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Home / Articles / News / Features /  Down and Dirty

Down and Dirty

Opponents of the Desert Rock Power Plant say it's time to get over coal

December 17, 2008, 12:00 am


In the absence of federal leadership on the issue of climate change and renewable energy, many states have started taking action on their own.

Here in New Mexico, two years ago, Gov. Bill Richardson declared the state would reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 2000 levels by 2012, 10 percent below 2000 levels by 2020 and 75 percent below 2000 levels by 2050. (Prior to that, the Legislature had also passed a renewable portfolio for the state, mandating that 15 percent of the state’s electricity come from renewable sources by 2015 and 25 percent by 2020.)

But if built, Desert Rock would emit an estimated 12.7 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions each year. Greenhouse gas emissions include carbon dioxide, as well as water vapor, methane, nitrous oxide and ozone. That would undoubtedly harm the state’s plans to reduce carbon emissions, according to Jim Norton, director of the Environmental Protection Division of the state’s environment department. If Desert Rock is built, it will also mean that reductions will have to come from elsewhere, including facilities already in use.

In October, the state of New Mexico filed an appeal after the US Environmental Protection Agency issued an air-quality permit for the facility that says Desert Rock would not have an adverse effect on a variety of air quality issues in the region. The state disagrees and has cited seven major concerns that justify the permit being reevaluated. Those include the agency’s failure to consult with the US Fish and Wildlife Service on how the plant might affect endangered species, as well as how Desert Rock would affect visibility even within nearby national parks, including Colorado’s Mesa Verde National Park and the Grand Canyon.

But according to Norton, there is nothing the state can do to stop the plant or even affect its design, other than appeal decisions from federal agencies or engage in litigation against Desert Rock Energy Company.
“Because the plant is on tribal land, the state of New Mexico does not have direct authority for permitting the plant—instead that authority resides with the [EPA],” Norton says. “If it was on state jurisdiction land, we never would have permitted it.”

As for the company’s insistence that the plant will be a clean power plant, Norton says there is “no such thing.”

“The proposed Desert Rock plant is cleaner than the technology that was put in place out there, many decades ago at [the Four Corners and San Juan plants],” he says. “But that still doesn’t mean it’s clean—there is still a lot of pollution coming out of those stacks.”

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