Desert Rock appeal in the works


Citing a breach of process, the State of New Mexico has taken a strong stand against a recent Environmental Protection Agency decision approving the Desert Rock Power Plant. This week, Governor Bill Richardson and Attorney General Gary King filed an appeal of what they called an “ill-advised decision” to issue an air quality permit for the massive power plant proposed southwest of Farmington.

The EPA announced its decision last Thur., July 31. In the decision, the agency praised the proposed plant’s emission standard as among the most stringent in the country. “The Desert Rock power plant will be one of the cleanest pulverized coal-burning power plants in the country,” said Wayne Nastri, EPA administrator.

What Nastri did not mention, however, was an ongoing lawsuit from Sithe Global, Desert Rock’s parent company, which called for an expedited review of the plant. Richardson and King suspect that the EPA and Sithe Global cut a deal in order to keep Desert Rock from being reviewed in court.

“EPA is bending to the will of corporate, financial and misguided political interests that will pollute New Mexico’s skies,” Richardson said. “EPA’s decision ignores its obligations to protect the health of residents and the environment in New Mexico and the region.”

Richardson and King noted that New Mexico would immediately file an appeal of the permit. “There are significant legal hurdles ahead, and we intend to challenge the permit before the Environmental Appeals Board in Washington, D.C.,” King said.

Contrary to the Sithe Global claims of light emissions, New Mexico Environment Department Secretary Ron Curry noted that by issuing the permit, the EPA is violating its own Clean Air Act. He added that the existing San Juan Generating Station and Four Corners Power Plant already emit 28 million tons of carbon dioxide into the region’s airshed each year. Desert Rock will add another 10 million tons a year into local skies, increasing Four Corners pollution by more than 30 percent.

“The Four Corners area is already burdened with high levels of mercury contamination and smog, and this facility will only worsen those problems,” Curry said.

In spite of these concerns and the fact that San Juan County is expected to be declared a pollution non-attainment area, Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. hailed the EPA decision. He acknowledged health concerns but noted the economic boost the plant will offer the Navajo in terms of jobs and income.

“As a Nation, we’re working very hard toward standing on our own two feet, and this permit goes a long way toward bringing all that into fruition,” he said. “We know that there will continue to be challenges, but, hopefully, at day’s end, we will prevail.”

Ozone levels in Farmington’s San Juan County have reached, and are expected to soon exceed, the new federal limit. When that happens, the EPA, will have to formulate a plan to mitigate pollution in the Four Corners.


HD Mountains drilling set to begin

As the first natural gas drilling begins in the nearby HD Mountains, conservationists are making an effort to minimize the impacts and raise awareness. San Juan Citizens Alliance is sponsoring a wildflower rescue this Friday in the Saul’s Creek Area.

The San Juan Public Lands Center recently granted final authorization to BP America to drill four coalbed methane wells in the vicinity of Saul’s Creek. The exploration will represent the first drilling in the HD Mountains, just east of Bayfield, since approval of the Northern San Juan Basin coalbed methane project in April 2007.

While the four wells are located in the HDs, the locations fall outside the HD Mountain Roadless Area and away from the Fruitland Outcrop, the areas generating the most controversy during the San Juan National Forest’s five-year review of drilling in the area. The Forest Service expects to approve another seven new wells in Saul’s Creek in coming weeks.

Mark Pearson, executive director of San Juan Citizens Alliance, noted that the Forest Service is authorizing the 11 wells in spite of an ongoing lawsuit, which could overturn the approval.

“Conservation groups have challenged in court the project’s overall impacts, with a focus on the roadless area, key wildlife habitat areas, watersheds and stream corridors,” he said. “BP’s wells in Saul’s Creek have been approved while this court challenge wends its way through the system.”

Pearson added that the wells will significantly alter the HD Mountains landscape. “They will substantially impact the recreational trail system in Saul’s Creek and result in miles of new road construction through the pine forests, meadows and wildflower fields that denote Saul’s Creek.” 

Friday’s event is an opportunity for the public to see Saul’s Creek and take action to mitigate the damage caused by the construction of new roads and well pads. The rescue is scheduled for 3-5 p.m. on Fri., Aug. 8. Participants should meet at the entrance to Saul’s Creek, just east of Bayfield on U.S. Hwy. 160, and bring shovels and trowels to help transplant and relocate wildflowers from proposed well pad sites and new roads.

FLC takes national cycling honors

Fort Lewis College pedaled back to the top of the collegiate cycling world last week. Skyhawk cyclists narrowly dethroned archrival Lees-McRae College and reclaimed the Collegiate National Team title.

The season-long points race proved to be a nail-biter as FLC earned 76 points to edge out Lees-McRae’s 75 points. In the last year, Fort Lewis and Lees-McRae traded team omnium titles at the USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike, Cyclocross, and Road National Championships. The mix resulted in a near points deadlock. The contest that made the difference ironically was the first one of the season, the USA Cycling Collegiate Track National Championships where Fort Lewis finished third as a team, a mere two spots ahead of Lees-McRae’s fifth.

Daniel Matheny, National Collegiate manager with USA Cycling, noted the significance of Fort Lewis topping the national rankings. “On top of determining start line call-ups for subsequent championships, the rankings recognize the collegiate teams with the most well-rounded squad of riders across all disciplines,” he said.

Local airport posts record gains

Bucking the national trend, air travel is booming in La Plata County. The Durango-La Plata County Airport broke all previous records for airline passenger boardings over the last two months.

In June, 13,854 passengers boarded commercial flights, an increase of 43 percent from last year. July set an all-time record with 16,023 passengers, smashing the previous record of 13,398 set in March of 1998.  

The strong increases were primarily the result of the new service by Frontier Airlines, which helped increase seat capacity by more than 50 percent to 21,478. In July, passengers filled three-quarters of the available seats. The record passenger numbers, resulting from the increase in available seats and the lowering of fares, are an indicator of how strong the demand is for air service in the Four Corners region, said Ron Dent, director of aviation.  “The high cost of driving to Albuquerque for airline flights generally does not make economic sense with lower fares now available from Durango,” he added.

– Will Sands




In this week's issue...

July 18, 2024
Rebuilding Craig

Agreement helps carve a path forward for town long dependent on coal

July 11, 2024
Reining it in

Amid rise in complaints, City embarks on renewed campaign to educate dog owners

July 11, 2024
Rolling retro

Vintage bikes get their day to shine with upcoming swap and sale