Environmental groups challenge continued operation of giant Four Corners coal-burning power plant

The Four Corners Power Plant in a 1972 photo via Wikipedia.
The Four Corners Power Plant in a 1972 photo via Wikipedia.

Global warming impacts, health of Native American communities at issue in new federal study

Staff Report

FRISCO — President Obama may be all about tackling global warming by reducing greenhouse gas emissions these days, but that message hasn’t trickled to to various government agencies, including the Interior Department’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, which last week released a draft environmental study on continued operation of the Four Corners Power Plant and Navajo Mine Energy Project.

The giant coal-burning facility is one of the biggest sources of heat-trapping greenhouse gases and other toxic air pollutants in the country, yet the draft study, which would permit continued operation for another 25 years, appears to ignore any option besides business-as-usual, according to environmental groups, who say they will challenge the federal government because it failed to look at impacts on climate and to wildlife and people.

A spokesperson for Native American residents of the Four Corners area said the power plant is already having huge health impacts on people in the region.

“Residents are at high risk in the impacted areas from both coal ash and the coal burning power plant,” said said Sarah Jane White, of Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment.”The DEIS claims that health impacts from 25 more years of FCPP and Navajo Mine would be minor when there are known public-health crises throughout the area,” White said.

“More than half the population in the Four Corners area suffering from respiratory, kidney, heart, digestive system and central brain problems, meningitis, cancer and rheumatoid arthritis from living in this pollution so tell me there is no health impact in the Four Corners. The DEIS complete failure on public health represents one of the worst environmental justice situations in the country,” she said.

According to comments submitted by conservation advocates, the study is riddled with significant flaws and ignores any possibility of shutting down the plant in favor of cleaner energy.

Deficiencies in the study include a lack of analysis of alternatives, such as early retirement of the power plant in favor of cleaner energy options including wind and solar; inadequate consideration of carbon pollution impacts and climate risks; neglect of public-health considerations; minimization of projected water impacts and threats from coal combustion waste; ignorance of Navajo law and impacts to local culture; and failure to assess financial terms and trust assets at the coal complex.

“OSM’s failure to adequately assess the health and water impacts from the continued burning of coal at Four Corners Power Plant is unacceptable,” said Nellis Kennedy-Howard of the Sierra Club. “Four Corners Power Plant is over 50 years old — it’s time to move to clean and safe alternatives in renewable energy.”

“We are disappointed that OSM has failed to fulfill its obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act to ensure that the impacts of another 25 years of operation at this coal complex are presented both to the agency and to the public,” said Megan Anderson of the Western Environmental Law Center.  “Without an honest accounting of impacts, OSM cannot make a rational decision about continued operations.”

“Interior’s draft plan obscures the well-documented fact that mercury and selenium pollution from Four Corners and other regional coal plants imperil the survival and recovery of highly endangered fish species in the San Juan River,” said Michael Saul, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The federal agencies can’t rubber-stamp the same lethal coal development that their own science shows to be causing fish extinctions.”

“Given the link between coal-fired power plant emissions and extreme environmental/economic/health impacts, it is alarming the Department of the Interior and cooperating agencies continue the sacrifice of the Southwest region of U.S. prioritizing 25 more years of the coal complex, ignoring renewable technologies and innovation. At the same time that the scientific community and Obama administration acknowledge climate change, increased drought, wildfire, and water scarcity currently occurring in the region, the DEIS falls way short,” said Mike Eisenfeld, New Mexico energy coordinator for San Juan Citizens Alliance. “The Department of the Interior must address the deficiencies in the draft version of their EIS.”

Western Environmental Law Center filed comments on behalf of Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, the Center for Biological Diversity, Amigos Bravos, WildEarth Guardians, Sierra Club and San Juan Citizens Alliance.


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