Tag Archives: Four-corners Power Plant

5/23/2012 The Durango Herald: Five groups ask court to halt coal mining Environmentalists say feds failed to consider cumulative impacts

5/23/2012 The Durango Herald: Five groups ask court to halt coal mining- Environmentalists say feds failed to consider cumulative impacts By Emery Cowan 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

8/29/2011 Asociated Press: Environmental review of Navajo mine moves forward

8/29/2011 Asociated Press: Environmental review of Navajo mine moves forward by SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN: ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A federal review of the potential environmental effects of expanding a coal mining operation on the Navajo reservation will continue uninterrupted after a panel of federal judges dismissed an appeal by the mine operator that tried to stop the assessment. Conservation groups hailed the decision from the three-judge panel with the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. The ruling prevents BHP Billiton from expanding its operation on tribal land in northwestern New Mexico while federal regulators re-assess the effects of the Navajo Minepermit on the environment and cultural and historic resources in the area. The mine covers thousands of acres and produces coal for the Four Corners Power Plant, one of the largest coal-fired generating stations in the U.S. The plant, operated by Arizona Public Service Co., provides electricity for customers in New Mexico, Arizona and other parts of the Southwest.

BHP Billiton said Monday it was reviewing the court’s decision and that operations were continuing in all areas except the parcel covered by the proposed expansion.

“BHP Billiton’s New Mexico coal operations have an overriding commitment to protect and care for the environment,” the company said in a statement, pointing to its reclamation work throughout the region.

Mike Eisenfeld of the group San Juan Citizens Alliance said the ruling affirms the responsibility of the U.S. Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement to “properly analyze the significant impacts” of mining on the parcel known as Area IV North.

The San Juan Citizens Alliance and Dine Citizens Against Ruining our Environment sued in 2007, claiming the agency violated federal laws when renewing the mine’s permit in 2004 and approving a revised permit in 2005.

They argue an environmental impact statement needs to be done before the revised permit can be approved. Such a review would require consultation with other federal agencies, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages endangered species in the Four Corners region.

The groups’ lawsuit claimed the Office of Surface Mining did not provide adequate public notice and failed to fully analyze potential consequences as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

The groups also complained the agency failed to assess the impacts of continuing to dump coal combustion waste from nearby power plants back into the mine.

In a ruling last October, U.S. District Judge John Kane of Colorado voided the approval of the 2005 permit. He requested that the Office of Surface Mining address potential environmental impacts and discuss mitigation measures, alternatives and possible conditions for approval of the permit.

Friday’s ruling stemmed from BHP Billiton’s appeal of Kane’s decision.

BHP Billiton has submitted a permit revision to mining regulators that includes Area IV North. Public meetings have been held on the application, but it’s unclear when the agency will issue a final decision on the permit.
http://www.chron.com/news/article/Environmental-review-of-Navajo-mine-moves-forward-2146516.php

Mike Eisenfeld
New Mexico Energy Coordinator
San Juan Citizens Alliance
108 North Behrend, Suite I
Farmington, New Mexico 87401
office 505 325-6724
cell 505 360-8994
meisenfeld@frontier.net

Durango Telegraph: EPA cracks down on San Juan Generating Station

Durango Telegraph: EPA cracks down on area power plantOne of the Four Corners biggest polluters is in line for a make-over. Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency announced new rules that will require “modern controls” for the San Juan Generating Station. Not surprisingly, Public Service Co. of New Mexico (PNM), the power plant’s owner, has objected to the new ruling and is already planning an appeal. Located just west of Farmington, the San Juan Generating Station has been burning coal to generate electricity for more than 40 years. The plant also produces 16,000 tons of smog-causing nitrogen oxide emissions each year and is ranked as the ninth dirtiest coal-fired plant in the West. Nitrogen oxide not only creates haze, it is a primary ingredient in ground-level ozone, “the most widespread pollutant in the United State (and) one of the most dangerous,” according to the American Lung Association. Ozone has been linked with asthma attacks, respiratory problems, lung damage and premature death.

The EPA rule announced last Thursday will require the addition of selective catalytic reduction (SCR) pollution controls on the plant’s four boilers in the next five years. The upgrade is expected to cut nitrogen oxide emissions by 80 percent. The announcement is also a landmark and the EPA’s first federal plan in the country to limit nitrogen oxide emissions under the Clean Air Act. Watchdogs and conservationists hailed the move as a victory.

