Feds plan to take a look at cumulative impacts from emissions, coal mining, and will consider alternatives, including renewable energy
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — After 50 years of operation, the Four Corners Power Plant will get a hard look from federal officials, who are planning an environmental study to scrutinize cumulative impacts from one of biggest coal-burning operations in the country.
The plant, operated by Arizona Public Service Co., provides power to about 300,000 households in New Mexico, Arizona, California and Texas. It has been operating since 1963.
“We have worked for decades to get an accurate assessment of the impacts from the Four Corners Power Plant and the Navajo Mine,” said Anna Frazier, of Diné CARE. “Navajo communities have endured significant impacts to water, land, air, public health and our culture which must now be considered. We are hopeful that public-health data from entities including Indian Health Service, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and EPA will be incorporated correctly in the EIS,” she said.
Diné CARE is one of the groups with pending lawsuits related to permitting actions at the power plant and associated coal mine. One suit challenges the agency’s failure to protect endangered species from coal pollution under the Endangered Species Act; another challenges the adequacy of a National Environmental Policy Act review authorizing the mine’s expansion.
Possibly seeing the writing on the wall, the Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement said this week it will review the entire “mine-to-mouth” coal complex. located in northwestern New Mexico along the San Juan River.
“The connectivity of Four Corners Power Plant and Navajo Mine is essential in evaluating the potential future of the coal complex, given the nearly 50-year perspective of impacts to the Four Corners Region from coal-derived electricity generation,” said Mike Eisenfeld, New Mexico energy coordinator at the San Juan Citizens Alliance. “The proposed EIS will be a huge undertaking requiring accurate analyses.”
The studies will evaluate the effects of coal combustion at the 2,040-megawatt power plant, the effects of mining at BHP Billiton’s 13,000-acre Navajo Mine and the effects of coal combustion waste disposal; it will also analyze impacts associated with transmission corridors that deliver electricity to markets.
The Office of Surface Mining will also conduct formal consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure that the proposed actions at the coal complex comply with federal laws that protect threatened and endangered species.
The notice invites “environmentally preferred alternatives” to be introduced by the public for analysis, including a transition to renewable-energy facilities. Public comments on the development of the draft Environmental Impact Statement are due Sept. 17, 2012.
“For decades coal pollution has been affecting people, lakes, rivers and farmland in the San Juan Basin, and it’s even driving endangered fish toward extinction,” said Taylor McKinnon, public lands campaigns director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “This long-overdue analysis is an important step along the way to an equitable transition to clean, renewable energy solutions that help people and the environment.”
“Pollution from coal mining and coal-fired power plants threaten New Mexico’s precious water resources,” said Brian Shields, Amigos Bravos executive director. “We are hopeful and pleased that those threats can now be fully analyzed and exposed to public scrutiny.”
“The agency has a responsibility to address pollution from the mine and the power plant as a whole,” said Megan Anderson of the Western Environmental Law Center. “Moreover, it’s just plain common sense for it do so; pretending that the people and environment surrounding this area are suffering impacts from only one source at a time just ignores the fact that this mine and power plant sit next to each other and operate as a mine-to-mouth complex.”
Built in 1962, Four Corners Power Plant provides electricity to California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas; it emits more nitrogen oxides than any other coal-fired power plant in the United States. Nitrogen oxides are associated with respiratory disease, heart attacks and strokes. It also emits CO2, mercury, selenium and other heavy metals into the air and water, further polluting nearby communities, farmlands, lakes, rivers and habitat for endangered species.