For Immediate Release, June 27, 2014

Contact: Nellis Kennedy-Howard, Sierra Club, (218) 849-4523
Sarah Jane White, Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, (505) 608-1002
Michael Saul, Center for Biological Diversity, (303) 915-8308
Mike Eisenfeld, San Juan Citizens Alliance, (505) 360-8994

Interior Department Proposes to Keep Burning Dirty, Dangerous Coal at
Four Corners Power Plant in New Mexico

Coalition Calls for Clean-energy Alternatives

FARMINGTON, N.M.— A draft environmental review of the Four Corners Power Plant and Navajo Mine Energy Project ignores the devastating danger it poses to the climate, people and wildlife, according to comments submitted by environmental groups. The “draft environmental impact statement” for the project, located on Navajo Nation land in northwestern New Mexico, is also riddled with significant flaws and ignores any possibility of shutting down the plant, one of the most polluting in the United States, in favor of cleaner energy.

The study’s proposed action would allow the 52-year-old Four Corners Power Plant and Navajo Mine coal complex to continue operations from 2016 to 2041. The groups are calling on the Department of the Interior to account for the costs to the climate, public health, native cultures and biological resources of one of the nation’s dirtiest coal plants and consider clean-energy alternatives before allowing another quarter century of lethal coal combustion.

Comprehensive comments submitted by Western Environmental Law Center on behalf of the public-interest groups conclude that the draft study prepared by Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement cannot be used to justify any decision to prolong the mine or power plant.

Deficiencies include a lack of analysis of alternatives, such as early retirement of the power plant in favor of cleaner energy options including wind and solar; inadequate consideration of carbon pollution impacts and climate risks; neglect of public-health considerations; minimization of projected water impacts and threats from coal combustion waste; ignorance of Navajo law and impacts to local culture; and failure to assess financial terms and trust assets at the coal complex.

Under the National Environmental Policy Act, Interior must thoroughly assess the full impact of prolonging these aging coal operations, and must compare those impacts to alternative sources of energy, including renewable resources such as wind and solar generation. Instead the department ignored critical data and available scientific resources that would provide the public and decision-makers with a fair and comprehensive analysis of the likely impacts of another 25 years of coal-fired power from the Navajo Mine and Four Corners Power Plant.

“Residents are at high risk in the impacted areas from both coal ash and the coal burning power plant. The DEIS claims that health impacts from 25 more years of FCPP and Navajo Mine would be minor when there are known public-health crises throughout the area. More than half the population in the Four Corners area suffering from respiratory, kidney, heart, digestive system and central brain problems, meningitis, cancer and rheumatoid arthritis from living in this pollution so tell me there is no health impact in the Four Corners.” said Sarah Jane White of Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment. “The DEIS complete failure on public health represents one of the worst environmental justice situations in the country.” 

“OSM’s failure to adequately assess the health and water impacts from the continued burning of coal at Four Corners Power Plant is unacceptable,” said Nellis Kennedy-Howard of the Sierra Club. “Four Corners Power Plant is over 50 years old — it’s time to move to clean and safe alternatives in renewable energy.”  

“We are disappointed that OSM has failed to fulfill its obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act to ensure that the impacts of another 25 years of operation at this coal complex are presented both to the agency and to the public,” said Megan Anderson of the Western Environmental Law Center.  “Without an honest accounting of impacts, OSM cannot make a rational decision about continued operations.”

“Interior’s draft plan obscures the well-documented fact that mercury and selenium pollution from Four Corners and other regional coal plants imperil the survival and recovery of highly endangered fish species in the San Juan River,” said Michael Saul, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The federal agencies can’t rubber-stamp the same lethal coal development that their own science shows to be causing fish extinctions.”

Communities and power companies throughout the United States are moving away from coal power to avoid devastating climate change and other pollution dangers. Historic owners at Four Corners Power Plant are leaving, including Southern California Edison and El Paso Electric, while BHP Billiton has already sold the mine and will exit in 2016. This leaves Arizona Public Service as the majority owner of Four Corners, shouldering the massive investment required to keep the electricity flowing to Phoenix, and the Navajo Nation taking over ownership of the Navajo Mine, including increased regulatory liabilities for carbon/greenhouse gases, mercury and air toxics, numerous deficient permits and retrofitting the aged Four Corners Power Plant.

“Given the link between coal-fired power plant emissions and extreme environmental/economic/health impacts, it is alarming the Department of the Interior and cooperating agencies continue the sacrifice of the Southwest region of U.S. prioritizing 25 more years of the coal complex, ignoring renewable technologies and innovation. At the same time that the scientific community and Obama administration acknowledge climate change, increased drought, wildfire, and water scarcity currently occurring in the region, the DEIS falls way short,” said Mike Eisenfeld, New Mexico energy coordinator for San Juan Citizens Alliance. “The Department of the Interior must address the deficiencies in the draft version of their EIS.”

Western Environmental Law Center filed comments on behalf of Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, the Center for Biological Diversity, Amigos Bravos, WildEarth Guardians, Sierra Club and San Juan Citizens Alliance.


The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 775,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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