‘A step in the wrong direction’
By Kathy Helms, Diné Bureau,
Gallup Independent, MARCH 20, 2008
WINDOW ROCK — A lawsuit filed Tuesday
by Desert Rock Energy Co. LLC and Diné Power
Authority against U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
“is unfortunate and premature,” according to New Mexico
Environment Department Secretary Ron Curry.
Desert Rock Energy Co., a wholly owned subsidiary of
Sithe Global Power LLC of Houston, and DPA challenged
EPA and Administrator Stephen L. Johnson for failure
to make a timely decision on an air permit application
for the proposed 1,500 megawatt, coal-fired Desert Rock
Energy Project, to be located near Burnham.
“New Mexico’s position on this plant
is clear; the Desert Rock plant as currently proposed
is a step in the wrong direction,” Curry said. “We need
to be moving forward, toward new carbon capture-ready
technologies for power generation, not back to the old
dirty coal plants of the past.”
Curry said that as planned, the
new facility will adversely impact air quality, exacerbate
existing environment problems, and negatively impact
scarce surface and ground water resources. Per capita,
New Mexico already emits twice the national average
of greenhouse gas emissions, according to NMED.
“Also, the technology as proposed by
Sithe refuses to consider real technological advances.
It appears Sithe’s investment in plant planning is outdated
without taking into account the needs of climate change
policy,” he said.
The estimated 12 million tons of carbon
dioxide emitted each year from the Desert Rock plant
would increase New Mexico greenhouse gas emissions by
about 15 percent, making Gov. Bill Richardson’s aggressive
greenhouse gas reduction goals difficult — if not impossible
— to meet, according to Curry.
DPA General Manager Steven Begay, during
a report Wednesday to the Navajo Nation Economic Development
Committee, said, “Everybody is waiting on the air permit.
That will be the green light for the project to move
Begay said Navajo Nation President Joe
Shirley Jr. met with EPA’s Johnson several months ago
and again last Wednesday. “The permit is ready to be
issued. It’s awaiting some issues that have been raised
by Administrator Johnson.”
One is the Endangered Species Act;
another is global warming, according to Begay. He said
a Supreme Court decision, Massachusetts v. EPA, raised
concerns about global warming from “mobile sources,”
which EPA cited as a cause of concern in its comments
on the Desert Rock Draft Environmental Impact Statement.
Another stumbling block is legislation
introduced March 11 by Rep. Edward J. Markey, chairman
of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global
Warming, and Rep. Henry A. Waxman, chairman of the Oversight
and Government Reform Committee.
The legislation, known as the “Moratorium
on Uncontrolled Power Plants Act of 2008,” addresses
the largest new source of global warming pollution —
new coal-fired power plants that are being built without
any controls on their global warming emissions, according
to the chairmen.
The bill places a moratorium
on either EPA or states issuing permits to new coal-fired
power plants without state-of-the-art control technology
to capture and permanently sequester the plant’s carbon
dioxide emissions. The moratorium extends until a comprehensive
federal regulatory program for global warming pollution
is in place.
The bill also bars a new coal-fired
power plant without state-of-the-art control technology
from receiving any free or reduced-cost emissions allowances
under a future federal program to address global warming.
Many communities are still paying for
failed nuclear power plant investments in the 1980’s,
the chairmen said. This bill puts investors and power
companies on notice that if they invest in new sources
of global warming pollution now, taxpayers won’t pay
for the costs of cleaning up those sources later.
“That’s what’s really holding up the
permit, as we understand,” Begay said.
According to Waxman, comprehensive
economy-wide regulation to address global warming is
coming soon. More than 100 new plants have been proposed,
and even if just a portion of these are built, they
will emit over a hundred million tons of carbon dioxide
a year, the chairmen said.
Desert Rock will have state-of-the-art
technology, Begay said, as well as a space for any retrofittable
carbon-capture system. “Carbon capture technology is
there — it’s theory — but there is no real practice.
They’re being experimented on real small scales and
you can’t just go from there to large scale, so there’s
that design that’s not there that we’re willing to look
“Following the design would be the
bulk of the money for constructing a unit. For the size
of the plant that Desert Rock is promoting to develop,
it will require about $450 million per unit,” he said.
There are two 750 megawatt units proposed.
Begay said there also would be a reduction
in power off-take and a corresponding economic impact
because it would require some of the power the plant
would produce to run the carbon-capture system.
“But given that its all experimental
– there’s no proven technology that can be applied at
the size Desert Rock will be – we’re receptive to it
but we’ve got to keep moving. There is a slot in the
emission system where, if it’s there, we’ll put it in,”
Secretary Curry said that at the request
of the Navajo Nation, New Mexico Environment Department
staff has been meeting with tribal environmental officials
to discuss the project and the potential for carbon
emission reductions. “To sue now undercuts these ongoing
discussions,” he said.
“We respect the sovereignty of the Navajo
Nation and the rights of tribal governments to determine
their economic futures and to pursue positive change
within their communities. However, the responsibility
of taking strong action to combat global climate change
is one we must all share.”