“We are pleased that EPA has done right in this precedent setting rule-making for the communities adversely affected by continued reliance on energy export coal-derived electricity,” said Mike Eisenfeld, of San Juan Citizens Alliance. “The true costs of relying on coal are coming to bear, and PNM is being held accountable for their pollution.”

The State of New Mexico and PNM take a dimmer view and had been lobbying for a different approach to pollution control at the San Juan Generating Station. However, their plan would have cut nitrogen oxide emissions by just 20 percent. The company is now arguing that the EPA’s plan will be an undue burden on New Mexico customers and is planning to appeal the decision.

“The EPA plan adds unnecessary costs to one of our lowest-cost sources of reliable power,” said Pat Themig, PNM vice president of generation. “If it stands, it will lead to significantly higher future electric rates for the 2 million customers who rely on the plant for reasonably priced power.”

Themig added that the EPA plan will require expenditures in excess of $750 million, while PNM’s would have cost just $77 million. The State of New Mexico concurred and in June approved the lower cost option at San Juan.

“The Clean Air Act gives each state the authority to implement a regional haze program appropriate for the state, and New Mexico exercised this authority when it approved its own plan in June,” Themig said. “EPA’s decision does not relieve it of legal responsibility to fully consider New Mexico’s plan.”

Eisenfeld countered that Themig’s argument is beside the point and argued that the company should be exploring 21st century technology and abandoning its reliance on coal-fired power.

“PNM could be transitioning to more sustainable energy forms in the Four Corners region that more readily reflect current renewable energy technologies rather than retrofitting 1970s archaic coal plants at continued high cost to our communities,” he said.

Donna House, of Diné CARE, a Navajo conservation organization, agreed. “Pollution from this plant has been hurting our communities for generations,” she said. “Cutting coal pollution is a must, and moving to a cleaner energy than coal is the real answer.”

8/10/2011 High Country News: Haze be gone

8/10/2011 High Country News: Haze be gone: When I started researching regional haze rules a few months back, a source warned me that I was wading into the Clean Air Act’s wonkiest, most technically complicated depths. I remember her asking me something like: “Are you sure you want to go there?” Which is to say, you’d be forgiven if you paid little attention to regional haze. Eyes tend to glaze over at mention of the term. But here’s why you should care about haze rules: They’re poised to make a major dent in the air pollutants spewed from the West’s oldest, dirtiest coal-fired power plants. Facing huge costs to bring it into compliance with haze regulation, the Boardman power plant in Oregon decided to close in 2020, 20 years ahead of schedule. The Navajo Generating Station could suffer a similar fate. And last week, after rejecting the state of New Mexico’s plan for clearing the haze caused by emissions from the San Juan Generating Station, the Environmental Protection Agency issued the final version of its own plan for the coal plant,which requires it to install better pollution controls that reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by a whopping 80 percent.

The goal of the haze rules is to restore air quality in national parks and wilderness areas, or Class 1 areas in regulatory jargon. The San Juan Generating Station is to thank for most of the air pollution that shrouds Mesa Verde. And the pollutants falling under haze regulation also impact public health, causing respiratory ailments and asthma, for example. According to the Summit County Citizens Voice, the San Juan Generating Station and the Four Corners Power Plant nearby are collectively responsible “for at least two-thirds of total nitrogen oxide pollution in San Juan County … and a quarter of all nitrogen oxide emissions statewide in New Mexico. The American Lung Association has given San Juan County an “F” grade for ozone pollution due to the number of days each year that it surpasses levels of ozone concentrations that the ALA considers unhealthy.”

Environmentalists are praising the EPA’s crackdown on the generating station, and hoping it’s a sign of more tough rules to come. As the Citizens Voice reports: “There are decades-old plants with major pollution problems in more than 40 other states that will face similar decisions on pollution upgrades in the coming year or two.”

