August 1, 2008

EPA Approves Desert Rock Air Permit

By Cornelia de Bruin, The Daily Times, Farmington, N.M.

Aug. 1--FARMINGTON -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued an air permit for Desert Rock Power Plant on Thursday, the final day it was mandated to act on the long-delayed permit.

EPA agreed to act by Thursday after it was sued by the Dine Power Authority and Sithe Global Power earlier this year.

U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., informed The Daily Times of the decision after he received the news from EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson on Thursday morning.

Opponents of the proposed 1,500-megawatt, coal-fired plant, which would be built near Burnham on the Navajo Nation, criticized the decision.

"This is a serious blow to the Navajo tribal members who provided comments to EPA. The U.S. EPA has failed us and undermined us," said Dailan Long, Dine Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, one of the groups that opposed construction of Desert Rock. "Nothing is being done about the health issues we raised. The tribal elders are outraged that their comments

were ignored."

Also outraged is Elouise Brown of Dooda Desert Rock.

"I hope and pray the people who made this decision never sleep again," she said. "How can people make this kind of decision that puts people at risk?"

Brown characterized the power plant as a "kind of torture to our people, Mother Earth and the environment.

"If they're part of EPA they have to realize the pollution goes worldwide, it's just not affecting my family ... somebody's paying off somebody," she said. "If your relative is sick (from pollution and its health effects) money will not buy their health back."

Brown vowed to continue fighting the Desert Rock plant.

Dine CARE hopes a larger environmental group will partner with it in its fight against Desert Rock. Dine CARE is working with Earthjustice, the Clean Air Task Force and Sierra Club regarding its legal options.

Supporters of the plant say it will add hundreds of permanent jobs that the Navajo Nation desperately needs. They also say it would be among the cleanest coal-fired plants ever built. San Juan County is already home to two coal-powered plants -- Four Corners Power Plant and San Juan Generating Station.

Gov. Bill Richardson and Attorney General Gary King said they will will "immediately" file an appeal of the decision.

"EPA is bending to the will of corporate, financial and misguided political interests that will pollute New Mexico's skies," Richardson said.

The decision ignores the agency's obligations to protect residents' health and the state's environment, he added.

Dine CARE published a study in January that viewed the plant in the context of the Navajo traditional world view. Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. used the same language in reacting to news the air permit was issued.

He said the tribe's officials are "doing the best we can to do our part to take care of the environment, but "at the same time, we know that the deities want us to take care of ourselves, to stand on our own two feet, as individuals, as families, as a community, as a nation. And that's certainly what Desert Rock is about."

For its part, EPA focused on the plant's stringent pollution emission limits and its high-tech equipment in announcing its action.

"The Desert Rock Power Plant will be one of the cleanest pulverized coal-burning power plants in the country," EPA Regional Administrator Wayne Nastri said.

EPA made several improvements to the permit in response to the more-than 1,000 public comment letters submitted, its release stated.

"Emission limits required by the permit for the Desert Rock Power Plant ... are some of the most stringent in the country and will set a new level of performance for coal-fired plants in the United States," EPA's release stated.

From the beginning the tribe's leaders have supported the project, touting the plant's 2,000 to 3,000 construction jobs and first-year operating revenue of $54 million.

In addition to the air permit, Desert Rock still must obtain a federal Environmental Impact Statement before it can begin construction.

Cornelia de Bruin: [email protected]


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