Five groups ask court to halt coal mining

Environmentalists say feds failed to consider cumulative impacts

A local environmental group is one of five organizations suing the federal government over its approval of a proposed expansion of the coal mine that supplies the Four Corners Power Plant in northern New Mexico.

The lawsuit, filed last week, challenges the U.S. Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement’s approval of a 714-acre expansion of the Navajo Coal Mine in northern New Mexico.

The plaintiffs argue the federal agency did not evaluate the indirect and cumulative impacts of the mine expansion.

The extraction, combustion and waste disposal of the additional coal will cause the release of significant amounts of air and water pollution that will adversely affect the Four Corners and beyond, the lawsuit claims.

Coal ash disposal, dust accumulation, traffic and contamination of water sources are other potential environmental impacts, said Mike Eisenfeld, the New Mexico energy coordinator at the San Juan Citizens Alliance, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

The office of surface mining “put on blinders to the cumulative reality of coal operations at the mine and the power plant,” Eisenfeld said.

The approval “hides the true magnitude of the damage caused by coal mining and combustion in our region and the risks of green-lighting more of the same with no change,” he said.

The groups argue the federal agency should pursue a more-detailed analysis of the environmental impacts of mine expansion.

Mine operator BHP Billington is willing to discuss with the environmental groups the cumulative environmental impacts, said Jac Fourie, president of BHP Billiton’s New Mexico Coal operations, according to news reports.

The 714-acre expansion is a scaled-down version of the company’s 2010 proposal to strip mine 3,800 acres on the same site.

A Colorado district judge ruled the Office of Surface Mining’s analysis of that proposal insufficient.

The current expansion proposal permits the company to extract 12.7 million tons of coal that will be burned at the Four Corners Power Plant.

“The two facilities are inextricably connected,” Eisenfeld said.

The mine needs the expansion permit to fulfill its contract with the power plant, he said.

The Four Corners Power Plant provides electricity to California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

It is the largest coal-fired power plant and the largest single source of nitrogen oxides in the country.

Recent regulations proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that target toxic pollutants would reduce the plant’s emissions by 87 percent.

ecowan@durangoherald.com

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