Desert Rock draws objections

Things are beginning to heat up for the Desert Rock Power Plant. A Navajo community recently passed a resolution opposing the giant, proposed coal-fired power plant, and U.S. Rep. John Salazar has formally asked the Bureau of Indian Affairs to hold public hearings in La Plata and Montezuma counties once the Environmental Impact Statement is released for the project.

Sithe Global would like to begin construction on the Desert Rock plant as early as 2008. In collaboration with the Dine Power Authority, Sithe would build the coal-fired plant on Navajo Reservation land, 30 miles southwest of Farmington, for an estimated cost of $2 billion. When completed, the new plant would be among the largest in the nation and generate enough energy for 1.5 million homes. The company has won preliminary approval from the Environmental Protection Agency for the plant, which it touts as state-of-the-art, using 80 percent less water than wet-cooled coal-fired plants and having an efficiency of 41 percent.

In spite of the preliminary approval, Desert Rock is drawing objections all over the Southwest. Various protests have been staged at the site, alleging the plant will contribute to already bleak state local air quality. In addition, the New Mexico Legislature withdrew a multi-million dollar tax credit for the plant earlier this year. Last week, the Sanostee Chapter of the Navajo Nation issued a resolution opposing the proposed plant. The document also urges consideration of alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar power, in place of the plant. The chapter submitted the resolution to the Navajo Nation Tribal Council, an ardent supporter of the plant.

Jerry Bodie, a Sanostee Chapter delegate, told the Associated Press, “(The Tribal Council) didn’t listen … they think the power plant is good for all the people.”

However, one person who is listening is U.S. Rep. John Salazar. Last week, Salazar asked that the BIA hold public hearings in La Plata and Montezuma counties once the Desert Rock EIS is released in June. Salazar cited serious concerns regarding health impacts from the power plant and wrote, “Any new major source of air and water pollution located in Northern New Mexico, including the proposed Desert Rock Energy Project, could have a significant impact on air and water quality and the environment of Southwest Colorado. Many of my constituents from these counties and local elected officials have expressed considerable concern about the potential impacts of this project, and I believe that my constituents should have ample opportunity to participate in public hearings.”

There is some good news this week for local air quality, however. On Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency finalized a clean air plan for the Four Corners

Power Plant. The notorious plant has been among the worst polluters in the nation and is also located on the Navajo Nation near Farmington. The new plan contains federal emission limits for sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, total particulate matter and opacity, and dust control requirements.

“Since the Four Corners plant will be emitting more than 20,000 tons less sulfur dioxide per year than in the recent past, this action ensures that citizens in the Four Corners area will have cleaner air to breathe and visibility will be improved,” said Deborah Jordan, the EPA’s Air Division director for the region.

Though the EPA touts the plan as a collaborative effort, it exists only because the Sierra Club filed a 2005 lawsuit objecting to the absence of a clean air plan for the Four Corners plant.

Colorado gets poor carbon grade

Coloradoans may pride themselves on environmental consciousness, but a new report indicates that the Centennial State is actually lagging behind most of the rest of the country. According to “The Carbon Boom,” a fossil fuel analysis recently released by Environment Colorado, the state’s carbon emissions and contribution to global warming increased 38 percent between 1990 and 2004.

“Colorado’s jump in carbon pollution is the fifth highest in the country,” said Environment Colorado Executive Director Matt Baker. “Given the implications of global warming for our state, we should be leading the country in decreasing carbon pollution – not increasing it.” Colorado’s carbon contribution is especially damning. “Colorado is responsible for more carbon pollution than 175 entire nations,” Baker said.  

Nationwide, emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel consumption increased 18 percent between 1990-2004. The biggest culprits are coal-fired power plants and car emissions.

“The predicted impacts of climate change in the southwest

ern U.S. are particularly concerning to us,” said Gregg Thomas, of the Denver Department of Environmental Health.

Although the news may be discouraging, Colorado is beginning to change course. In March, Gov. Bill Ritter increased Amendment 37’s renewable energy goals, which will reduce carbon dioxide emissions 11 percent by 2020.

Stopgap clinic opens its doors

A temporary fix for the local health-care shortfall opened its doors this week. Health Services Clinic, the medical clinic that will be operated by Mercy Regional Medical Center as a short-term, stopgap solution to the primary care shortage in La Plata County, opened last Tuesday.

The clinic is a cooperative effort between the City of Durango, La Plata County and Mercy Regional Medical Center. The local health-care shortage was worsened with the March 31 closure of Valley Wide Health Services, an event that left between 8,000 and 10,000 La Plata County residents without primary health care. Health Services Clinic will be located at 1800 E. Third Ave., Suite 109, formerly the site of Valley Wide Health Services.

The clinic will not be a full-service primary care clinic but will offer: medication management; acute medical care for minor illnesses; preventative care checkups; and medical monitoring of chronic medical conditions.

Meanwhile, community members have an opportunity to help find a more permanent health care fix. The Colorado Blue Ribbon Commission for Health Care Reform will hold a Durango meeting in order to capture comments on comprehensive health care reform in Colorado. On May 12, the commission will visit Mercy Regional Medical Center and take public comments from 9 a.m.-noon. For more information, visit

Commemorative fire event planned

With the fifth anniversary of the Missionary Ridge Fire rapidly approaching, a diverse group of community members are planning an event to commemorate the local disaster. “Missionary Ridge, Five Years After the Fire: Remember, Learn, Prepare,” is scheduled for June 8-10.

The goals of the event are: to remember the sacrifices made as well as honor the services provided by so many during the fire; learn about fire and how our forests and wetlands are doing today and what natural things might happen later because of fire’s influence; and prepare for  the next disaster, whether fire, flood, drought, blizzard or the unimaginable. Details on the event are available at: .

– compiled by Will Sands


In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
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January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows