Navajo power plant document needs more work

By Susan Montoya Bryan
Albuquerque, New Mexico (AP) 9-07

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has concerns about the thoroughness of a massive document prepared by the Bureau of Indian Affairs on the potential impacts of a proposed coal-fired power plant on the nation’s largest Indian reservation.

And opponents of the $3 billion Desert Rock Energy Project are pointing to the EPA’s comments as validation of concerns they have about the plant’s potential impacts on the environment and the health of residents in the Four Corners region.

“There is some very sound technical opposition to this project and the impacts will be anything but minor,” Mike Eisenfeld of the San Juan Citizens Alliance said Friday.

In comments submitted to the BIA last month, the EPA contends the draft environmental impact statement for Desert Rock fails to address in detail several issues, including water supplies for the plant, the potential for byproducts to leach into the groundwater, mercury and particulate matter emissions, public health and environmental justice.

Desert Rock, a joint venture between Houston-based Sithe Global Power and the Navajo Nation’s Dine Power Authority, would be the third coal-fired plant in the Four Corners. It would be capable of producing enough electricity for up to 1.5 million homes in cities across the Southwest while bringing in about $50 million each year in tax revenues, lease payments and royalties for the tribe.

Sithe and Navajo leaders have said Desert Rock is designed to be one of the cleanest coal-burning plants in the nation and would help fill a need for power in the fast-growing Southwest.

Environmentalists and some Navajos complain Desert Rock would use tribal resources to produce power that would be sent elsewhere while many across the sprawling reservation remain without electricity.

In its comments, the EPA is encouraging the BIA to work with the tribe and developers on options for local access to power to mitigate environmental justice concerns.

Dailan Long, a member of the Navajo group Dine Citizens Against Ruining our Environment, said he was pleased to see that the EPA has some of the same concerns with the draft impact statement as Desert Rock opponents.

“It’s a federal agency that is saying the document is deficient. That should be a big concern,” he said.

Frank Maisano, a spokesman for Sithe Global Power, argued that the draft document is just that, a draft.

“That’s what a draft is for, to get these things, work them out and present a final document,” he said, adding that Desert Rock has been working with the tribe, government officials and local communities to address any possible concerns.

“There are a lot of possibilities and we have a lot of flexibility,” he said. “We look forward to doing the best we can.”

Nova Blazej, manager of the EPA’s environmental review office in San Francisco, said in an Aug. 24 letter to the BIA that her agency will work with BIA to resolve the EPA’s concerns before a final environmental impact statement is issued.

But Eisenfeld said he’s concerned that some of the EPA’s recommendations would require studies that could take years to complete.

“Some of these issues being raised are not quick fixes,” he said.

On the Net:
Desert Rock Blog:
San Juan Citizens Alliance:
Desert Rock Energy Project:
Sithe Global’s Desert Rock Web site: