Tag Archives: Sierra Club

12/21/2011 Sierra Club Applauds President Obama for Landmark Mercury Protection

Sierra Club Applauds President Obama for Landmark Mercury Protection – Measure will protect families, women and children from toxic brain poison: Washington, D.C. — Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rolled out landmark nationwide protections for toxic mercury from dirty power plants. Mercury is a dangerous brain poison that taints the fish we eat and poses a particular threat to prenatal babies and young children. Exposure in the bloodstreams of pregnant and nursing women can result in birth defects such as learning disabilities, lowered IQ, deafness, blindness and cerebral palsy. Coal-fired power plants are the largest source of mercury pollution in the United States, pumping more than 33 tons of this dangerous toxin into our air and water each year.

The new protection, which replaces a weak, court-rejected standard from the Bush Administration, will slash mercury pollution from power plants by more than 90 percent and improve air quality for millions of Americans.

In response, Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, issued the following statement:

“Today’s announcement from President Obama and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson marks a milestone for parents and families across the country. It means that, after decades of delay, we now have strong nationwide protections against toxic mercury, and most of all, it means peace of mind for the parents of more than 300,000 American babies born every year that have been exposed to dangerous levels of mercury.

“The Sierra Club applauds the President and his Administration for their courage and resolve in protecting American families – particularly women and children – from this dangerous toxin and for standing up to polluters’ attempts to weaken this life-saving protection.

“More than 800,000 public comments – a record – were filed in support of the protection, and we are pleased that the President heard the concerns of the American people.”


For more information, visit www.sierraclub.org/mercury.

For mercury B-roll footage, click here.

Great news! Please spread the word.

1. National Sierra Club statement below — English — http://sc.org/suqS23

2. National Sierra Club statement — Spanish — http://sc.org/rFj4A1

3. State by state benefits of the mercury protection (click on your state) —  http://www.epa.gov/mats/

4. Blog post from Mary Anne Hitt. Please retweet and share.  http://sc.org/tUSt7L
5. Email thank you take action to President Obama — English — http://sc.org/udH6gO

6. Email thank you take action to President Obama — Spanish — http://sc.org/s1vbfJ

Oliver Bernstein, National Communications Strategist

Sierra Club
Phone: 512.477.2152 x102
Cell:  512.289.8618

11/7/2011 Forgotten People MEDIA RELEASE: Peabody Kayenta mine permit renewal – Dooda (No)

Forgotten People MEDIA RELEASE: Peabody Kayenta mine permit renewal – Dooda (No): Black Mesa, AZ-On November 3, 2011, Forgotten People through their attorney Mick Harrison, Esq. with assistance from GreenFire Consulting Group, LLC joined Black Mesa Water Coalition, Diné C.A.R.E., To Nizhoni Ani, Center for Biological Diversity, and Sierra Club in submitting comments to oppose the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Surface Mining (OSM) decision to approve a controversial mine permit renewal for Peabody Coal Company’s Kayenta mine.

OSM’s Environmental Assessment (EA) improperly discounts and ignores the substantial adverse impacts on the traditional Dine’ that result from Peabody’s mining activities including destruction of sacred sites and contamination of air and water and adverse health effects to humans and animals. Norris Nez (Hathalie) stated: “In Black Mesa area there were many key sites where offerings were given and Peabody has destroyed these sites. That is why the prayers or ceremonies that were conducted are lost. It is because the land is destroyed.” Glenna Begay stated: “To protect and preserve endangered historic, cultural and sacred sites in and adjacent to Peabody’s lease area, Forgotten People submitted ‘Homeland’, a GIS interactive mapping project that shows continuous occupancy since before the creation of the Navajo and Hopi Tribes and before the Long Walk to Fort Sumner in 1864.”

The EA does not address the severe impacts on the families to be (apparently forcibly and involuntarily) relocated. Glenna Begay stated: “How can the EA say the residents of the four occupied houses have not indicated that they have concerns about relocation and impacts on traditional cultural resources. Contrary to the EA some of the families who are to be relocated refuse. The families that objected to relocation should have been properly identified and quoted on their opposition in the EA.“ Norris Nez stated, “If more mining takes place, more people will be forced to relocate. Relocation is death to our people and our future.”

Experts have testified about relocation effects, like Dr. Thayer Scudder from Cal Tech University who says, relocation= death, i.e., that relocated people die. Yet there is no meaningful assessment in the EA of the real, huge and acknowledged effects of mining and subsequent relocation on the lives of the Forgotten People.

Peabody’s mining activities have contaminated the locally-owned water sources, and local water sources are capped, there is no water left to drink, and the Forgotten People are now dependent on the Peabody water supply. “The drinking water crisis is further exacerbated by the recent (September 2011) discovery of uranium and arsenic contaminated wells on the Hopi Partition Land (HPL),” stated Karyn Moskowitz, MBA of GreenFire Consulting Group, LLC.

John Benally, Big Mountain stated: “People living in the vicinity of Peabody do not have adequate water to drink, are hauling their water over great distances, and in some areas are drinking uranium and arsenic contaminated water. Peabody must return use of the wells that rely on the Navajo Aquifer to the Forgotten People so people within the western Navajo Nation do not have to drink contaminated water. Use of the Navajo Aquifer to support mining activities must stop.”

In the over 300 page EA, there is no mention of arsenic and no study of the impacts this contaminated water has had on residents and will have on the future of the Forgotten People. The discovery of these highly poisonous compounds in people’s drinking water should have immediately shut down any plans for continued mining in order to assess where the contamination is coming from and what the connection is between Peabody Coal’s mining and the discovery of this uranium and arsenic contamination. Yet the EA does not study the impact that this situation has on the Forgotten People. Clean water is a basic human right.

The EA mistakenly dismisses the removal of millions of tons of coal via surface mining as not significant in terms of minerals and geologic impacts including impacts on fossils. The EA also incorrectly dismisses the potential for material damage to the N aquifer from Peabody activities.

