Public participation

This is alphabet soup, but important. The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement – OSMRE – is part of the Department of Interior, charged with just what its name suggests. Together with the Navajo Nation, the Hopi Tribe and other federal agencies, it will be holding a series of public hearings in the near future to discuss and take public input on the draft Environmental Impact Statement concerning the Four Corners Power Plant and the Navajo Mine. Anyone who lives, works or breathes in or around the Four Corners should consider attending.

Under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977, OSMRE is responsible for protecting people and the environment from the dangerous and destructive aspects of coal mining, while also recognizing the nation’s energy requirements. That sounds like the sort of dual mandate that contorts so many federal agencies, but OSMRE must also meet the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act, which says an EIS must accompany any federal action “significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.”

As OSMRE puts it, the Four Corners Power Plant and the Navajo Mine “generate a complex and controversial suite of issues.” Those include concerns about the economic health and advancement of the associated tribes, which largely translates to jobs, as well as the ongoing need for homegrown and reliable energy.

But above all, and most especially for residents of Southwest Colorado, the issue is air quality and the power plant’s effect on the region’s environment and quality of life. Haze generated by the Four Corners Power Plant is clearly visible from parts of Southwest Colorado. Elevated levels of mercury in area lakes is attributable to its exhaust, and residents have been cautioned to limit their consumption of fish taken from local reservoirs.

That kind of pollution, in a place that should be essentially pristine, can affect not only our health – and that of our children – but the region’s economy as well. Regardless of how or why they come here, visitors neither need nor want to spend money to visit air they can see or catch fish they should not eat. Most can get experiences like that closer to home.

There are several ways members of the public can weigh in on this. They can send or take a letter to OSMRE Western Region Office at 1999 Broadway, Suite 3320, Denver, CO 80202. Or they can email their comments to FCPPNavajoEnergyEIS@osmre.gov.

Better yet, concerned individuals can show up in person. OSMRE will be holding an open-house public meeting from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, May 1, in the commons area at Montezuma-Cortez High School. Another will take place from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday, May 3 in the Peaks Room in the Durango Community Recreation Center.

Other such public meetings will be held around the Four Corners in New Mexico and Arizona. For information about them, visit www.wrcc.osmre.gov/initiatives/fourCorners/publicinvolvement.shtm.

It is alphabet soup and bureaucracy at its finest. But it concerns something that matters to everyone in Southwest Colorado. Take the time and make yourself heard.

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