Friday, July 11, 2008

AG: E.P.A. Putting Cart Before Horse in Desert Rock Permitting

Attorney General Gary King

The Attorney General's Office and the New Mexico Environment Department today filed a joint motion to intervene in a federal lawsuit between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and proponents of the proposed Desert Rock power plant on Navajo Nation trust land in the Four Corners area.

"New Mexico can not afford to sit idly by as attempts are being made to skirt the legal requirements for a new coal-fired power plant to be built in the state," says Attorney General Gary King.

The EPA indicated it will issue a decision on the plant's air permit by July 31 as part of a proposed settlement of a lawsuit Desert Rock developers brought against the agency for delaying action on the Clean Air Act permit for the plant. New Mexico seeks to intervene because the July 31 deadline would mean that the EPA would act on the permit before it completes important and obligatory environmental reviews.

For example, if the EPA acts by July 31, it would do so in violation of the Endangered Species Act. That Act unequivocally requires that any EPA decision on a Desert Rock permit be guided by a completed formal consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding the impacts of Desert Rock on endangered species. That formal consultation—which takes several months—has not even begun.

An unidentified protestor, photographed by Mark Bralley, listens to testimony during a NM House committee meeting in Santa Fe during at the State Capitol on February 28, 2007.

"This permitting process is truly putting the cart before the horse. We believe there a number of regulatory issues that need to be addressed by the EPA before it can make a decision on this permit," says Attorney General King.

Sonny Weahkee has protested the plant on the Navajo Nation. He is Laurie's Weahkee's brother; both Weahkees are organizers at SAGE Council, a grassroots organizing group. Laurie Weahkee is also a Super Delegate to the Democratic Convention in Denver.

State Environment Department experts have been working closely with AG's Office attorneys to formulate an action plan to identify and address environmental and legal concerns presented by the proposed power plant. Both agencies agree that important environmental issues have yet to be addressed by the EPA in the Desert Rock permitting process. New Mexico therefore must have a seat at the table in this litigation to ensure that the EPA's permitting process includes adequate protection of the environment and the health of citizens of New Mexico.

"The effects on fish and other wildlife under the Endangered Species Act must be considered; carbon dioxide pollutant levels must be determined; compliance with new federal standards for ozone pollution must be met; and the maximum achievable control technology (MACT) standards for hazardous air pollutants have yet to be addressed by the EPA."

In a letter last month to the EPA, AG King and Governor Bill Richardson warned that fast-tracking the permit for Desert Rock without the required analysis could worsen air quality and adversely affect the health of those in the region.

Photo Credits: MG Bralley

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