“The EA does not take the health and environmental threats from coal dust releases seriously and fails to assess or identify mitigation options for the significant adverse health effects reported by residents as a result of Peabody mining activities,” stated Christine Glaser, Ph.D. of GreenFire Consulting Group, LLC. The EA is defective because it does not include or recommend a real study of the cumulative, long-term health effects of this coal dust on the Forgotten People, including chronic illness and death from Black Lung disease.

Caroline Tohannie, Black Mesa stated: “The EA failed to address the real dangers of using an unpermitted railroad to transport coal from Kayenta mine to the Navajo Generating Station (NGS). Insufficient barrier arms and warning lights have already resulted in the death of people and livestock.”

Attorney Harrison stated: “The EA makes scientific conclusions contrary to prevailing science and contrary to the federal environmental agencies’ own stated positions and conclusions regarding climate change. The EA blatantly violates the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by considering only the climate change impacts of the Peabody mining alone without assessing the cumulative impacts of coal mining and of the burning of the Peabody coal in the NGS together with burning of other coal in other coal fired power plants. Coal mining and coal combustion collectively have significant adverse impacts on climate change. Given the severity of the harm currently threatened from climate change, a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), not just an EA, is required.”

On January 5, 2010, Administrative Law Judge Robert Holt issued an order vacating Office of Surface Mining’s (OSM’s) approval of Peabody Coal Company’s proposed permit modification for a life-of-mine permit for the Black Mesa complex based on violations of NEPA. The Judge also found OSM failed to develop and consider reasonable alternatives to the proposed action.

The current OSM Environmental Assessment, Finding Of No Significant Impact, and Kayenta Mine permit renewal decision involve the same type of NEPA violation involving failure to identify, develop, and assess reasonable alternatives. Only two alternatives were developed: the mine alternative and the no mine alternative. Other alternatives could have and should have been assessed including no mining combined with development of alternative energy facilities such as solar and wind.

The Forgotten People hope OSM will consider all the comments received and make the right decision, which would be to deny renewal of the Kayenta Mine permit. Peabody Dooda (No). For further information, please contact Attorney Mick Harrison at (812) 361-6220 or Forgotten People at (928) 401-1777.


10/27/2011 EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson: Keystone conversation is 'awesome'

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson still offers some hope for a clean future. This from the Hill “Politico”. 10/27/2011 EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson: Keystone conversation is ‘awesome’ By Erica Martinson: EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson on Thursday took an artful dodge when asked by a student activist about the Keystone XL pipeline, praising civic engagement and promising that the EPA will “do its job.” “People ask me all the time, ‘What about this whole issue?’ To me, it’s awesome; it’s awesome that we’re having this conversation in this country. This should be a moment where we’re having a big conversation,” she said.

But, Jackson added a cautionary note: “This is a pipeline that cuts our country literally in half.” Jackson addressed a Sierra Club meeting of national campus activists, most of whom are focused on shutting down coal-fired power plants on their campuses and on other similar issues.

One student, Jarymar Arana from Texas — who plans to bring up the pipeline again this afternoon when the students visit the White House — thanked the administrator for its previous “robust review” of the pipeline and asked “if you will continue to stand up for the communities affected by Keystone XL.”

“Yes, that’s our job,” Jackson said, speaking of EPA’s obligation under the National Environmental Policy Act to review environmental impact statements.

But, she noted, “Everyone, I think, knows here that the actual decision-makers are the State Department.”

Jackson said the EPA is almost finished with its final comments on the pipeline, but declined to tell reporters when they would be completed.

She noted President Barack Obama’s brief mention Wednesday of the controversy, telling the activists that “he’s certainly heard your voices and is very much aware of the concerns you have raised.”

Arana told POLITICO that Sierra Club and its student activists feel that EPA’s last comments filed on the Keystone XL pipeline essentially rejected the project, and they want to “build on that momentum and ask that they do it again.”

Arana is particularly concerned about family in Brownsville, Texas, near the Gulf Coast, where there may be increased demand for refineries once the pipeline is built, and said she and other activists are concerned about the disproportionate impact on the Hispanic community that could come from the pipeline.

Most of the students at the Sierra Club event at Howard University this morning were focused on coal.

Students at the event said that 17 student groups thus far have won campaigns to retire coal-fired power plants on campus and that last month students held more than 100 events nationwide asking for a transition off of coal at their schools.

Jackson used the event to warn students about congressional assaults on a slew of rules and defend the agency’s recent decisions. “We’re not going to use the current economic crisis to roll back the health and safety people have come to rely on for a decade. … It would be tragic if we took one step forward, and we end up taking four or five steps back, “she said.

About environmental laws, she added: “None of them are safe right now.”

“We will … continue to face vote after vote to knock these rules down,” Jackson said. “They’re threatening more votes … against the Clean Air Act. Against the Clean Water Act … of course now we hear that the EPA is the enemy.”

She called out an unnamed lawmaker in her speech, noting, “I read a really interesting headline today … an elected official, I won’t say which one, said he needs to protect coal ash from regulation. I thought — ‘I thought the job was to protect us from coal ash!’ One of the reason that we have regulations and standards was to protect we the people.”

It appears Jackson was referring to Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), and a story in The Hill.

Jackson specifically defended the agency’s agreement with automakers to up standards to 55 miles per gallon by 2025, though she warned students, “There will be an effort to reverse it. … And it will probably be led by someone from California.” (Rep. Darrell Issa has been a leading critic of the deal.)

Jackson also spoke voraciously of the agency’s upcoming mercury and air toxics standards, due out Dec. 16 after environmental litigants recently granted a one-month extension.

One of the reasons it’s so important to meet the standards, Jackson told the students, is that there are many coal plants that are 40, 50, 60 years old. “We actually have one, I think, approaching 70 years old. And in their entire history … they’ve never found the time, or the reason, to clean up their act.”

