A date at Desert Rock

The times, they are a-changing. Frank Maisano suddenly wants me to buy him a drink.

Just a quick bevvie or two, he says in his trademark friendly tone. The next time he flies into town from his Washington, D.C., office, he’ll drop a line. Given the recent turn of events, I guess I owe it to him.

As you know by now, Frank is the face, voice and personality of the Desert Rock Power Plant. Anyone who’s turned these pages has seen the “media strategist’s” name. If you’ve done your homework, you know Frank is a mild-mannered, Tony Hillerman fan who sincerely believes the Four Corners is in desperate need of a fourth coal-fired power plant.

Back in the dark era of the W. and during the peak of the coal boom, Frank and Co. had Desert Rock motoring toward ground-breaking at top speed. In those happy Halliburton days, he had dollar signs in his eyes and repeatedly asked local residents to suck it up (smog, sulfur dioxide, mercury and acid rain) for the sake of the impoverished Navajo Nation. At some point, Frank started believing his own pitch. According to the view from his East Coast window, our future hinges on another point source of pollution, and without Desert Rock, the West (or at least a couple of uber-resorts in Phoenix) is certain to fail.

But the tables, fortunately, have turned. In a boon for local lungs (the Navajo included), the current administration has taken a dimmer view of Desert Rock’s version of “state-of-the-art.” Last week the agency officially trashed the permit for the “cleanest coal fired power plant in the nation,” and the local applause is still sounding. Believe it or not, 12.7 million tons of annual carbon emissions no longer earn the ribbon for “best in show.”

“I think I’m ready for that drink now,” I can almost hear Frank saying.

The sad truth is, I’m also ready to belly up with Maisano. And since our big sit-down is going to be on my dime, I’ve lined out another Desert Rock dream date.

With any luck, Frank can score the corporate jet from his firm, Bracewell & Giuliani (yep, that Giuliani), and after a quick hop, and a hundred or so gallons of jet fuel, we’ll return to ground zero for the West’s “growing energy needs” – the Las Vegas strip. It’s only fitting that the date begins here, the likely terminus of the Desert Rock transmission line and the probably beneficiary of degraded Four Corners air quality. After I buy him that first drink (I understand Frank prefers mineral water), Maisano can tell me why Durango, Northwest New Mexico and the Navajo Nation should be the ones eating Sin City’s smog. Over a second glass of bubbly, he could go on to explain how it is actually possible for a 4-mile-long strip to consume enough energy to power a city of 350,000.

A couple tequila martinis for me, a Pelligrino or two for Frank, and we’ll muster up some courage and enter the belly of the beast. There in the land of climate control – the casino – the thermostat magically hovers at 58 degrees despite blistering triple-digit temperatures outside. For old time’s sake, Frank and I will take a spin on the roulette wheel (hopefully recouping our jet fuel costs). Drunk on European bubbles and Mexican fire water, we’ll embrace the new normal and sneak a ceremonial compact fluorescent bulb into the lobby at Caesar’s Palace.

After dodging Caesar’s legion of casino cops, we’ll bid Lost Wages adieu, fire up the Leer, blast off from McCarran International and touch down mere minutes later at Four Corners Regional in Farmington. Frank and I – now the fastest of friends – will stumble out of the private jet and onto the edge of the Navajo Nation just a couple breaths away from the Four Corners Power Plant and the San Juan Generating Station. Having caught the late bird, we’ll arrive at an opportune moment – just as dawn hits and the power plants conclude an evening of opening the stacks and flooding the entire San Juan Basin with the dark, dirty stuff.

Frank might cough or mention a little scratch in his throat, and I’ll happily buy another round – an RC Cola for Frank (sorry we’re no longer in Vegas, baby) and a Tecate tallboy for me. And after a light breakfast of flatbread, green chile and pintos, we’ll score a reservation rental car and putter out to Lake Morgan, the cooling pond for the Four Corners Power Plant.

There at Lake Maui – aptly named for its abundant sunshine and consistent winds (hint, hint) – Frank can take a load off and enjoy some Four Corners beach time. Resting amongst the agave and purple sage and staring through the plant’s swirling, yellow plumes, Frank might just have his desert awakening (“Are you sure that was an RC Cola?”). There, head buzzing on Lake Morgan’s fabled mud flats, he’ll look out over the Navajo Nation and some of the richest solar and wind resources on the planet. And just like the chime of Giuliani’s buzzer back in D.C., the thunderbolt will strike – Desert Rock, the Navajo, the Four Corners and even Las Vegas would be better served by a solar/wind/geothermal/algae farm (take your pick) than yet another coal-fired power plant.

“You know what, I think I’ll buy the next round,” Frank might say. I’ll slip him another RC for the road as he climbs into a rented Prius and drives back to that East Coast board room loaded with new ideas and a clean conscience.

– Will Sands



In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

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