Environment: Feds face legal challenge over Four Corners power plant approval

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

Climate impacts, environmental justice at issue in looming legal battle

Staff Report

Community and environmental activists say they’ll contest federal approval of continued operations at the giant pollution-spewing Four Corners Power Plant in court.

In a formal notice of their intent to sue, the groups said Office of Surface Mining, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other federal agencies failed to look at clean energy alternatives and didn’t adequately consider the carbon pollution, health and other environmental impacts when they approved operation of the plant last summer. The notice also says the environmental studies didn’t look at water contamination from coal ash waste, and impacts to Navajo culture.

“While the rest of the world is transitioning to alternative forms of energy, the Four Corners Power Plant continues to burn coal and will do so for the next 25 years,” said Colleen Cooley with Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment. “Prolonging coal not only condemns our health and the water, air, and land around us, it undermines our community’s economic future because we are not investing and transitioning to clean energy,” Colley said.

“The U.S. government supposedly sees the importance of the transition to the clean energy economy nowadays, so it’s really an affront to Four Corners area residents when the feds won’t even provide honest evaluation of pollution or solar and wind alternatives at Four Corners Power Plant and Navajo Mine,” said Mike Eisenfeld with San Juan Citizens Alliance. “All of us in the Southwest deserve at least an honest expert analysis.”

The notice cites violations of the Endangered Species Act, and will be followed in 60 days by additional claims under the National Environmental Policy Act relating to pollution impacts on climate, people and local communities.

Alone the threat of more mercury contamination should be enough to give federal agencies second thoughts about their approval, said Rachel Conn, interim executive director for Amigos Bravos.

“Mercury is the top cause of water quality impairment in New Mexico lakes and reservoirs,” Conn said. More than 60,000 acres of lakes and reservoirs are polluted by mercury, she explained.

Western Environmental Law Center attorney Shiloh Hernandez said the feds skirted legal requirements in their analysis.

“What this really shows is the outdated and heavily polluting Navajo Mine and Four Corners Power Plant can’t operate in compliance with the law. These facilities are obsolete and need to transition,” Hernandez said.

Groups party to today’s notice include Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, San Juan Citizens Alliance, Amigos Bravos, Center for Biological Diversity, and Sierra Club. They are represented by attorneys Shiloh Hernandez, Matt Kenna, Kyle Tisdel and Laura King of the Western Environmental Law Center, John Barth, and Michael Saul of Center for Biological Diversity.


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