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Desert Rock

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This article is part of the Coal Issues portal on SourceWatch, a project of CoalSwarm and the Center for Media and Democracy. See here for help on adding material to CoalSwarm.

Desert Rock Energy Company, a Sithe Global Power subsidiary, had proposed to build a 1500 MW supercritical coal plant on Navajo lands in the four corners area of New Mexico known as Desert Rock. The plant was to burn low-sulfur, sub-bituminous coal. Diné Power Authority, a Navajo Nation enterprise established to develop natural resources on Navajo lands, entered into a project agreement with Desert Rock Energy.[1] The plant was announced as cancelled in March 2011.[2]

Background

The plant had significant opposition, including environmental organizations, local citizens, and legislators.[3] On Dec. 12, 2006, activists from Diné CARE – a local Navajo group opposing the plant – established a blockade and campsite on the road leading to the plant site [4]; protestors were forcibly removed from the road by police on Dec. 22 [5], but established a nearby protest campsite and vigil that was still occupied as of Nov. 7, 2007, and that has drawn enormous attention to the issue.[6]

In March 2010, media reports speculated that plans for the Desert Rock plant may be significantly revised or abandoned. To date, Sithe Global has already abandoned two of its three proposed coal plants and the Desert Rock plant faces similar obstacles to the canceled projects such as the loss of key permits, falling electricity demand, and uncertainty over pending climate change legislation. According to a recent High Country News article, Sithe Global is considering a plant re-design, including the possibility of changing its fuel source from coal. However, the Navajo Nation maintains that it is still committed to the Desert Rock project.[7][8]

In March 2011, the Sierra Club concluded that the project had been abandoned.[2]

Desert Rock coal plant

Original Permits Are Approved

The air permit was approved in December 2006, and a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) has been issued.[1] At public hearings on the Draft EIS in late July 2007 in several cities in Navajo territory, hundreds of local residents expressed strong and vocal opposition to the plant.[9] In July 2007, Diné CARE sued the federal Office of Surface Mining for approving an expansion of the BHP Navajo coal mine, which will fuel the plant; oral arguments in this case have been set for April 2008.[10] On July 27, 2007, Gov. Richardson stated his opposition to the plant[11]; on Aug. 22, the Mountain Ute Tribal Council unanimously passed a resolution opposing construction of the plant.[12] In Sept. 2007, the U.S. EPA expressed concerns about the thoroughness of the Bureau of Indian Affairs draft environmental impact statement.[13]

On Sept. 7, 2007 the construction contract was granted to the Fluor Corp.[14] The tribal leadership – working together with federal legislators – is working to accelerate the permitting process, and hopes for construction to begin by the summer of 2008.[15]

Four Corners in the Crosshairs.

In early May 2008, representatives of Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment met with the upper management of Sithe Global to discuss the cumulative effects of the plant on the Navajo people, global warming, and the increase in construction costs of building the plant. Diné CARE presented Sithe with an alternative energy plan contrasting the development of the coal-fired plant with the ethical laws of the Navajo people directing them to live in harmony with the environment. At a series of public hearings held by the Environmental Protection Agency, 99 percent of Navajo tribal members who spoke about the plant opposed it. However proponents of the plant refer to the importance of addressing the serious poverty and substandard living conditions for many of the Navajo Nation.[16]

In July 2008, New Mexico's Attorney General Gary King filed a motion seeking to slow the permitting process for the Desert Rock plant. The Environmental Protection Agency has a deadline of July 31 to act on the permit. The state is seeking to intervene to ensure that regulatory and environmental issues are addressed before the EPA decision.[17]

Diné tribe members blockade the road leading to the Desert Rock site on Dec. 12, 2006.

On July 31, 2008, the EPA approved the plant's air permit. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and Attorney General King announced that they would file an immediate appeal of the decision.[18]

Legal Challenges Against EPA Permit Approval

On August 14, 2008, the Sierra Club and its allies filed an appeal against the final air permit for the Desert Rock plant. The appeal states that the EPA failed to complete required analyses of the project and was pressured to issue the permit because of a lawsuit filed by Dine Power Authority and Sithe Global Power.[19]

On October 2, 2008, the Sierra Club filed the opening brief in its appeal against the final air permit. The state of New Mexico also filed an appeal against the permit, citing the need for further consideration of the plant's effects on ozone, visibility, particulate matter, carbon dioxide, and hazardous air pollutants. In addition, the state claims the EPA violated the Endangered Species Act by issuing the permit before completing the required consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In a news release, Governor Bill Richadson stated, “I am extremely concerned that EPA ignored New Mexico’s legal, environmental, and human health concerns."[20]

On January 8, 2009, the U.S. EPA Region 9 filed notice with the EPA's Environmental Appeals Board (EAB) to partially withdrawing the PSD/construction permit for the Desert Rock plant because of the EAB's recent ruling in the Bonanza plant appeal in Utah. The agency will re-issue the permit for pubic notice and comment at a later date. Also on January 8, the EPA responded to the Sierra Club's petition to review before the Board. As legal challenges to the plant continue to mount, the price has grown from an estimated $1.5 billion to $4 billion.[21]

The Fight at Desert Rock

At the end of February 2009, the Navajo Nation Council voted 71-8 to approve right-of-way easements for the proposed Desert Rock plant. In exchange for granting right of way for transmission, data, electrical and water lines, the tribe will receive $3.5 million. This was the last approval needed from the Navajo Nation, however the environmental impact statement has yet to be approved and the air permit is still under appeal with the EPA.[22]

