Despite objections from other federal agencies, the states of Colorado and New Mexico, local governments, Navajo tribal members and citizen groups, the EPA today issued an air quality permit for construction of the Desert Rock Energy Facility, an additional massive coal-fired power plant on Navajo land in northwest New Mexico.
“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.”
Communities in the Four Corners already are suffering from dirty air, contaminated land and water from the two existing coal plants, as well as from coal mines, waste disposal areas, and oil and gas operations.
“This air permit seriously undermines regional efforts to clean up the air and promote renewable energy projects,” said said Andy Bessler of Sierra Club. “If the coal plant is built, it will add to health problems already facing tribal members and residents of both New Mexico and Colorado.”
If built, Desert Rock will overwhelm efforts of New Mexico and neighboring states to reduce greenhouse gas pollution and further poison the air, land and water of local communities. Emissions from the coal plant would more than offset commitments to cut pollution from other nearby sources.
“This is a political decision, not one based on science or EPA’s own mandate,” said Mike Eisenfeld of San Juan Citizens Alliance. “EPA ramrodded this permit out the door in response to a lawsuit filed by the coal plant owner, whose lawyer, Jeff Holmstead, was a high-level EPA official in the Bush administration. It looks like he’s still giving orders to EPA’s staff.”
The permit’s numerous deficiencies — including the failure to assess and set required emissions limits for carbon dioxide, mercury, and ozone-forming pollutants — were made clear to the EPA in more than 1,000 comments submitted by other federal agencies, state and local governments, tribal members and organizations, and other citizen groups.
“What is particularly disturbing here,” said Eisenfeld, “is EPA’s rush to judgment on this permit decision. Sithe complains that the EPA should have issued the permit several years ago. But the whole reason this is taking so long is because the concept for Desert Rock is faulty. EPA still hasn’t finished a thorough evaluation of the project, but it’s allowing a former agency official to bully it into rushing this permit out the door.”
The coal plant would be built in San Juan County New Mexico, the nation’s sixth largest emitter of carbon dioxide. Desert Rock would add another 12.7 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year and raise ozone levels in the area that are already at or near national ambient air quality standard limits.
Ozone triggers respiratory disease, hitting children, the elderly and people with existing health problems such as asthma especially hard. Nearly 15 percent of children in northwest New Mexico have asthma, a figure that doesn’t include federal Indian Health Service records.
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.