A coalition of Navajo environmental justice organizations, as well as national conservation groups today took legal action to hold the owners and operator of one of America’s oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants accountable for the dangerous pollution the plant emits. According to the lawsuit filed today by Earthjustice, on behalf of Dine Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, To’Nizhoni Ani, the National Parks Conservation Association and the Sierra Club, the owners and operator of the Four Corners Power Plant have repeatedly violated the Clean Air Act by not updating Four Corners’ pollution controls when they made other modifications to the plant. Pollution from burning coal has been found to contribute to four of the five leading causes of death in the United States, including heart disease, stroke, cancer and chronic lower respiratory disease.
“Four Corners’ excessive pollution poses a serious threat to our community’s health,” said Nicole Horseherder of To’ Nizhoni Ani. “Four Corners’ owners have two options if they are going to obey the law: Clean the plant up, or shut it down.”
The federal Clean Air Act requires power plant operators who construct or modify a major air pollution source, such as large coal-fired power plants, to install modern pollution controls. The pollution controls must comply with a federal standard called Best Achievable Control Technology (“BACT”). The Four Corners power plant has been modified numerous times since 1985 but has never installed the legally-required pollution control technology.
Because of Four Corner’s inadequate pollution controls, the plant is releasing dangerous amounts of air pollution that affects people living near the plant, and throughout the region. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Four Corners is the worst nitrogen oxide polluter in the nation, emitting more than 38,000 tons of the pollutant into the air we breathe annually. Nitrogen oxide is an ingredient in ozone, a dangerous form of air pollution that the American Lung Association calls “one of the most dangerous pollutants” in our air today. The Four Corners plant is also responsible for more than 11,000 tons of sulfur dioxide pollution (“SO2”), and over 14 million tons of carbon dioxide pollution every year. The plant also emits significant amounts of particulate matter (“PM”) and mercury, a neurotoxin.
The suit names each of Four Corner’s owners as defendants, including Arizona Public Service, Southern California Edison, El Paso Electric Company, PNM Resources, Salt River Project Agricultural Improvement and Power District, and Tucson Electric Power Company.
“After decades of spewing pollution on us while making money hand over fist, all we have to say to the owners of the Four Corners Power Plant is enough is enough. It’s time to become responsible corporate citizens, comply with the law, and clean up your act,” said Anna Frazier of Dine CARE.
Four Corners is located near Shiprock, New Mexico, which is within the Navajo Nation. As a result, the plant’s pollution disproportionately affects the Navajo people. A 2010 research article identified a cluster of 37 Navajo communities that rank high for certain diseases and conditions based on local hospital records. Many of these diseases and conditions have been associated with pollution from coal-fired power plants. Of all 37 communities, Shiprock ranked second for asthma, third for coughing and wheezing, sixth for pneumonia, seventh for upper respiratory tract infection, eighth for bronchitis, and ninth for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The study further reported that the Red Valley community, which is situated west-southwest of Shiprock, ranked first for five of these seven diseases and conditions. The study cites anecdotal evidence showing that power plant emission plumes often flow locally toward Red Valley.
This suit filed today is part of the ongoing campaign by Earthjustice and its clients to fight pollution from the Four Corners Power Plant and to promote a clean energy future for the Navajo Nation.