Area pollution draws legal challenge

Several legal challenges are now working to clear the air over the Four Corners. Both a lawsuit and a petition were filed last week in an effort to clean up existing sources of pollution in New Mexico and Arizona.

A coalition of conservation groups filed suit last week against the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service. WildEarth Guardians, Diné CARE, and Carson Forest Watch charged the agencies with refusing to curb air pollution associated with oil and gas drilling in northwest New Mexico.

“Public health is squarely at risk, yet the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service are pushing ahead with more oil and gas drilling,” said Jeremy Nichols with WildEarth Guardians. “It’s time to stop drilling away clean air in New Mexico.”

At issue is the failure of the federal agencies to limit ground-level ozone while allowing more oil and gas drilling. Typically an urban problem, ozone air pollution is on the rise in the Four Corners region. In recent years, ozone levels have climbed dangerously high in the region, which is on the brink of violating federal health limits for ozone.

With more than 20,000 oil and gas wells operating in the San Juan Basin and more than 15,000 additional wells approved, oil and gas drilling operations represent the largest source of ozone in the region. Running in a close second are the existing coal-fired power plants – the San Juan Generating Station and the Four Corners Power Plant.

“These agencies are turning their backs while the San Juan Basin chokes on pollution,” said Nichols. “It’s time to start confronting the impacts of dirty energy development. It’s time for these agencies to start taking responsibility for the health of the region they’re impacting.”

In nearby Page, Ariz., a third coal-fired power plant is harming air quality in the region. This week a group of conservation and tribal organizations petitioned the National Park Service to declare that the pollution from the Navajo Generating Station is clouding views of Grand Canyon National Park.

The Navajo Generating Station is the eighth-largest coal-fired power plant complex in the country. In 1986, the Department of the Interior found that sulfur dioxide emissions from the plant, which is located less than 12 miles from the Grand Canyon, were contributing to haze in the park. The plant owners were required to install sulfur scrubbers, but they have not been sufficient according to petitioners.

“Requiring more efficient pollution control equipment at the Navajo plant would bring cleaner air to the Grand Canyon,” said Stephanie Kodish, of the National Parks Conservation Association.

NPCA, the Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Trust, Diné CARE, To Nizhoni Ani, and the San Juan Citizens Alliance are all party to the petition. A certification of visibility impairment from the National Park Service would require the Environmental Protection Agency to order the plant to install best available retrofit technology to reduce its emissions.

“It’s time that coal plants are required to account for their externalities and our national treasures protected with measures to improve visibility, reduce emissions and safeguard public health,” said Mike Eisenfeld, of San Juan Citizens Alliance.

The winds may be turning against coal-fired power. Last week’s lawsuit follow an EPA reversal on the permit for Desert Rock, which would be among the largest power plants in the country.

Agency targets illegal encampments

Illegal campsites went into the cross-hairs last week. Following a small wildfire triggered by an illegal camp on Animas Mountain, the Bureau of Land Management and City of Durango are going after squatters.

The fire was triggered in an area that was closed to public entry at the time. The camp in question also contained several illegally constructed primitive shelters. Similar illegal situations have been discovered on BLM lands in the Grandview and Horse Gulch areas and on properties managed by the City of Durango as open space.

“We also see huge accumulations of trash associated with these activities. Last year BLM had to haul out dozens of bags of trash from just one squatter camp in the Grandview Ridge area,” said BLM Law Enforcement Officer Logan Briscoe. “The resulting human feces buildup is also a concern.”

Both the BLM and City emphasized that areas adjacent to Durango, including Horse Gulch, the Durango Mountain Park, Animas Mountain and the Dalla Mountain Park, are closed to camping and overnight activities. “The natural lands surround

ing Durango are heavily used by the community, and all recreational users are encouraged to ‘Leave No Trace,’” said Cathy Metz, Durango Parks and Recreation director. “This includes staying on established trails and packing out all trash to leave areas in a natural condition.”

BLM and City of Durango officials will be monitoring areas for illegal campsites and activities as summer approaches. Recreationists are encouraged to report illegal activities on public lands by calling 882-6849.

FLC off to road cycling nationals

Fort Lewis College Cycling is once again pedaling off to the big show. Local riders will compete in the Collegiate Road Cycling National Championships in Fort Collins this weekend, May 8-10. Top collegiate teams will square off in the road race, criterium and team time trial events.

FLC Cycling has been competing regionally for the past nine weeks in all three events, and team members for the nationals were selected based on their recent results and contributions to the team events and functions.

The Women’s Nationals Team includes Missy Erickson, Tina Dominic, Emma Millar, Sabina Kraushaar and Sarah Sturm. The FLC Men’s Nationals Team will consist of eight riders who have shown to be contenders in the conference races: Jesse DeKrey, Alister Ratcliff, Russ Brown, Yarden Gazit, Rotem Ishay, Ian Burnett, Ian Gordon and Cody Stephenson.

Together, the riders will be gunning for a first ever for Fort Lewis College. The cycling team has never earned the overall Division 1 Omnium National Road Championship Title. Last year, Fort Lewis College Cycling was runner up to Lee’s McRae College at the Road National Championships. The competition promises to be stiff this year with CU, CSU, UC Davis, Stanford and UC Berkley all bringing strong squads to the championships.

Results and reports can be found on and or locals can log in for live racing action at

ZERI founder returns to Durango

Innovations inspired by nature go into the spotlight this week. The Sustainability Alliance of Southwest Colorado has brought Gunter Pauli back to Durango for a presentation May 8.

Pauli has been a leader in sustainability since he founded Zero Emissions Research and Initiatives (ZERI) in 1994. Since then, he has espoused the aspiration of Zero Emissions as the path to sustainability. ZERI has engaged in dozens of projects on five continents, several of them using agricultural and other organic wastes to grow mushrooms while generating superior animal feed. One such project in Colombia recently received the annual sustainability award from the Specialty Coffee Association of America. Another “pulp to protein” program has been providing livelihoods for AIDS orphans in Zimbabwe for more than 10 years. The spin-off of the Durango Compost Company from the Durango Coffee Company is a local example of ZERI-inspired business.

Pauli’s presentation, “Technologies from Nature Inspire Innovations and Generate Jobs,” is set for 7 p.m. Friday in 130 Noble Hall at Fort Lewis College. Visit for more information.

– Will Sands



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