10/23/2011 Albuquerque Journal: Battle Over San Juan

The 1,798-megawatt coal-fired San Juan Generating Station near Farmington has been ordered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to install more pollution controls to cut emissions that cause haze. The mine that supplies the plant’s coal, operated by the San Juan Coal Company, can be seen in the background. Photo Credit – Richard Pipes/Journal 10/23/2011 Albuquerque Journal: Battle Over San Juan By Michael Hartranft / Journal Staff Writer: It’s called selective catalytic reduction — a million-dollar term for pollution control if ever there was one. Make that hundreds of millions of dollars in the case of the giant, coal-fired San Juan Generating Station near Farmington, its owners and the consumers who use the electricity it generates.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 6 office says SCR is the most cost-effective way — the agency estimates the cost at $345 million — to retrofit San Juan to cut pollutants that reduce visibility in national parks and wilderness areas and contribute to regional haze, as required by the Clean Air Act. It has given PNM and the other owners of the plant five years to complete the installation.

PNM argues that the federal agency’s prescription for San Juan would cost a lot more than the EPA claims it would — hitting New Mexico customers in the pocketbook — and says it can get satisfactory results for a lot less money.

The electric utility says the price tag for the EPA plan will approach $750 million, or more, causing up to an initial $85-a-year hit on the average residential customer’s bill to pay for PNM’s share of the project. It owns about 46 percent of San Juan, and the electricity generated there serves about 500,000 PNM customers.

Regardless of who is right on the cost estimate, this much is clear: The utility’s customers will pick up the tab, because the cost would be factored into rates.

Less costly plan

PNM says a less costly retrofit would achieve satisfactory results — nearly indistinguishable to the human eye. The cost of an EPA-required SCR system would be in addition to a $320 million environmental upgrade completed at the plant two years ago.

The EPA issued its ruling in August, and, on Sept. 16, PNM appealed to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. It also asked the EPA to stay the new rule until the court makes a decision.

“EPA’s aggressive, five-year compliance time frame means that without a stay, we will be forced to begin spending enormous sums of money without knowing if EPA’s decision will stand,” said Pat Themig, PNM vice president for generation.

The company claims that if it takes a year for a court ruling, it will already have spent $43.6 million on early design and construction.

The EPA, which stepped in with a plan when the state didn’t meet the deadline to submit its own, contends that SCR would cut one of the main haze-causing emissions, nitrogen oxide, by more than 80 percent — reducing visibility impacts by 50 percent in 16 Class 1 park and wilderness areas in four states affected by San Juan. The agency says it will also result in healthier air.

Environmental groups across the region hailed the EPA ruling.

“The EPA took a bold and necessary stand to protect people and businesses from coal’s toxic pollution,” said Bill Corcoran of the Sierra Club.

About coal itself

In some respects, the fight is over the use of coal itself. The Obama administration and some environmental groups have made no secret of their dislike for coal-fired generation of electricity, which tends to be much cheaper than “green” alternatives.

Gov. Susana Martinez said she supports developing alternative energy technology and making it a bigger part of the state’s overall energy portfolio. But the EPA decision is “detrimental” to New Mexico, she told the Journal in an email last week.

“In recent months, even President Obama has conceded that onerous environmental regulations can place a tremendous financial burden on states, businesses and families — and yet the EPA continues to try to impose these new, stifling regulations,” she said.

PNM says federal regulators combined the requirements of two separate rules — regional haze and cross-state pollution — into one to meet an Aug. 5 deadline set in a consent decree signed with WildEarth Guardians that applied only to cross-state pollution.

In doing so, it argues, the EPA did not give proper deference to a state plan for regional haze adopted in June by the Martinez-appointed Environmental Improvement Board, which proposed an alternative technology.

It contends the differences in visibility improvements between that technology — selective noncatalytic reduction — and SCR would barely be perceptible to the human eye.

The price tag for SNCR would be much lower, however — an estimated $77 million and about a $12-a-year impact on ratepayers.

San Juan employs about 400 people, with the adjacent San Juan Coal Mine that supplies the fuel providing jobs for another 500. The first two generating units were built about 40 years ago, and the company expects to keep the plant going for at least another 40.

It’s about visibility

“Our emissions are within the national ambient air quality standards for human health,” said Maureen Gannon, executive director of environmental services for PNM. “This is about visibility, about what the human eye can see. We believe the EPA has gone far over what the regulation was intended to do.”

The EPA is standing by its decision but says it will review the state’s plan and change its analysis if new information warrants.

However, it says an evaluation of the state-proposed SNCR technology showed it would achieve far less reduction in pollution and less visibility improvement.

The regional haze rule stems from a Clean Air Act provision that requires states to improve visibility in 159 Class 1 national parks and wilderness areas, such as the Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde National Park, Bandelier National Monument and 13 other sites in the New Mexico region.

The goal is to restore visibility by 2064 to what it would have been without human impact.

The rule required states to adopt implementation plans addressing the main pollutants that cause haze and to establish reasonable progress goals.

States were also required to evaluate best available retrofit technologies for older, large stationary sources that might be affecting Class 1 sites.

In 2006, the New Mexico Environment Department requested a best available retrofit analysis at San Juan to determine whether additional controls might be needed to comply.

PNM contended that existing controls at the plant — which was undergoing a $320 million upgrade under a 2005 consent decree to settle emissions violations between 2001 and 2003 — would meet the requirements.

Last year, though it was supposed to have submitted a plan to EPA by January 2009, the New Mexico Environment Department under then-Gov. Bill Richardson proposed SCR as the best available technology to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions at San Juan. It later withdrew the plan, in part because of cost concerns raised by PNM.

EPA steps in

The EPA, which had set a January 2011 deadline to issue a plan if the state didn’t meet the 2009 deadline, stepped in with its own proposal in December, starting the hearing and public review process that culminated with the rule in August. New Mexico became the first state to have a federal plan imposed on it for haze.

Calling San Juan one of the nation’s largest sources of nitrogen oxide — 18,400 tons a year, according to the EPA — the federal agency says its plan would cut those emissions by more than 80 percent.

PNM contends the recent upgrade cut nitrogen oxide emissions by 44 percent — from 27,500 tons to 15,300 tons a year — and that its proposed fix would cut it by an additional 30 percent a year. The company says sulfur dioxide, particulate matter and mercury were also significantly reduced in the upgrade.

The EPA said it was bound by the haze rule to evaluate additional technologies and it found SCR the most cost effective. The evaluation also included selective noncatalytic reduction.

The nitrogen oxide limit set at San Juan was based on an assessment of the best-performing coal plants with SCR, Region 6 regional haze coordinator Joe Kordzi said.

