Court clamps down on mercury

Local lungs got good news last week when a federal appeals court tightened regulations for coal-fired power plants. Three judges ruled last Friday that the Bush administration ignored the law when it lightened standards for mercury emissions. The ruling is especially important for the Four Corners region, which houses two of the nation’s dirtiest plants – the Four Corners Power Plant and the San Juan Generating Station.

On Feb. 8, the three-judge panel unanimously struck down a mercury-control plan imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency three years ago. The plan established an emissions trading process in which some plants could avoid installing mercury control technology by buying pollution credits.

Environmentalists and health experts argued that cap-and-trade would create hot spots of mercury contamination near some power plants. In addition, critics charged that the weak rule would not have even taken full effect until well beyond 2020. The standard would have also allowed coal-fired power plants to avoid controls on any of other air toxins they emit, which include arsenic, lead, hydrogen chloride and nickel.

Seventeen states, more than a dozen Indian tribes and environmental and health groups joined in a suit to block the regulation, saying it did not adequately protect public health. On Friday, they were vindicated by the court.

In its ruling, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit strongly rebuked EPA. The court accused the agency of creating an illegal loophole for the power-generating industry, rather than applying the emission standards of the Clean Air Act. In addition, the ruling completely overturned both EPA’s delisting rule and the agency’s cap-and-trade alternative to strict standards. 

Nathan Willcox, of Environment America, applauded the court. “We are thrilled,” he said. “EPA’s rule would have worsened the already high levels of mercury contamination.”

Only a few grams of mercury can contaminate a 25-acre lake to the point where fish are unsafe to eat. However, power plants emit 48 tons of mercury into the U.S. airshed each year, and the EPA’s own research shows that coal-fired power plants are the most significant contributor to contamination.  

Ann Weeks, attorney for the national Clean Air Task Force, said that the public can now look forward to a less toxic future. “The court has now told EPA in no uncertain terms to follow the law as it is written,” she said. “We are looking forward to working on rules that reflect the most stringent controls achievable for this industry, as the Clean Air Act requires. That’s what is needed to alleviate the public health issues associated with mercury contamination in fish and wildlife.”

Early flows hit the San Juan River

River season is officially under way in the Four Corners. Thanks to big help from Mother Nature, the flood gates have opened and 3,000 cubic feet per second are currently flowing through the San Juan River. Those levels are scheduled to remain through May, at which time the release will be bumped up to 5,000 cfs for 30 days.

Recent snowstorms boosted snowpack in areas of the San Juan Mountain to as high as 170 percent of average, and precipitation for anuary in the San Juan basin was 198 percent of average. In addition, the current runoff forecast for the San Juan River above Navajo Reservoir is currently 168 percent of average, and more snow is obviously expected in coming months.

As a result of these figures, and following discussions with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Reclamation decided to open the gates at Navajo Reservoir. Increased flows started Feb. 11 and reached a level of 3,000 cfs Feb. 12. The release is scheduled to remain until May, when it will be bumped up dramatically.

The spill is good news for area boaters. The high flows will open the Bluff to Mexican Hat (25 miles) and Mexican Hat to Clay Hills (80 miles) sections of the San Juan to river trips during this unusual time of the year.

As an added plus, permits are free through the month of February. Fees begin after that, but permits should be easy to come by for at least a couple months. Interested boaters can call the San Juan Field office at: (435) 587-1544.   

The decision to begin releasing was made at a public Bureau of Reclamation meeting in late January in Farmington. The release will serve the dual purpose of freeing up space in Navajo Reservoir for spring run-off and meeting flow recommendations for the endangered fish on the San Juan.

Agency re-airs draft forest plan

A full spectrum of public lands issues – oil and gas leasing; public lands grazing; the creation of a West Hermosa Wilderness; Wild and Scenic Rivers; closure of a section of the Colorado Trail, and more – will once again go before the public next week. A second series of community meetings on the San Juan Public Lands Center’s draft Revised Land Management Plan have been scheduled.

If adopted, the draft will guide management of the region’s 2.4 million acres of Bureau of Land Management and National Forest lands and replace a plan that has been in place since 1983.

The Durango meeting is set for Thurs., Feb. 21, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. in the Fort Lewis College Ballroom. This forum will discuss wilderness recommendations, inventoried roadless areas, and wild and scenic river recommendations. A meeting focusing on winter recreation is set for Feb. 19 in the Silverton Town Hall. And a forum looking at motorized recreation and public lands grazing is scheduled for Feb. 28 in the Cortez Conference Center. Similar public sessions have been planned for Pagosa Springs, South Fork and Norwood.

In addition, public comments on the draft plan will be accepted through March 12, and can be submitted at, where the entire plan is also available for review. Comments can also be faxed to (916) 456-6724 or mailed to: San Juan Plan Revision, P.O. Box 162909, Sacramento, CA 95816-2909.

FLC Cycling Team has its day

“Therefore, I, Bill Ritter, Jr., Governor of the State of Colorado, do hereby proclaim February 5, 2008, Fort Lewis College Cycling Team Day in the State of Colorado.”

So states the honorary proclamation presented to the FLC Cycling Team by the Governor’s Office. The team was supposed to have accepted the honor in person, but Mother Nature had different plans as a debilitating snowstorm slammed into the Four Corners earlier that week.

After some confusion concerning whether or not the cycling team would be honored on a different day, it was determined Tues., Feb.5, would remain as FLC Cycling Team Day.

Despite the fact that the day has passed, Fort Lewis College offered congratulations to the cycling team, especially coaches Rick Crawford and Dave Hagen, on the legacy of excellence they have built over the years.

The team is the reigning NCCA Mountain Bike National Champion, an honor they are enjoying for the second consecutive year and the ninth time overall. The team’s other 2007 finishes include third at Road Nationals, third at Track Nationals, and second at Cyclocross Nationals. These finishes place the FLC Cycling program at the top of the collegiate ranks.

– Will Sands


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Rolling retro

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