Navajo Nation: EPA to set tough standards for power plant

By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN | Associated Press
July 21, 2006

ALBUQUERQUE -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed some of the most stringent emission requirements in the country for a planned power plant on the Navajo Nation, setting a new level of performance for coal-fired plants in the United States.

Houston-based Sithe Global Power and the tribe's Diné Power Authority plan to build a 1,500 megawatt power plant that could power up to 1.5 million homes in cities across the Southwest.

The Desert Rock Energy Project would bring in about $50 million a year in taxes and royalty payments for the tribe, making it the largest economic development project to be undertaken by the Navajos.

The EPA released a draft clean-air permit for Desert Rock this week, saying its requirements would limit emissions from the plant to levels that protect public health and the environment.

"The EPA's proposed permit will require the best pollution controls available for a pulverized coal-burning power plant," said Deborah Jordan, the agency's air-programs director for the Pacific Southwest region.

The EPA plans to hold informational meetings in September in the Four Corners region and will return in October for a public hearing. People have until Oct. 27 to comment on the permit.

The proposed permit is based on analyzing the best technology available to limit the release of pollutants like sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and fine particulates.

Some Navajos who live in the remote area of northwest New Mexico where the plant would be built have held demonstrations and are collecting petition signatures to send to Navajo leaders and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.

They say existing coal-burning plants already pump toxins into the air, and any more pollution would compromise air quality, resulting in environmental concerns and health problems.

"Despite the efforts to reduce power plant emissions within the past few years, San Juan County simply cannot afford to bring emissions levels back up by implementing Desert Rock. The rising costs of health care and the health risks associated with power plants is detrimental to public health and only deteriorates the environment even further," two Navajo opponents, Sarah Jane White and Anna Frazier, wrote in a recent editorial.

Sithe officials say in addition to helping the Navajos develop Desert Rock as a revenue source, they are committed to protecting the environment.

Frank Maisano, a spokesman for the energy company, said Desert Rock will be one of the nation's cleanest coal-burning plants with an array of scrubbers and other technology focused on plucking mercury and other potentially harmful pollutants from the plant's emissions.

"This draft permit really puts some meat on the bones of what we say we will do on the environmental issues," Maisano said.

Gerardo Rios, chief of the EPA's Region 9 air-division-permit office, said Thursday that the draft permit calls for Desert Rock to limit its sulfur-dioxide and nitrogen-dioxide emissions to an average of 0.060 pounds per million British thermal units.

With those limits, he called Desert Rock "one of the tightest" coal-fired plants.

Desert Rock's permit, which details the pollution-control systems to be used at the plant, has even caught the attention of other energy producers around the country.

Rios said some companies are making changes to their proposals in an effort to keep up with what looks to be a new level of performance for coal-fired plants.


Desert Rock Energy Project:

Environmental Protection Agency:


originally found in the Santa Fe New Mexican


Reprinted as an historical reference document under the Fair Use doctrine of international copyright law.