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Environmentalists file intent to sue federal agencies over power plant

Groups question keeping Four Corners Power Plant open for 25 more years
A coalition of environmental groups has filed a notice of intent to sue the Office of Surface Mining, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and others over a July decision to allow the Four Corners Power Plant to operate through 2041.

A coalition of environmental groups announced earlier this week its intent to take legal action against several federal agencies for extending operations at the Four Corners Power Plant and Navajo Mine just outside Farmington.

On Dec. 21, San Juan Citizen Alliance, among other regional and national conservation groups, filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue the Office of Surface Mining, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and others over a July decision to allow the plant to operate until 2041.

“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,” Colleen Cooley with Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment said in a news release. “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.”

Mike Eisenfeld with San Juan Citizens Alliance said approving continued operations at the coal plant goes against the U.S. government’s recent focus on clean energy, evidenced by the Paris Climate talks, which brought together world leaders to come to an agreement on reducing fossil fuel emissions.

“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,” Eisenfeld said. “All of us in the Southwest deserve at least an honest expert analysis.”

The group claims that by approving an extension to Four Corners Power Plant, the U.S. government violates the Endangered Species Act, the Administrative Procedure Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, calling the plant “among the most notorious for coal contamination in the country.”

“Federal agencies must assure that coal operations follow the law. What agencies can’t do is bend the law to accommodate coal operations, but that’s just what they did here,” said Western Environmental Law Center Attorney Shiloh Hernandez in a prepared statement. “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.”

The 52-year old power plant and coal mine is in the Navajo Nation, about 15 miles southwest of Farmington, and operated by Arizona Public Service Company.

The Environmental Protection Agency listed the Four Corners Generating Station as the fourth-highest producer of toxins in New Mexico, according to the agency’s Toxics Release Inventory.

The coalition claims that pollution generated from the plant, namely mercury seeping into the San Juan River, has created public health problems, threats to endangered species and impacts to Navajo culture.

And with the new federal standards on carbon emissions released through the Clean Power Plan, many environmentalists see coal-burning plants as a thing of the past. In December, the Public Regulation Commission in New Mexico voted 4-1 to close half of the units operating at the San Juan Generating Station, also just west of Farmington.

“This toxic, outdated facility has been wreaking havoc on the health of people and ecosystems for far too long,” Nellis Kennedy-Howard, senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, said in a news release.

“The Office of Surface Mining and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ignored the obvious environmental impacts of this facility when they approved extending its life.”

The lawsuit brings together conservation groups 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 and John Barth and Michael Saul of Center for Biological Diversity.

jromeo@durangoherald.com

Apr 20, 2016
Environmental groups sue over New Mexico coal plant
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