“We found there were units that were consistently able to meet this emission limit that were similar to the ones PNM is operating at the San Juan station,” he said.

Kordzi said that, in terms of visibility, the SCR technology would improve it noticeably, while “SNCR hardly made any difference at all.” PNM disagrees and says improvements with SCR might not be visible to the naked eye.

The agency made some key changes based on PNM’s comments during the review process, Kordzi said, including giving owners five years, instead of three, to comply. It agreed to up its original cost estimate from $229 million to $345 million, largely due to issues raised by PNM, although that’s still nowhere near the $750 million PNM says the cost will be.

The EPA contends PNM and its consultant, Black & Veatch, overestimated numerous cost items.

The agency, among other things, said PNM failed to follow the EPA’s cost control manual, consistently used assumptions “at the upper end of the range” for key components, and included unnecessary equipment.

PNM’s cost position

PNM, however, says the EPA omitted critical elements, including $71 million in annual operating expense, as well as major capital costs. Those costs, it says, include $73 million-plus for added auxiliary power equipment, $78 million in lost generation due to extended outages, $126 million for an SCR bypass to protect the equipment during startup, and $78 million in interest during construction.

Black & Veatch’s original estimate was based on a best available retrofit analysis in 2007. Gannon concedes it wasn’t a “detailed engineering estimate,” but said the company is an architect/engineering firm that designs and builds SCRs and is familiar with construction complexities at San Juan — which include installing equipment 200 feet above the plant floor in already congested space.

“And we had some concern, maybe there is some truth to this concern about overestimation,” Gannon said. “So now we’ve had another company (Sargent & Lundy) go out — and they’re at $741 million.”

N.M.’s counteroffer

Not long after Gov. Martinez took office, the state Environment Department under her new secretary, F. David Martin, proposed a PNM-backed plan calling for SNCR, which it said would cost an estimated $77 million to install and would achieve a nitrogen oxide limit it believed would comply with the rule.

Gannon said EPA guidelines for making best available retrofit determinations require agencies to take into account cost, environmental impacts, existing pollution controls, remaining life of the source and degree of improvement that might result.

“When you use that five-factor path, the state plan meets that in terms of additional controls, costs and it does result in some visibility improvements, although you may not be able to see it,” Gannon said. “But you probably won’t be able to see SCR either.”

PNM’s modeling showed that the EPA’s proposed SCR technology would make noticeable visibility improvements at only one of the 16 areas, Mesa Verde.

The company contends the EPA used an antiquated version of the same model it used, in showing visible improvement in nine areas.

Visible differences

“There are some chemistry assumptions we don’t agree with,” Gannon said. “We actually brought in the developer of the model to do some additional modeling, and he, in essence, concurred with the result we were getting.”

She said that SNCR represents reasonable progress toward the Clean Air Act’s goal and that the state could come back in five years and require the plant to install SCR if it deems it necessary.

“For EPA to ask us to do this enormous project in such a short period of time does not make sense from a regulatory perspective,” she said.

Both PNM and the EPA are getting sideline support.

Carla Sonntag, executive director of the New Mexico Utility Shareholders Alliance, a group that represents 12,000 shareholders of gas and electric utilities, is chiefly concerned about the rule’s impact on ratepayers, particularly those with lower incomes.

“If there was a significant difference between the state plan and the EPA, that would be one thing to consider, but there’s really not. It’s negligible,” she said. “But the cost is exorbitant, and that’s going to go back into rates. We feel it’s just unjustified.”

The Sierra Club’s David Van Winkle, though, contends that PNM’s cost estimate is a scare tactic and that the rule should be a trigger point for PNM to rethink its continued investments in coal-fired power, still its major energy source.

“Just from a risk standpoint, you’d think you’d want to diversify … so that you’re not so heavily dependent on that one resource in an area that is heavily regulated,” Van Winkle said.

He allowed that the rule is a visibility regulation.

“But, it’s true that nitrogen oxide is a health problem, so why are we splitting hairs?” he asked.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

10/26/2011 Environmental Groups Support Haze Reduction

10/26/2011 Indian Country Today: Environmental Groups Support Haze Reduction By Carol Berry: The U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals has approved a motion by several environmental groups to intervene in a lawsuit involving mandated pollution controls at the 2,040-megawatt San Juan Generating Station. The New Mexico plant is believed to be the first facility required to adhere to a regional haze program, according to an environmental spokesman. The 1999 regional haze program under the Clean Air Act is designed to protect areas of “great scenic importance”—certain national parks, wilderness areas, national memorials and international parks—from manmade air pollution.

“Visibility impairment by air pollution occurs virtually all the time at most national park and wilderness area monitoring stations,” according to the Federal Register, which also notes that the visibility problem “is caused primarily by emission into the atmosphere of (sulfur dioxide), oxides of nitrogen, and particulate matter, especially fine particulate matter, from inadequately controlled sources.”

“Under the Clean Air Act, the idea was that older, antiquated, coal plants were going to be decommissioned,” but that did not happen at the station, said Mike Eisenfeld, energy coordinator for the San Juan Citizens Alliance. Instead, PNM, New Mexico’s largest electricity provider, filed for an extension of the station’s present lifespan until 2053, he added.

Besides the Alliance, groups seeking to intervene include Dine’ Citizens against Ruining Our Environment (Dine’ CARE), Sierra Club, National Parks Conservation Association and New Energy Economy.

Sixteen National Parks or other protected historic and scenic areas are within the area affected by haze from the station and other area power plants, with particular concern for air quality at Mesa Verde National Park, only 35 or 40 miles to the north, Eisenfeld said.

Some concerns of area residents center on health effects as well as haze reduction in National Parks and other areas.

“The Navajo people living in the area of San Juan County and the Four Corners area are deeply impacted by the pollution, the haze—we’ve lived there on our ancestral lands forever, and we’ll always be there, said Anna M. Frazier, a spokesperson for Dine’ CARE. “But pollution has a great impact on our health and has a terrible impact on the vegetation—the herbs for healing,” she said, explaining that people now have to go to the mountains to gather plants that once were closer at hand.