On April 27, 2009, in an unusual move, the EPA Region 9 asked its Environmental Appeals Board (EAB) to remand the Desert Rock PSD permit back to the agency for reconsideration before the EAB had even finished processing the appelants' case against the plant, citing numerous issues with the permit.[23][24] In addition, the project was dealt another setback in March when the BLM and BIA rescinded the permit for the 472-mile Navajo Transmission Project - the power line necessary to transport electricity from Desert Rock to the Southwest.[25]

EPA Reconsiders Permit

On Sept. 25, 2009, the EAB complied with EPA Region 9's request, and remanded Desert Rock's PSD permit back to the EPA for reconsideration. In its decision, the EAB ruled that EPA Region 9, in its original approval of the plant's permit in 2006, had "abused its discretion" by declining to consider integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) technologies as part of its assessment of the best available control technologies for the facility. Due to this development, the timeline for the project will be significantly pushed out, as the permit will be subject to both agency analysis and another round of public comments.[26]

According to Sithe Executive Vice President Dirk Straussfeld, as of March 2010, there are no plans to resubmit the permit application since Sithe is in the process of evaluating its plans for the Desert Rock plant.[27]

Carbon Capture Grant

On September 30, 2009, Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. announced that he is seeking a federal grant to help pay for equipment designed to capture carbon emissions from the Desert Rock plant, which is expected to produce about 10.9 million tons of carbon dioxide per year. According to Mike Eisenfeld of San Juan Citizens Alliance, the grant application is a "disingenuous ploy" to keep the project going.[28]

On October 5, 2009 Sithe Global announced that it is seeking $450 million in federal grants from the U.S. Department of Energy's Clean Coal Power Initiative in order to implement carbon capture and sequestration technology at the Desert Rock plant.[29]

In December 2009, the $450 million bid for stimulus funds was denied. Although the project developers have stated that plans for the Desert Rock plant remain viable, the denial of funds leaves them in need of over $1 billion to pay for the new technology.[30]

Project Details

Sponsor: Desert Rock Energy (Sithe Global Power Energy) and Diné Power Authority
Location: Farmington, NM
Capacity: 1500 MW
Type: Supercritical technology
Status: Cancelled

Financing

Citizen Groups

Resources

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 Desert Rock Energy Project, Sithe Global Power official site.
  2. 2.0 2.1 {http://www.sierraclub.org/environmentallaw/coal/plantlist.asp "Stopping the Coal Rush"], Sierra Club, accessed November 2011.
  3. Rep. Salazar Calls for Public Hearings On Desert Rock Power Plant Proposal, United States House of Representatives Press Release, April 24, 2007.
  4. “Protestors Blockade Desert Rock Site", Gallup Independent, December 13, 2006.
  5. “Resisters Move: No Arrests Made at Desert Rock’s Future Location", Gallup Independent, December 22, 2006.
  6. “Spiritual Gathering to Heal the Earth Begins Thursday", Gallup Independent, November 7, 2007.
  7. "The Death of Desert Rock?", Laura Paskus, High Country Times, March 10, 2010.
  8. {http://www.sierraclub.org/environmentallaw/coal/plantlist.asp "Stopping the Coal Rush"], Sierra Club, accessed March 2010.
  9. “Desert Rock Critics Flood Final Hearing", Navajo Timeson desert-rock-blog.com, September 26, 2007.
  10. “Judge Sets Timetable for Desert Rock Case", Durango Herald on desert-rock-blog.com, December 8, 2007.
  11. “Richardson Speaks Out Against Coal Plant", Associated Press on desert-rock-blog.com, September 27, 2007.
  12. “Mountain Utes Oppose Desert Rock", Durango Herald on desert-rock-blog.com, August 25, 2007.
  13. “Desert Rock Energy Project: Power Plant Document Concerns EPA", Santa Fe New Mexican, September 16, 2007.
  14. “Contractor Is Named for Desert Rock Power Plant", Gallup Independent, September 10, 2007.
  15. “Shirley Maps Agenda for Remaining Term", Navajo Times on desert-rock-blog.com, November 29, 2007.
  16. “Desert Rock protesters, executives meet in New York,” Cornelia de Bruin, The Daily Times, May 3, 2008
  17. "AG Seeks to Slow Coal-Fired Plant's Approval Process", LegalNewsline, July 10, 2008.
  18. "State Will Challenge EPA's Air Quality Permit for Desert Rock Coal-Fired Plant," New Mexico Independent, July 31, 2008.
  19. "Stopping the Coal Rush", Sierra Club, accessed October 2008.
  20. "State appeals EPA permit for Desert Rock coal plant", New Mexico Business Weekly, October 3, 2008.
  21. "Stopping the Coal Rush", Sierra Club, accessed January 2009.
  22. "Navajo council votes on rights-of-way measure" Susan Montoya Brian, Forbes, February 27, 2009.
  23. "Stopping the Coal Rush", Sierra Club,accessed May 2009.
  24. "EPA files motion for voluntary remand of air permit for Desert Rock Energy Facility / Agency to reconsider sections of permit under appeal to the Environmental Appeals Board" EPA Press Release, April 27, 2009.
  25. "Desert Rock sustains major body blow", Mark Pearson, Durango Herald News, April 30, 2009.
  26. "EPA appeals board remands Desert Rock permit to agency", E&E News, Sept. 25, 2009.
  27. "The Death of Desert Rock?", Laura Paskus, High Country Times, March 10, 2010.
  28. "Navajo Leader Seeks Grant for Power Plant,"Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press, September 30, 2009.
  29. {http://www.sierraclub.org/environmentallaw/coal/plantlist.asp "Stopping the Coal Rush"], Sierra Club, accessed November 2009.
  30. "Stopping the Coal Rush", Sierra Club, accessed January 2010. (This is a Sierra Club list of new coal plant proposals.)

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