Group Sues EPA for Inaction on Coal Permit
A Navajo Nation enterprise has filed a lawsuit against the US Environmental Protection Agency Tuesday for dragging its feet on an air permit for a proposed coal-fired power plant. Dine Power Authority of the Navajo Nation and Houston-based Sithe Global Power have partnered to build the $3 billion, 1500 megawatt Desert Rock plant. The group filed for a permit back in 2004 and is still awaiting a final decision. “Time is money,” said Steven Begay, the general manager of DPA. Begay added, “Sithe is spending money, and we’re spending money. The longer we wait, the more money we spend … and we don’t want to do that. We want to move forward.”
Sithe has alredy invested about $20 million in the project and the lawsuit claims the tribe is losing $5 million per month in tax revenue for each month the permit is delayed. The investor group announced in January that they would be suing the agency, and that they would be represented by friend of ‘big energy,’ Giuliani and Bracewell. Apparently Rudy Giuliani will find ways to assert his political will, even if he can’t be President.
The air permit would set limits for emissions covered under the federal Clean Air Act, such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, particulates and lead emissions. Both federal officials and Desert Rock developers have said the draft permit contains some of the strictest controls ever set for a coal-fired power plant in the United States.
But not everyone is as excited about what would be the third coal-fired power plant in the Four-Corners region. Environmental groups, and Navajo environmentalists argue that Desert Rock would be unhealthy for local residents and the environment. This, like most other power plant sitings, is an issue of environmental health and justice. The New Mexico Environment Department and others have criticized the draft permit for not including enforceable conditions to address adverse visibility and for not analyzing mercury or carbon dioxide emissions. Others have complained that a better understanding of existing air quality conditions in the Four Corners region is needed before acceptable standards can be set for Desert Rock.
As awareness about global climate change has deepened in the US, the pace of permitting new coal-fired power plants has fallen-off considerably. Big coal is mounting a big pushback to fend off coal’s image as a dirty fuel and win favor in the court of public opinion. Until the feds either pass meaningful climate legislation, or the EPA takes a firm stance on regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant (as they were instructed by the Supreme Court), there is not much for EPA policymakers to hang their hats on.
My belief is that there are some very wise people at the EPA who are blocking a decision on this permit until there has been a clearer signal from the administration, or a precedent-setting case brought to the Supreme Court. At least, that is my hope.
Photo: Wolfgang Staudt