EPA revokes Desert Rock power plant’s permit

The Desert Rock Power Plant suffered a potentially fatal blow last week. The Environmental Protection Agency revoked the controversial power plant’s permit and sent Desert Rock back to square one of the review process.

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. In the summer of 2008, Desert Rock won a major victory when it gained approval from the Environmental Protection Agency. At the time, the EPA touted the plant as “state-of-the-art” in its permit.

Opponents, on the other hand, saw a great deal of smoke and mirrors. According to Sithe Global’s own 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.

In April of this year, the EPA recognized these problems, reconsidered the plant’s “state-of-the-art” status and asked that its Environmental Appeal Board voluntarily remand Desert Rock’s air quality permit. Last week, the agency officially revoked the permit, citing numerous deficiencies in the analysis. Among the issues was inadequate analysis of Desert Rock’s particulate matter and mercury, ozone precursor and carbon dioxide emissions. The EPA also acknowledged that it failed to consult with other agencies prior to issuing the permit. Opponents applauded the decision.

Lori Goodman, of the Navajo watchdog group Diné Care, said the remand will safeguard the health of the entire Four Corners region. “We’ve been saying for a long time that the Desert Rock permit process was flawed from the start due to existing adverse environmental and human public health conditions,” she said. “This situation would be worsened by the addition of Desert Rock. We are thankful that EPA has now stepped up to uphold the law and look out for the health of the people of the Four Corners Region, including the Navajo Nation.”

Mike Eisenfeld, of San Juan Citizens Alliance, argued that the remand has been a long time coming. He added that Sithe Global should consider modern alternatives for the Navajo Nation, which is also rich in renewable resources.

“This is a coal plant that should never be built,” he said. “It’s time for Sithe Global to consider some of their expertise in siting renewable energy in the region rather than continuing to bankroll the Desert Rock project that has insurmountable issues.”

Desert Rock spokesman Frank Maisano noted that Sithe Global is understandably disappointed in the remand and echoed prior sentiments that the impoverished Navajo Nation, which would have gained jobs and income from the plant, will be hit hardest.

“We feel like we have a good project,” he said. “But it’s not about us, it’s about the Navajo. They’ve invested seven years in this project, and the rug is being pulled out from under them by the EPA.”

However, Maisano noted that Desert Rock is not just going to blow away. The Navajo Nation and Sithe Global are carefully considering their next steps. “We’re leaving everything on the table at the moment,” he said. “The next step is to see what possibilities are out there, whether it be restarting the EPA permit process or exploring carbon sequestration options. And of course there are also legal options out there.”


Local Energy Tour takes off Saturday

La Plata County’s rich renewable efforts go on display this week. The 10th annual La Plata County Energy Tour returns Oct. 3, and this year the focus will be on much more than solar energy.  

The La Plata County Energy Tour has expanded this year to include homes and buildings powered by solar, wind and geothermal energy. Homeowners and installers will be available at each site to answer questions and discuss experiences using renewable energy and lowering utility bills.

“We are opening our home in the tour to show how a passive solar designed home, photovoltaic and domestic solar hot water systems can be used in existing neighborhoods,” said Ron Bunk, a participating homeowner. “We’re looking forward to sharing information with the hope that it will encourage others to adopt solar to help offset their carbon footprint. Currently, we are saving 500 pounds of carbon per month with our 2.1 kilowatt PV system.”

Tour maps are $5 and include options for bicycles and cars (those using cars are encouraged to carpool). Maps will be available for purchase Oct. 3 at the Durango Farmers Market, which meets in the First National Bank Parking lot at 259 W. 9th St. Homes and buildings will be open from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. that day for touring.

In addition, a guided bike tour will begin at 9:30 a.m. at the Durango Farmers Market (tour maps available and helmets are required). The bike tour will include homes and buildings within the City of Durango and end at the Carver Brewing Co. The tour is being coordinated by the Four Corners Office for Resource Efficiency (4CORE).

“We are proud to have inherited this event,” said Aileen Tracy, executive director of 4CORE. “Our goals are to raise awareness about renewable energy use and how energy efficient designs and renewable energy can be integrated into homes and buildings. We will also provide information about incentives and programs that are available to help defray the upfront costs of these projects.”

For more information visit www.fourcore.org/energytour.html or call 259-1916.


Researchers tie dust to drilling

Scientists may have identified a major source for Colorado’s recent dust epidemic. Based on local studies, they are pointing the finger at oil and gas development, charging that increased drilling has led to more frequent and severe dust storms.

Mud extracted from lakes high in the San Juan Mountains tells a story of changing land uses in the deserts below. The samples paint a 5,000-year history that shows spikes in sediments that can be traced to periods of desertification in the Southwest.

Going way back in time, Scientists believe that arrival of the railroads opened the door to large-scale livestock grazing, which in turn caused soil disturbance. The soil was kicked up by storms, and some particles ended up in the lakes.  

After the U.S. government adopted grazing restrictions on the vast public lands, the dust levels slowed again. However, scientists have seen another surge in dust, which local residents experienced firsthand during recent dust-ridden winters.

Tom Painter, a research scientist from Park City, Utah, has been trying to unravel the dust phenomenon. He recently told the Summit Daily News that the amount of dust falling on the San Juans has increased by 20 times in 2009, and he believes that oil and gas drilling is responsible. Painter found that dust levels started to spike in 2006, the same year oil and gas drilling on the Colorado Plateau increased dramatically.

The dust could have serious ramifications for Southwest Colorado water. Painter and colleagues estimated that dust caused snowmelt to start 45 - 48 days earlier this year in the San Juans.

– Will Sands




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Rolling retro

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