, Dine Care, that is actively opposed to the plant. Along with a coalition of other advocacy and environmental organizations it issued a press release today that condemned the permit approval as being a "devastating blow" that "failed Navajo communities."
“EPA’s irresponsible, inappropriate decision has failed Navajo communities and needlessly sacrificed our air, land and water,” said Dailan Long of Diné CARE. “It is a devastating blow to tribal members who continually suffer from the large coal complex encroaching upon our land.”
In addition to the danger of increased ozone, the group highlight the problem with mercury:
Burning coal at the Desert Rock Energy Facility will add to the high levels of mercury in local rivers and lakes, many of which are already subject to fish-consumption advisories. Mercury is a powerful neurotoxin that can harm the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs and immune systems of people of all ages.
“We plan to vigorously contest the permit to prevent a tremendous setback to the efforts of state and local governments and dedicated citizens to rein in global warming pollution and to protect the health of area residents,” said Nick Persampieri, a lawyer for Earthjustice which represents groups opposed to the permit.