Desert Rock Air Permit Fails Global Warming Test

EPA urged to reject coal plant permit because of extreme air pollutants


Nick Persampieri, Earthjustice, (303) 996-9617

The federal Environmental Protection Agency must reject or greatly restrict the proposed Desert Rock power plant because its output of greenhouse gases will increase global warming and violate the Clean Air Act, a coalition of conservation groups and citizens is asserting.


The 1,500 megawatt coal-fired plant would be built on Navajo Indian land in northwest New Mexico.

Last year, the groups expressed concern over the plant’s estimated annual emission of 13.7 million tons of carbon dioxide. In comments sent to the EPA today, the groups cited recent global warming reports and a Supreme Court decision. These recent developments "compel EPA to prevent or limit the plant’s carbon dioxide emissions,” the groups wrote.

The most compelling new piece of information is the Supreme Court’s determination (Massachusetts v. EPA, 2007) that carbon dioxide is a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. As a result, the EPA has authority to regulate its emissions. This fact alone should be reason enough for the EPA to deny the permit for Desert Rock, the groups said.

Also of great concern to the groups is a series of reports by the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change that depict "unequivocal" warming of the climate system because of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by burning of fossil fuels.

At the very least, the groups say, in light of this new information the EPA should re-open the permitting process and exercise its authority to insist on stringent control of greenhouse gases from Desert Rock.

"The draft air quality permit for Desert Rock needs to address greenhouse gas emissions — the most pressing environmental issue facing the global environment," said Mike Eisenfeld of San Juan Citizens Alliance.

A Navajo group, representing native citizens worried about local health impacts from the plant, called on the EPA to oppose Desert Rock.

"Navajo communities in Northwest New Mexico are most vulnerable to climate change," said Dailan J. Long, representing Dine’ Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment. "It is imperative that the EPA address carbon dioxide emissions and its implications on climate change as a very serious threat to our well-being. Our lives are already threatened by the legacy of pollution on Navajo land."

"The Supreme Court has clearly signaled that EPA has the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The President has directed EPA to address greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles. The Clean Air Act does not permit EPA to issue permits for coal plants — the nation’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions — without preventing or limiting greenhouse gas emissions," said Nick Persampieri, a lawyer for Earthjustice.

Read the full letter (PDF)  

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