Desert Rock goes to Washington


 


The fight against the Desert Rock Power Plant moved on to the nation’s capital last week. On Oct. 2, the State of New Mexico filed an appeal of the Environmental Protection Agency’s recent issuance of an air quality permit for the controversial power plant.

Sithe Global would like to begin construction on the Desert Rock plant as early as next year. In collaboration with the Diné Power Authority, Sithe Global has proposed Desert Rock on Navajo Reservation land, 30 miles southwest of Farmington. When completed, the $2 billion plant would be among the largest in the nation and generate enough energy for 1.5 million homes. From the outset, Sithe has touted Desert Rock as state-of-the-art, using 80 percent less water than wet-cooled, coal-fired plants and having an efficiency of 41 percent.

The EPA agreed with this assessment and granted approval to the plant July 31. In its 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.

However, the State of New Mexico sees a different side of Desert Rock and on Oct. 2 filed an appeal that alleges the EPA has violated its own Clean Air Act by approving the plant. Among other things, the appeal notes that Desert Rock would contribute an additional 10 million tons of carbon dioxide into local skies and increase Four Corners pollution by more than 30 percent. The appeal joins a second one brought by Navajo and conservation groups going before the Environmental Appeals Board in Washington, D.C.

“The EPA has a legal obligation to give New Mexicans the full protections afforded to them under the Clean Air Act,” said New Mexico Attorney General Gary King. “The problem here is that EPA cut corners to get this permit out the door and ignored some real problems.”

In addition to a failure to regulate the plant’s carbon emissions, New Mexico contends that the EPA failed to adhere to the Endangered Species Act and did not analyze pollutants such as mercury.

On the flip side, Desert Rock proponents contend that New Mexico is overstating the dangers. And once again, Sithe Global noted that such delays only hurt the impoverished Navajo Nation.

“It is disappointing to hear state leaders who know better, repeat the same bad facts and hope they will become true,” Frank Maisano, Desert Rock spokesman, said. “It is the same old story of the governor and attorney general saying ‘no’ to Navajo jobs, Navajo revenue and Navajo sovereignty.”

And as he has said frequently in the past, Maisano repeated that Desert Rock will not adversely impact air quality in the Four Corners. “The state continues to just disregard the advanced environmental technologies that will reduce carbon emissions through improved efficiency, virtually eliminate regional haze pollutants and reduce water use by 85 percent from a typical power plant,” he said.

Meanwhile, ozone pollution levels in Farmington’s San Juan County have reached, and are expected to exceed, the new federal limit. This poor air quality is due in a large part to the two existing power plants in the region – the Four Corners Power Plant and the San Juan Generating Station – which together emit more than 38 million tons of carbon dioxide a year into the local airshed. Strangely enough, when San Juan County is declared a nonattainment area for ozone, the EPA – the same agency that approved Desert Rock – will have to formulate a plan to mitigate pollution in the Four Corners.


 


McCombs changes Village plans

Shady information is once again descending on the Village at Wolf Creek. Just as the Rio Grande National Forest has reopened the high-altitude development to public scrutiny, the Village’s configuration has mysteriously changed.

Clear Channel Radio baron and former Minnesota Vikings owner Red McCombs has pitched the large-scale “village” near the base of the Wolf Creek Ski Area, which is unaffiliated with the project. According to his original plan, the Texas developer

wants to build 2,172 units and more than 220,000 square feet of commercial space, including 12 restaurants and several hotels.

However, McCombs’ private land is a Forest Service inholding and cut off from highway access. The current Forest Service process is in response to a new application from McCombs for transportation and utility corridors across public lands to their private property. McCombs’ first application and the resulting Forest Service approval were close to being rejected in court when the two entities agreed to go back to the drawing board.

Colorado Wild, longtime opponent of the Village, is now asking the Forest Service to extend its Oct. 31 deadline. In a letter to the Rio Grande National Forest, Ryan Demmy Bidwell, executive director for the group, noted that significant changes – including new property ownership, easements, road alignments and lot boundaries – have been made to McCombs’ plan.

“These modifications appear to make it impossible for the original Village at Wolf Creek Development Plan to be implemented. Instead, it can be reasonably presumed that an entirely new development proposal is being developed,” he wrote.

With this in mind, Bidwell requested that the Forest Service extend the public process beyond Oct. 31. “We find it problematic that the Forest Service is accepting public comments on an out-of-date and clearly irrelevant development proposal, and encourage you to reconsider the public scoping period currently under way,” he wrote.

Rio Grande forest officials have made no decision on whether to extend the public comment period. In the meantime, they are accepting written public comments on the Village at Wolf Creek up until the original deadline of Oct. 31. For more information, visit: www.fs.fed.us/r2/riogrande/projects/forcomment/index.


 


Tour of Durango postponed until ’09

A first-ever for Durango has opted to wait until 2009 to kick off. The Tour of Durango – a noncompetitive cycling and trail running event originally scheduled for this Sunday – will actually be taking off next summer.

The Tour of Durango was intended to be a mountain bike and trail-running event showcasing Durango’s trails system. In addition, the event was created as a fund-raiser for Trails 2000 and the Southwest Conservation Corps, two organizations responsible for Durango’s recreational resource.

The event was set to take off this Sunday, but organizers were presented with several opportunities to expand the scope and nature of the Tour of Durango.

“We realized that the event as it was originally proposed was going to get us just part of the way to where we want to be, which is providing an event that injects new energy to the Durango mountain bike and running scenes,” said event director Jeff Frost. The plans for next year are to partner with an existing event and bring more visitors into Durango. The hope is to create a much larger-scale happening complete with multi-day mountain bike and trail-running opportunities.

All registered 2008 participants have been contacted and their entry fees have been refunded.

– Will Sands

 

 

 

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