“There used to be concern only for older people being affected, but now younger people and children have asthma and hospital records show that,” she said of the station, which is operated by the New Mexico Environment Department to meet EPA mandates, whose antipollution plan for the station is the issue in litigation.

Aesthetic and health concerns aside, PNM “is trying to portray it (upgrade cost) as unfair, like Four Corners Power Plant and Navajo Generating Station and other 50-year-old facility costs to upgrade, which they’re saying is $1 billion. They say they should be able to have a less-effective technical ‘fix,’” Eisenfeld said, “and we’re saying that’s not good enough.”

Although catalytic emission controls on the station are estimated to cost $750 million to $1 billion, controls already installed remove some of the pollutants before they are released from the stack, according to EPA, so that costs would be reduced.

The station, which “continues to be one of the highest emitters of nitrous oxide” is one of the “huge, polluting facilities (that) deter economic development,” Eisenfeld said.

Although the station employs some 400 workers, he said he believes that if it completed the emission control fix, “it would create more jobs.”

Eisenfeld said the increase in employment would be from workers hired to clean up the plant and to install the system that would cut pollution through selective catalytic reduction. He didn’t have estimates for the increase in workers.


10/13/2011 Navajo Times: Sierra Club blasts feds for 'rubber-stamping' mine permits

10/13/2011 Navajo Times: Sierra Club blasts feds for ‘rubber-stamping’ mine permits By Cindy Yurth, Tséyi’ Bureau: A Sierra Club spokesman Tuesday blasted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Office of Surface Mining for “rubber-stamping” two permits for Peabody Western Coal Co.’s Kayenta Mine, saying they had not seriously considered the impacts on the environment and the community. The US EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board this week finalized a water discharge permit for the mine over the objections of the Sierra Club, the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe, which claimed in an appeal that wastewater from the mine contains heavy metals that could end up in drinking and irrigation water.

EPA Water Permits Manager Dave Smith said the appellants did not present any evidence that the mine’s treated storm runoff, which is discharged into washes, is a threat to drinking water supplies.

The appellants are considering an appeal to U.S. Circuit Court.

And last month, OSM issued a “finding of no significant impact,” or FONSI, in renewing the company’s permit to continue mining at its Kayenta operation through 2015, meaning there is no need for a new environmental impact statement.

Public comment on the FONSI is being accepted through Oct. 22 and is supposed to be incorporated into the agency’s final record of decision on the permit.

Andy Bessler of the Sierra Club called the FONSI “administratively incomplete,” saying it is unsigned and does not include Peabody’s groundwater reclamation bond or hydrology reports.

The FONSI calls the mine’s impacts on the Navajo Aquifer water “negligible to minor,” and states “the N Aquifer drinking water use designation remains uncompromised.”

Bessler said OSM has ignored a recent report by University of Arizona scientist Daniel Higgins which contains data showing the mine’s use of water impacts some of the water sources around Black Mesa, where it is located.

The FONSI also finds no significant impact on local residents, despite the fact that four households would be displaced by new mining.

“Relocated residents are compensated for the replacement of all structures and for lost grazing acreage if the resident can establish a customary use area claim,” the agency reasoned.

“Ask them (the residents) if that’s significant,” Bessler retorted.

Sierra Club: This Much Mercury . . . How the coal industry poisoned your tuna sandwich

Sierra Club: This Much Mercury . . . How the coal industry poisoned your tuna sandwich By Dashka Slater: Rich Gelfond keeps his Oscar statue in a black cloth sack in the bottom drawer of his desk. He received it as CEO of the film-technology company Imax, for “the method of filming and exhibiting high fidelity, large-format, wide angle format, motion pictures,” although when I read the inscription aloud, he feigns surprise, as if he’s forgotten how he came to own it. “Is that what it’s for?” he muses. “An Oscar’s kind of like potato chips—when you have one, you need more. Kind of like tuna sushi.”

Tuna sushi—and the devastating repercussions of Gelfond’s onetime passion for it—has been the topic of conversation for the past hour, and Gelfond smiles slyly and a bit ruefully at his joke. With his round face, long blond eyelashes, and startled blue eyes, he seems placid but with an underlying current of energy, like a guinea pig who just drank a latte. For years he was an avid tennis player who also loved running around the Central Park reservoir or near his home in eastern Long Island.

But about six years ago he began to feel oddly off balance, as though he might fall at any moment. He tried running on grass instead of asphalt but finally had to give it up altogether. It was probably stress, he reasoned, opting to stick to tennis. It was only when he nearly fell over while trying to serve that he decided to see a doctor.

More symptoms came to light in the physician’s office. Gelfond had a tremor in his hands and had trouble putting his fingers together. A neurologist, worried that the symptoms pointed to a brain tumor, ordered an immediate MRI. But there was no tumor, and as he underwent a battery of increasingly unpleasant tests and scans, Gelfond’s symptoms worsened. His feet tingled (a condition called neuropathy), and his balance became so off-kilter that it made walking difficult. “If I was with someone, I would walk close to them so, if I fell, I could grab on,” he recalls.

Then, six months into his illness, Gelfond’s neurologist asked a seemingly random question: “Do you eat a lot of fish?”
As he underwent increasingly unpleasant tests and scans, Gelfond’s symptoms worsened. His feet tingled, and his balance became so off-kilter that he could barely walk.

“As a matter of fact, I do,” Gelfond replied. It turns out that he had been eating seafood at two out of every three daily meals as part of his healthy lifestyle. What he didn’t know was that some kinds of fish—particularly the tuna and swordfish he favored—are high in mercury, a potent nerve poison. A blood test revealed that his mercury level was 76 micrograms per liter (mcg/L), 13 times the EPA’s recommended maximum of 5.8 mcg/L. It was so high that he got a call from the New York State Department of Public Health, asking whether he worked at a toxic-waste site.

“I was just so frustrated that I was trying to do something good for my body and in fact I was poisoning myself,” Gelfond tells me, leaning forward in his chair. “I had no awareness.”

