‘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.”

Air quality

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 It appears Sithe’s investment in plant planning is outdated without taking into account the needs of climate change policy,” he said.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 forward.”

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 at.

“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,” he said.

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.”


Reprinted as an historical reference document under the Fair Use doctrine of international copyright law. http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.html