Coal mine, plant due for review

Four Corners energy complex must clear environmental hurdle

Local environmental groups applauded an announcement Wednesday that the federal government will conduct a full environmental review of the Four Corners Power Plant and the Navajo Coal Mine in northwestern New Mexico.

The Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement will prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for the entire mine and power plant complex. The process will be the first comprehensive environmental analysis of the complex’ impacts in its 50-year history, according to a news release sent out by several environmental groups.

“In many ways, this is an affirmation that this is a significant project, and it warrants a thorough Environmental Impact Statement,” said Mike Eisenfeld, New Mexico energy coordinator at the San Juan Citizens Alliance. The fact that the impact statement will evaluate the power plant and the coal mine is an acknowledgement that the two entities are “connected and need to be looked at together,” Eisenfeld said.

The Office of Surface Mining’s analysis will evaluate the effects of coal combustion at the power plant, the effects of mining at the Navajo Coal Mine, the effects of coal combustion waste disposal and the effects associated with transmission corridors that deliver electricity to California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

The office also will consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure that proposed actions at the coal complex comply with federal laws protecting threatened and endangered species.

The impact statement, which could take up to 2 years to complete, will determine whether the facility will continue to operate beyond 2016, Eisenfeld said.

Dual permit requests from the Navajo Coal Mine and the Four Corners Power Plant triggered the Environmental Impact Statement process. The Navajo Mine requested a permit to expand its area and the power plant requested a 25-year permit renewal that would include a project to improve emissions controls. Environmental reviews are required by law before the issuances of such permits.

BHP Billiton, which operates the Navajo Mine, agrees that it is appropriate for the Office of Surface Mining to conduct a thorough review of impacts of the coal complex, said Jac Fourie, president of the company’s New Mexico coal operations.

“We’re a company committed to operating in a responsible manner and part of that is that we are transparent about how we operate and what impacts we’re having,” Fourie said.

The Four Corners Power Plant was built in 1962 and emits more nitrogen oxides than any other coal-fired power plant in the United States, the San Juan Citizens Alliance news release said.

As a part of the process of drafting the Environmental Impact Statement, the Office of Surface Mining will accept comments from the public that identify issues or concerns the agency should consider.

Those comments are due Sept. 17.

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