Neither did most of the people he talked to, including physicians. To them, mercury poisoning was something that happened to the mad hatters of the 19th century or to the victims of industrial waste in Minamata, Japan, in the 1950s. It didn’t happen to 21st-century New York executives. Having found the source of his illness, Gelfond’s neurologist had no idea how to treat it, and when Gelfond contacted other New York physicians, most told him that mercury couldn’t possibly be causing his symptoms because adults aren’t susceptible to mercury poisoning.

“There has been a tendency to say adults are resistant,” says Michael Gochfeld, professor of environmental medicine at New Jersey’s Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, which has treated a number of people who have gotten mercury poisoning from fish. “We don’t really understand why some adults are sensitive and others seem to be quite tolerant.”

The main prescription for Gelfond’s mercury poisoning was to stop ingesting it. Once he eliminated high-mercury fish from his diet, his levels began to drop; within six months he was down to 18 mcg/L. One year after his diagnosis, he was able to walk without assistance. Six months after that, he was back to playing tennis. Today he says he’s about 60 percent recovered. He still has trouble running long distances, and his symptoms resurface when he’s fatigued. Mercury has changed his life forever.
“You never hear about fish. Tuna fish—it’s just one of those things you wouldn’t think to be scared of.”

A few weeks earlier I’d spent the evening at a salon in Billings, Montana, watching stylists give people what amounted to very tiny haircuts. The Sierra Club was offering free mercury testing there and at other places around the country, and about 40 people had gathered at the Sanctuary Salon to provide hair samples for analysis.

The room was perfumy with hair products and buzzing with blow-dryers. Young women sat down to have a few strands of hair clipped close to the scalp, murmuring the usual things women say in salons: “I hate my hair!” and “Can you get rid of the gray?”

They also wanted to understand whether their own eating habits put them at risk. Tierani Bursett, 27, asked whether she should be concerned about the walleye she catches while ice fishing (she should). A local newscaster, who didn’t want to be named, said she was “addicted to sushi” and wondered if she should be worried (yes). The mother of a four-month-old wanted to know if mercury passes through breast milk (it does), and an older man asked whether mercury is a concern for people over 60 (it is). Luzia Willis, one of the salon’s manicurists, was feeling nervous about all the tuna she buys at Costco (with good reason). “Why is there extra mercury in the fish?” she asked. “What’s causing it?”

But What Fish Can I Eat? Click image below to see the full chart.

The answer can be found all around her: at the Colstrip power plant east of Billings, which uses a rail car’s worth of coal every five minutes (see “High Plains Poison,” March/April 2010); in the coal-mining operations to the east and southeast; in the long chain of rail cars that chugs through town each night full of black ore bound for boilers across the country; and at the J. E. Corette power plant right in town. While there is always going to be some mercury in the environment—it occurs naturally in the earth’s crust and can be released into the air during forest fires or volcanic eruptions—70 percent of what we’re exposed to comes from human activities, and most of that comes from burning coal.

U.S. coal-fired power plants pump more than 48 tons of mercury into the air each year. The Martin Lake Power Plant in Tatum, Texas, spews 2,660 pounds per annum all on its own (it burns lignite, a particularly mercury-heavy form of coal). Compared with the vast amounts of mercury churning out of Asia, the U.S. contribution is fairly small—about 3 percent of the global total. Roughly a third of our emissions settles within our borders, poisoning lakes and waterways. The rest cycles through the atmosphere, with much of it eventually winding up in the world’s oceans.

Inorganic mercury isn’t easily assimilated into the human body, and if the mercury emitted by power plants stayed in that form, it probably wouldn’t have made Gelfond and many others sick. But when inorganic mercury creeps into aquatic sediments and marshes (as well as mid-depths of oceans), bacteria convert it into methylmercury, an organic form that not only is easily assimilated but also accumulates in living tissue as it moves up the food chain: The bigger and older the fish, the more mercury in its meat. It takes only a tiny amount to do serious damage: One-seventieth of a teaspoon can pollute a 20-acre lake to the point where its fish are unsafe to eat. Thousands of tons a year settle in the world’s oceans, where they bioaccumulate in carnivorous fish. Forty percent of human mercury exposure comes from a single source—Pacific tuna.

“Ninety-five to 100 percent of the methylmercury that we acquire in our bodies comes from the consumption of seafood,” explains Stony Brook University professor Nicholas Fisher, director of the Consortium for Interdisciplinary Environmental Research, which oversees the (newly endowed) Gelfond Fund for Mercury Research and Education. (Seafood, in this case, includes fish from lakes and rivers.) When EPA researchers tested predatory and bottom-dwelling fish at 500 U.S. lakes and reservoirs in 2009, they found mercury in each and every one; close to half of the fish had levels so high they were unsafe to eat. Another 2009 study, by the U.S. Geological Survey, found mercury-contaminated fish in each of the 291 streams and rivers tested. Mercury pollution causes U.S. waters to be closed to fishing more often than does any other source of contamination.

In March, after more than 20 years of delay, the EPA proposed a new federal air pollution standard for power plant emissions of mercury and other toxics. The new rule, which was vigorously opposed by the coal industry, will require power plants to use “maximum achievable control technology” to filter mercury from their smokestacks by 2014. The result of a 2008 lawsuit by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups, the rule is expected to cost industry more than $10 billion to implement.

That may sound like a lot—unless you compare it with the cost of doing nothing. Dr. Leonardo Trasande, an associate professor of preventative medicine and pediatrics at Mt. Sinai Medical Center, did exactly that, in a study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine in 2006. He calculated that between 316,000 and 647,000 American babies are born each year with mercury levels high enough to cause measurable brain damage. Because every drop in IQ results in a loss of economic productivity, he estimated that the mercury emitted by coal-fired power plants costs the nation $1.3 billion each year. As he explained in a Senate briefing in 2005, “those costs will recur year after year, with each new birth cohort, so long as mercury emissions are not controlled. By contrast, the cost of installing stack filters is a one-time expense.”

Many of the same coal-industry supporters who question the science of climate change also deny that mercury harms public health. “To actually cause poisoning or a premature death you have to get a large concentration of mercury into the body,” insisted Texas representative Joe Barton at a congressional hearing on the new EPA pollution rules earlier this year. “I’m not a medical doctor, but my hypothesis is that’s not going to happen!”