Cally Carswell is HCN’s assistant editor.
http://www.hcn.org/hcn/blogs/goat/haze-be-gone

Mike Eisenfeld
New Mexico Energy Coordinator
San Juan Citizens Alliance
108 North Behrend, Suite I
Farmington, New Mexico 87401
office 505 325-6724
cell 505 360-8994
meisenfeld@frontier.net

Op Ed on San Juan Generating Station: Healthy Air is Healthy for Our Economy

Op Ed on San Juan Generating Station: Healthy Air is Healthy for Our Economy By David Van Winkle and Adella Begaye: Labored breathing, coughing, burning lungs. If you’ve done outdoor activity on a hot day with bad air quality, you may know the feeling. For a child with asthma, those high-smog days can bring on suffocating attacks. For someone with respiratory or cardiovascular problems, they can be fatal. That’s why the recent news is so welcome that one of our region’s biggest air polluters – the San Juan Generating Station – will have to dramatically reduce its emissions. On Friday, Aug. 5, the EPA announced that it will require the nearly 40-year-old coal-burning power plant near Farmington to cut its nitrogen oxide emissions by more than 80 percent.

Nitrogen oxide is one of the raw ingredients in ozone, the invisible chemical in smog that the American Lung Association calls “the most widespread pollutant in the U.S. [and] one of the most dangerous.” Ozone leads to asthma attacks, respiratory problems, lung damage, and even premature death. Nitrogen oxide is also an ingredient in fine particle pollution that penetrates deeply into the lungs.

The San Juan plant near Farmington dumps nearly 16,000 tons of nitrogen oxide into the air each year. If you add in emissions from the nearby 48-year-old Four Corners Power Plant – another of the nation’s dirtiest – the two account for at least two-thirds of all nitrogen oxide pollution in San Juan County and a quarter of the total statewide.

That outsized negative impact on our air is why requiring old coal plants to install overdue pollution controls is so important. Especially in the surrounding areas most affected by their pollution, such as on the Navajo Nation, we’ve seen the pollution linked to too many children and adults who need frequent medical attention for asthma and other respiratory problems.

The harm done to human health by these coal pollutants carries heavy financial costs. Asthma attacks, heart attacks, premature deaths and hospital visits from San Juan Generating Station’s pollution add up to an estimated $255 million a year in health care expenses that are passed on to the public, according to the independent Clean Air Task Force.

In its effort to keep San Juan Generating Station running without adequate pollution controls, PNM has greatly exaggerated the cost of the pollution controls – called selective catalytic reduction – that are needed to meet EPA’s nitrogen oxide limit. According to EPA, which bases its estimates on hundreds of other plants that have already installed this technology, it should cost $345 million to bring San Juan up to standard – one-third of the exaggerated costs PNM is claiming.

In fact, the billion-dollar cost estimate PNM is making up for installing selective catalytic reduction is nearly twice the highest cost on record for any previous installation of these controls. Given that PNM owns just under half the facility, the cost that it should really be putting forth publicly is about $160 million.

Compared to the toll on human health exacted by burning coal and the resulting $255 million in health-care savings that New Mexico residents would see, it makes perfect economic sense to simply bring San Juan up to the standards that other plants across the country already meet.

Ultimately, though, it makes even more sense to weigh any of these costs against the idea of beginning now to transition away from coal to clean and renewable energy sources.

Wind and solar are abundant in New Mexico and could provide significant job opportunities. Clean energy does not drain scarce water supplies like burning coal does, it has no cost implications for public health, and it avoids the millions needed to retrofit an old coal plant.

PNM’s continued reliance on coal isn’t saving us money — just the opposite. The company has raised rates 25 percent in the past three years and is proposing to raise rates another 20 percent over the next two. These rate increases aren’t from renewable energy – PNM’s most recent quarterly report shows zero in capital expenditures for clean energy for the next four years. The utility keeps raising rates to cover the increasing costs of burning coal and running an aging coal plant. If it really put a priority on costs, PNM should be doing so much more to embrace energy efficiency programs that are industry-proven to save ratepayers money.

With energy rates going up because of coal, with health costs high because of coal, and with old coal plants like San Juan Generating Station requiring major expenditures to better protect health, isn’t it time now to generate more of our electricity from a clean source to begin with?

For so many kids and adults who have been breathing coal-plant pollution for generations – and for so many New Mexicans who’ve been paying for the increasing costs of coal – the answer to that question will mean a world of difference.

David Van Winkle is a member of the Rio Grande Chapter of Sierra Club.

Adella Begaye has 20 years of experience as a registered nurse working on the Navajo Nation.