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For Immediate Release, April 27, 2009

Contact: Amy Atwood, (541) 914-8372, atwood@biologicaldiversity.org

EPA to Withdraw Permit for New Mexico Coal-fired Power Plant

FARMINGTON, N.M. In the face of appeals by the Center for Biological Diversity and other groups, the EPA today asked its Environmental Appeals Board to voluntarily reject its issuance of a permit approving the Desert Rock coal-fired power plant in northwest New Mexico.

The agency’s issuance of a “prevention of significant deterioration” permit to the Desert Rock Energy Company is necessary for the power plant to proceed. Its withdrawal request continues a pattern of federal and state agencies, and power plant companies, delaying or canceling proposed coal-fired power plants around the country as concern grows for their environmental impacts and financial viability. Coal-fired power plants are the single greatest stationary source of carbon dioxide emissions in the nation, and their future has become uncertain as the federal government progresses toward regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

Among the issues warranting additional consideration was EPA’s failure to complete Section 7 consultation under the Endangered Species Act prior to issuing the permit. As the Center’s appeal showed, the proposed coal plant would emit mercury and other contaminates in the San Juan River basin, where the river and two endangered fish species are already afflicted with heavy-metal contamination resulting from operation of three nearby coal-fired power plants. The Center’s 2008 appeal asserted that potential for additional contamination and effects to endangered species required that EPA analyze impacts to those species prior to issuing the new permit.

“Desert Rock promises even more pollution from coal combustion already driving fish species extinct in the   San Juan   River basin,” said Amy Atwood, senior attorney and public lands energy director at the Center. “The EPA was indisputably required to consider the consequences of approving this permit pursuant to the Endangered Species Act. Today’s action is a welcome first step toward correcting that violation.”

The Desert Rock power plant could emit hundreds of millions of tons of greenhouse gases over its 50-year lifespan, exacerbating local contamination problems in the process. Climate change is already contributing to long-term drought, weakening the ability of species like the highly endangered   Colorado  pikeminnow and razorback sucker to survive and recover. In addition, the plant would contribute more contamination to the fishes’ habitat for mercury, selenium, and other contaminants.

Desert Rock would be built near three existing coal-fired power plants: the San Juan Generating Station, an 1,800-megawatt facility located 15 miles west of Farmington; the Four Corners Power Plant, a 2,040-megawatt plant about 25 miles west of Farmington; and the Navajo Generating Station, a 2,250-megawatt station located on the Navajo Nation near Page, Ariz.

The Center for Biological Diversity is dedicated to ensuring that atmospheric CO 2 pollutant levels are reduced to below 350 parts per million (ppm), which leading climate scientists warn is necessary to prevent devastating climate change.  Further development of greenhouse-intensive energy sources, including coal-fired power plants, is fundamentally incompatible with achieving this goal.  If greenhouse emissions are not immediately reduced, the current atmospheric CO 2 level of 385 ppm will rise to approximately 500 ppm by mid-century, triggering mass wildlife extinctions, catastrophic global weather and ecosystem changes, and tragic human suffering.

To download the Environmental Protection Agency’s motion, click here.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 220,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.


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