The experiences of fish lovers like Gelfond and actor Jeremy Piven (who famously pulled out of a Broadway show, citing mercury poisoning) refute Barton’s hypothesis, but theirs are admittedly extreme cases. After all, the average American eats less than one serving of fish per week. Many eat far more, however; one researcher extrapolated from existing data that there are up to 184,000 people in the United States with blood mercury levels above 58 mcg/L, a level at which they would likely show adverse symptoms.

The symptoms of mercury toxicity are fairly well established. They include lack of balance and coordination, trouble concentrating, loss of fine motor skills, tremors, muscle weakness, memory problems, slurred speech, an awkward gait, hearing loss, hair loss, insomnia, tingling in the limbs, and loss of peripheral vision. Long-term exposure may also increase the risk of cardiovascular and autoimmune diseases and reduce the concentration and mobility of sperm.

What’s unclear is how much mercury it takes to make you sick. Nearly everyone feels fine when the level of mercury in their blood is below 5.8 mcg/L, which the EPA says is safe for pregnant women. And most—although not all—exhibit symptoms at 100 mcg/L. But some people show symptoms with levels as low as 7 mcg/L, and others feel right as rain despite being above 100 mcg/L.

Physicians speculate that susceptibility to mercury could be genetic, or the result of diet or stress. It also seems that people can have mercury-related impairments without realizing it. In an Italian study from 2003 comparing 22 men who frequently ate tuna with 22 who didn’t, the tuna eaters (who had a mean level of 41.5 mcg/L) fared significantly worse on cognitive tests, despite having no outward symptoms of poisoning.

One thing that isn’t in question, though, is that developing fetuses are particularly sensitive to the toxic effects of methylmercury. Two out of three large-scale studies have found that children born with it in their system have trouble with coordination, concentration, language, and memory—and continue to have the same deficits many years later.

Nancy Lanphear is a behavioral developmental pediatrician who works at a clinic in Vancouver for children with disabilities like autism or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Several years ago, a mother came into her clinic with a four-and-a-half-year-old girl who had cerebral palsy as well as speech and motor delays. But what attracted Lanphear’s attention was that the child was drooling.

“I’m looking at this four-year-old and saying, ‘This is mercury,'” Lanphear recalls, hypersalivation being a classic sign of mercury poisoning. The child’s chart showed that a heavy metals screening at age two had found high mercury levels in both mother and child, as well as in the child’s grandfather. The mother recalled being encouraged by her physician to eat fish during her pregnancy; she ate tuna or other seafood two to four times a week, sure that she was helping her baby’s development.

“She knows that she’s not to blame, that it was inadvertent, but there’s still some grief there,” Lanphear says of the mother. “It’s not something that’s going away, even though the child’s mercury levels are now normal. The damage was done to the developing brain.” Lanphear uses the story to remind obstetricians and pediatricians to be on the lookout for mercury poisoning in their patients.

The EPA estimates that at least 8 percent of U.S. women of childbearing age have blood mercury levels above 5.8 mcg/L. If you zero in on communities that regularly eat fish, the prevalence is much higher. In the Northeast, one out of every five women has a mercury level exceeding the EPA threshold. In New York City, it’s one out of every four, and close to half of the city’s Asian population have elevated mercury levels, as do two-thirds of the city’s foreign-born Chinese.

High-mercury pockets also exist on the West Coast. Between 2000 and 2001, San Francisco physician Jane Hightower tested 116 patients who said they frequently ate fish. She found elevated mercury levels among 89 percent of them, with half above 10 mcg/L. Many of these patients had reported nonspecific symptoms like headaches, nausea, depression, and trouble concentrating, and had been searching for an explanation for months or years.

Since that first survey, Hightower has treated hundreds of mercury-exposed people from all walks of life. Among her patients was then-five-year-old Sophie Chabon, the daughter of Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman, whose books include the best-seller Bad Mother. Sophie had been an early talker and walker, but then she seemed to hit a wall, suddenly unable to sound out words she used to know how to read and even forgetting how to tie her shoes. A blood test turned up mercury levels of 13 mcg/L. The culprit: twice-weekly tuna sandwiches.

As Sophie cut tuna out of her diet, her mercury levels dropped, and her stalled development surged ahead again. Now in high school, she has a passion for history, film, and French and shows no sign of any lasting effects from the mercury exposure. Still, Waldman fumes when she thinks about what might have happened if they hadn’t caught the problem so early. “I blame our country for not [caring] about what we’re spewing into the atmosphere,” she says. “This is about coal, pure and simple. You wouldn’t go and break your child’s bones one by one, but we tolerate this kind of poison that’s ruining their minds. It’s insane.”

While Hightower’s wealthy patients tend to eat sushi and expensive tuna, swordfish, and halibut, poor Americans eat canned light tuna—often subsidized by the federal Women, Infants, and Children nutrition program—and fish they hook themselves in local rivers, lakes, or bays. Immigrants are particularly likely to fish for food, often without understanding the risks of eating their catch. The average Latino angler, for instance, consumes twice as much mercury daily as the EPA considers safe, while a 2010 study of subsistence fishing in California found that some anglers were getting 10 times that dose. The same study found that anglers with children had a higher mercury intake than those without, probably because families with more mouths to feed rely more on food that can be caught rather than bought.

The boardwalk in Ocean City, New Jersey, is a 2.5-mile strip of salt air and stimulation, with arcades and carnival rides, pirate-themed mini golf and fried clams. It was here that a young woman named Jaime Bowen stood in front of a microphone in June and nervously contemplated the crowd. A 31-year-old home-healthcare worker with two children, Bowen had gone to a Sierra Club-sponsored hair-testing event with an environmentally minded friend a month before, more as a lark than out of any real concern for her health. “It was kind of a joke going to get my hair clipped,” she says. “Then, to get the results—it was a reality check.”

