Coal-Fired Plant Called a Cleaner Energy Source, but
By Leslie Linthicum, ABQJournal,
A handful of people, mostly Navajo women,
have sat vigil on a dusty expanse of reservation land
for months, hoping their presence will help to block
the construction of a proposed $3 billion power plant
that would keep the lights on in a million or more homes
in Phoenix and Las Vegas, Nev.
Meanwhile, the bureaucratic process
leading to the plant's approval inches forward. The
latest step— a public comment period on an environmental
impact statement favorable to the Desert Rock Power
Plant— begins this week.
The protesters' message is simple: Navajos
have already sacrificed their air, their land and their
health for the nation's electricity— two big coal-fired
power plants already operate in San Juan County and
the deadly legacy of uranium mining lingers.
We don't want any more, they say. Or
in the Navajo language: "Doodá." Plainly,
"We have a culture where we're
supposed to protect Mother Earth and Father Sky,"
organizer Elouise Brown said. "We already have enough
power plants here. We don't want any more. We don't want
any more pollution in the area."
of the project say they'll be building the cleanest
coal-fired power plant in the nation to meet growing
energy demands— and that, if Desert Rock isn't built,
some other plant will have to go up to meet that demand.
And, they say, they're doing it in a place that desperately
needs the economic help.
"The Navajo Nation invited us to
be there," said Frank Maisano, a spokesman for
Houston-based Sithe Global Power, which is building
the plant. "This is something they want and they
are a full partner."
The project, a huge coal-fired plant
that would provide 1,500 megawatts of power, has the
blessing of the Navajo Nation. While Navajo communities
near the plant site have come out against it, the Navajo
Tribal Council approved the project on a near-unanimous
vote and Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr. has repeatedly
said it will be the tribe's biggest economic development
Sithe Global and the tribe's Diné
Power Authority are cooperating to build the plant and
to hook into transmission lines that would send the
electricity west. The plant would funnel $55 million
a year to the tribe through lease payments, royalties
and taxes as well as employing 200 mostly local workers
inside the plant. BHP Billiton would expand its Navajo
Mine, which sits adjacent to the Desert Rock site, and
create another 200 mining jobs to serve Desert Rock.
It will sit on the eastern side of the
Navajo Nation, just west of rich coal beds and just
south of two large coal-fired power plants— the San
Juan Generating Station and the Four Corners Power Plant.
Lining up against the plant are the
Navajo resisters, the environmental group Diné
CARE and the newest group, "Doodá Desert
Rock" or "No Desert Rock." They have
the support of a host of environmental groups, including
the San Juan Citizens Alliance, the Conservation Voters
Alliance and the Sierra Club.
An environmental impact statement prepared
for the Bureau of Indian Affairs will be the focus of
10 public hearings the next two weeks.
It looked at the extent to which the
Desert Rock would add pollution to the Four Corners
area, how much water it would use and a factor called
"environmental justice," which analyzes which
population bears the burdens of the plant and which
population reaps its benefits.
The technology the Desert Rock plant
will employ is expected to make it remarkably clean
for a coal-fired plant.
Desert Rock will be permitted by the
Environmental Protection Agency to release 3,315 tons
of sulfur dioxide a year. In comparison, the Four Corners
and San Juan plants each released about 15,000 tons
of sulfur dioxide in 2006.
Desert Rock will be permitted to release
3,320 tons of nitrogen oxide a year; Four Corners released
44,348 tons of nitrogen oxide in 2006 and San Juan released
Desert Rock's mercury emissions will
be about 160 pounds under its permit while the Four
Corners and San Juan plants produced about 400 pounds
combined in 2006.
Desert Rock will be permitted to release
11 million tons of carbon dioxide a year, compared to
16.4 million tons in 2006 for the Four Corners plant
and 13 million tons for the San Juan plant.
Sithe Global has pledged to reduce some
emissions beyond those requirements, including cutting
its mercury emissions in half. It has also pledged to
make investments in other plants in the region to reduce
their emissions. Reductions at other plants would more
than completely offset Desert Rock's emissions and result
in fewer overall emissions in the Four Corners area,
according to Sithe Global and the environmental impact
The environmental impact statement concludes
that it is the Navajo people who will bear the brunt
of any negative effects, including more pollution, haze
and disturbed land.
The report notes that the people living
near the plant are low-income and minority and "any
deterioration of environmental quality would be disproportionately
borne by this population."
While noting that the plant would release pollutants,
the report said that the cumulative pollution levels
would be below federal standards.
"The local population is disproportionately
impacted by the cumulative land use and visual effects
of these facilities, which generate power for a much
larger area," the EIS concluded.
That sums up the opposition to the plant
among some Navajos who live in the area. "It's
just about greed and money, that's it," Brown said.
"We'll be left here with this on our land."
Power plant hearings
- Farmington: Tuesday, 5 p.m. to 8
p.m., Farmington Civic Center.
- Towaoc, Colo.: Wednesday, 10 a.m.
to 1 p.m., Ute Mountain Casino.
- Durango, Colo.: Wednesday, 5 p.m.
to 8 p.m., Iron Horse Inn.
- Albuquerque: Thursday, 1 p.m. to
4 p.m., Indian Pueblo Cultural Center.
- Santa Fe: Friday, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.,
- Shiprock: July 23, 10 a.m. to 1
p.m., Shiprock Chapter House.
- Nenahnezad: July 23, 5 p.m. to 8
p.m., Nenahnezad Chapter House.
- Burnham: July 24, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.,
Burnham Chapter House.
- Sanostee: July 24, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.,
Veterans Memorial Center.
- Window Rock, Ariz.: July 23,
10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Navajo Nation Museum.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs will also
take written comments through Aug. 20. Mail them to
Harrilene Yazzie, NEPA Coordinator, BIA Navajo Regional
Office, Desert Rock Energy Project EIS, P.O. Box 1060,
Gallup, NM 87305. Or go to www.desertrockenergy.com
and click on "comment on the project."
Public hearings about the draft Environmental
Impact Statement on the proposed Desert Rock power plant
in San Juan County will be held through the end of July.