EPA puts the brakes on Desert Rock

The Desert Rock Power Plant suffered a major setback last week. The Environmental Protection Agency honored numerous appeals and sent review of the proposed power plant back to square one. Desert Rock proponents counter that the decision is not that significant.

Sithe Global has proposed the 1,500 megawatt Desert Rock on Navajo land southwest of Farmington in the vicinity of two existing coal-fired power plants – the Four Corners Power Plant and the San Juan Generating Station. If built, the $3.6 billion plant would be among the largest in the nation and provide electricity for 1.5 million customers in the West’s large, urban areas. This summer, Desert Rock won a major victory when it gained approval from the Environmental Protection Agency, which touted the plant as state-of-the-art in its clean air permit.

Opponents, on the other hand, saw a great deal of smoke and mirrors. According to Sithe Global’s estimates, Desert Rock is expected to emit 12.7 million tons of carbon dioxide a year into the Four Corners airshed, and appeals alleged that the EPA’s permit was rushed through without a proper review, courtesy of prodding from the Bush Administration.

Last Thursday, the EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board agreed and granted a full review of the scientific and legal issues raised over to the plant. The appellants applauded the decision.

“Our new president has said that we are now entering an era where science matters,” said Mike Eisenfeld of the San Juan Citizens’ Alliance. “Today’s decision supports his statement and is a strong indicator that Sithe Global will no longer have the green light to run roughshod over our health and environment.”

Desert Rock will now face a rigorous review, including a hard look at the plant’s impacts on the region’s ozone, which recently exceeded federal regulations. Diné Care, a Navajo group opposing the plant, commented that the remand is particularly significant since the region is already home to two of the biggest polluters in the nation. “This decision simply vindicates what we have been saying for more than five years,” said Dailan Long, of the group. “One doesn’t build another 1,500 megawatt coal plant in the midst of two of the dirtiest existing coal plants in the region without the potential for inflicting tremendous and additional harm on the people living here.”

The appellants also noted that the timing of the decision is significant and expect the Obama administration to shift emphasis away from coal-fired power and toward renewable resources, which happen to be abundant on the Navajo Nation.

“This is a critical decision, and one that gives the agency and the new administration an opportunity to re-think the wisdom of approving a huge, new coal plant when we really need to be developing renewable energy sources,” said Patrice Simms, with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “This permit is flawed in so many ways, it just needs to be junked.”

Sithe Global is taking a more matter-of-fact approach to the EPA decision and is actually calling it “a win” for Desert Rock. Rich Alonso, an attorney for Desert Rock, commented that the remand was not unexpected, was little more than a “procedural order” and could have been much worse.

“The order was expected by Desert Rock and in no way did the Environmental Appeals Board state that the challenges have merit,” Alonso said. “The order was a win for the Desert Rock project in that the EAB denied requests to completely stop the review of the Desert Rock permit and further delay the project.”

The formal review process is expected to take several months to complete, a timeframe that Desert Rock backers again say will only hurt the Navajo people. “Delays only hurt the economic opportunities for the Navajo Nation,” Alonso said. “The Nation, which overwhelmingly supports the project, loses more than $5 million in revenue, royalties, and lease and tax payments for each month it is delayed.”

 Guantanamo could move to Colorado

Southeast Colorado may be on its way to becoming the next Guantanamo Bay. In one of his first acts as head of state, President Barack Obama issued an executive order calling for the closure of the controversial prison in Cuba, which was opened by his predecessor to house suspected terrorists. The giant Supermax prison, in Florence, Colo., is now being considered as a possible new home for the Gitmo detainees.

Members of the Colorado Assembly are expressing anger that Gov. Bill Ritter supports bringing suspected foreign terrorists to a federal lockup in Colorado.

Sen. Ken Kester’s southeastern Colorado district contains more prisons than any other legislative district in the nation. Kester noted that he’s concerned about the dangers of having Gitmo detainees in Colorado as well as the economic strains they would put on Colorado’s strapped Department of Corrections.

“I don’t really think it would be appropriate to mix these terrorists with the current prison population,” Kester said. “They’re going to be in our prisons recruiting inmates to kill American servicemen and civilians.

State Rep. Cory Gardner is even more emphatic about keeping terror suspects out of the Centennial State. Gardner goes as far as to accuse Ritter of complicitly supporting terrorism. “It makes us a target,” he said. “If Gov. Ritter has his way, there will be a pipeline of terrorism from Kabul to Colorado.”

According to Associated Press reports, Ritter is actually taking more of a wait-and-see attitude. “If Supermax is chosen, there’s no reason to take a ‘not in my back yard’ approach,” a Ritter spokesman told the AP last week.

Supermax is devoted to an especially rigorous corrections policy. Prisoners are under constant surveillance and often kept in solitary confinement. Curiously, the mega-prison, west of Pueblo, is already home to a number of convicted terrorists. Al-Qaeda’s Zacarias Moussaoui is currently serving out a life sentence there alongside the “shoe-bomber” Richard Reid. The Unabomber, Theordore Kaczynski, and Oklahoma City bombing accomplice Terry Nichols also call Supermax home.



FLC completes Horse Gulch study

Horse Gulch, one of Durango’s most popular recreation areas, recently went beneath the microscope. A Fort Lewis College research group embarked on an extensive study of the area including its history, political and economic impacts, as well as the threats it faces. The group will present its findings next week.

The study was undertaken by a group of students and Assistant Professor Brad Clark as part of an inaugural Environmental Colloquium course. The group project involved compilation of a comprehensive inventory of the Horse Gulch resource by the students and tentative “threat assessment” of possible development scenarios regarding what is currently open space. 

The findings go public on Tues., Feb. 3. A free public event is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. in the Lyceum at the FLC Center for Southwest Studies. Students will present their research experiences and tentative findings, and the event will then be open for discussion and questions.


Obama pick has ties to area

Four Corners residents have a closer connection to Obama’s administration than they may have suspected. While you wouldn’t call Richard Holbrooke a native of Telluride, the part-time resident is certainly no stranger. Holbrooke, who was appointed by U.S. President Barack Obama last week to be the special U.S. envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, has a long and extensive relationship with the nearby town.

The former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the Clinton years owns a home in Telluride. Holbrooke has had a storied career in foreign policy and is best known for crafting the peace accords that ended three years of war in Bosnia. Nicknamed “the Bulldozer,” Holbrooke has a reputation for getting rival leaders to the negotiating table.

– Will Sands




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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