Of the 36 people at the event who were willing to share their results, 8 had elevated mercury levels. Bowen was one of them. Hers was 1.37 ppm—too low to cause health problems, but higher than the EPA considers safe for women of childbearing age. (Hair mercury levels are evaluated differently than blood mercury levels, but a hair level of 1.2 ppm is roughly equivalent to a blood level of 5.8 mcg/L.) Now she was concerned about her two children, who, after all, ate what she ate. “You hear, ‘Don’t break that thermometer.’ You never hear about the fish,” she says. “I made my kids tuna fish sandwiches the other day, and now I feel horrible. Tuna fish—it’s just one of those things you wouldn’t think to be scared of.”

And so Bowen stood at the podium, gripping the paper that held her prepared remarks. She talked about fish and her fears about her children’s safety, and about coal. To her surprise, she looked up to see that people up and down the boardwalk had stopped to listen. “I did want them to know,” she says. “I’m just a regular person—I’m not doing anything different than those people.”

Behind her, the ocean sparkled, sending salty breezes drifting over the boardwalk. A seagull circled, white and gray, its bright eyes scanning the scene below: the crowded boardwalk, a fish-filled sea, and, tucked in a bay just a little to the northwest, the lighthouse-shaped smokestack of the BL England generating station, producing 450 megawatts of electricity, powered by West Virginia coal.

Dashka Slater is a regular contributor to Sierra. Her Web site is dashkaslater.com; she tweets @DashkaSlater.

This article was funded by the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.

Mayor Bloomberg gives $50 million to fight coal-fired power plants

Mayor Bloomberg gives $50 million to fight coal-fired power plants By Christian Torres and and Juliet Eilperin, Published: July 21: New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced Thursday that he will donate $50 million to the Sierra Club to support its nationwide campaign to eliminate coal-fired power plants. Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune described the gift from Bloomberg Philanthropies, to be spread over four years, as “a game-changer, from our perspective.” The group will devote the money to its Beyond Coal campaign, which has helped block the construction of 153 new coal-fired power plants across the country since 2002. The campaign will expand from 15 to 45 states, plus the District of Columbia.

Among current targets is the Potomac River Generating Station in Alexandria, which was the backdrop for Thursday’s announcement. Bloomberg, Brune and Rep. James P. Moran (D-Va.) spoke on the deck of the restaurant cruise ship Nina’s Dandy, which floated several hundred yards away on the Potomac River. Moran said the plant “should have been shut down decades ago.”

Bloomberg’s announcement “has no effect on GenOn business,” said Misty Allen, director of external affairs for GenOn Energy, which owns the plant. “We’d like to remind everyone that on this, the hottest day of the year, with cities across the country setting up cooling spots that need power, it’s the Sierra Club’s goal to shut down all coal-fired plants,” Allen said, noting that coal-fired plants contribute to more than 40 percent of U.S. energy production.

Brune said in a phone interview that the group will use the money “to identify the oldest, dirtiest coal-fired power plants, retire them and replace them with clean energy.” The 62-year-old Potomac plant is among the oldest of the country’s roughly 400 coal-fired power plants. The Sierra Club said its goal is to retire about one-third of them by 2020.

As mayor of New York, Bloomberg (I) has pushed for environmentally friendly policies such as investing in renewable energy and making the city’s taxi fleet more efficient. But this is his largest financial contribution to an environmental effort, and the donation will swell the Sierra Club’s $80 million annual budget.

Bloomberg also tied the coal-burning issue to his work in public health, which includes bans on smoking in New York. He said he is now “joining another front for clean air” by contributing to the Sierra Club, and he plans to commit his time and energy to the campaign.

Scott Segal, a coal lobbyist, said in an e-mail that although it is up to the mayor’s foundation to determine which contributions make sense, “the mayor well knows that the key to New York’s success lies in access to affordable and reliable power.”

Asked about the city’s energy supply, Bloomberg was frank about the choices. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and others have pressed to close the nearby Indian Point nuclear power plant, but the mayor said city residents get more than 8 percent of their electricity from the facility and lack a ready substitute. “It’s just not practical to close it down at the moment,” he said.

With Bloomberg’s donation, the Sierra Club plans to expand its Beyond Coal staff from about 100 people to nearly 200 full-time employees. Most of them will engage in grass-roots organizing, but some will work on lawsuits or social networking.

The announcement underscores the extent to which environmentalists are focused on efforts beyond the Beltway, given the opposition in Congress to nationwide limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

“We’re putting our faith in local communities to protect public health and promote clean energy,” Brune said. “Congress has failed to do the job on that. We’re confident local communities can do the job where Congress hasn’t.”

The group has just launched an extensive billboard advertising campaign in Washington’s Metro system, with pictures of young children who are described as “filters” for power plant pollution. Ads are running on a smaller scale in Chicago and New York and in some U.S. airports.

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.

Sierra Club: US EPA Comment period extended for critical Air Toxics & Mercury protection

The EPA has announced they are extending the public comment period for critical Air Toxics and Mercury protections by another month. Sierra Club volunteers have already sent in almost 100,000 comments but I guess the EPA wants more. Unfortunately, this gives corporate polluters more time to find crazy reasons why we shouldn’t have a rule that prevents 100,000 asthma attacks and saves 17,000 lives a year. Major polluters, like American Electric Power, are ginning up to scare the public with wild mistruths.1

Well, we’re not going to let them win this fight. We know that you’re aware of the dangerous effects of coal pollution, but many of your friends and family might not be.

Fight lies with truth. Forward our powerful new online coal quiz to five of your friends and family. Working together, we can invite thousands of new people to our fight for clean air.

Within just a few weeks of Sierra Club’s new online quiz, ‘Coal In Your Life,’ we have had tens of thousands of new visitors finding out how dangerous coal really is to their own health and their families’ health and getting involved in the fight to stop pollution. We won’t stand by while corporate polluters confuse the public!

Clean air to breathe and safe water to drink is in everyone’s best interest, except maybe wealthy corporate polluters. But Big Coal puts up ads every day attacking the EPA and our protections from pollution — please use our quiz to educate the public and cut through the smoke screen!

It is on all of us to build a bigger movement that can challenge Dirty Coal at every turn. Join the efforts by clicking here to get easy forwarding tools sent to your inbox and invite five of your friends and family to take part.

Thanks for all you do for the environment.
Mary Anne Hitt
Beyond Coal Campaign Director
Sierra Club

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