A Better Vision for the Southwest's Energy Future
We have a vision for the Southwest that involves solar panels and windmills -- a future of clean-energy generation and green jobs, not the smokestacks, pollution, and health problems that accompany a coal-fired power plant. However, that vision got a bit hazy recently when the U.S. EPA issued an air quality permit for construction of the Desert Rock Energy Facility, yet another massive coal-fired power plant on Navajo land in northwest New Mexico.
The Indigo Girls performed a fundraising concert for the Just Transition Coalition in Flagstaff last year. They're shown (front row, center) with members of the coalition, including Winona LaDuke, executive director of Honor the Earth, standing at left in back, and the Sierra Club's Andy Bessler, standing at right.The permit was issued despite objections from other federal agencies, the
states of Colorado and New Mexico, local governments, Navajo tribal members, the Sierra Club, and other environmental and citizen groups. The permit’s numerous deficiencies — including the failure to assess and set required emissions limits for
carbon dioxide, mercury, and ozone-forming pollutants — were made clear to the EPA in more than 1,000 comments submitted by these organizations and tribal and governmental entities. That didn't seem to matter. (A protest at EPA offices in San Francisco about this decision and others was slated for today).
The coal plant would be built in San Juan County New Mexico, the nation’s sixth largest emitter of carbon dioxide. Desert Rock would add another 12.7 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year and raise ozone levels in the area that are already at or near national ambient air quality standard limits. Communities in the Four Corners already are suffering from dirty air, contaminated land and water from the two existing coal plants, as well as from coal mines, waste disposal areas, and oil and gas operations.
Fortunately, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and the state's Environment Secretary Ron Curry immediately announced they'll appeal the decision, saying it violates the Clean Air Act.
The construction of yet another coal-fired power plant runs exactly counter to the vision the Sierra Club shares with other groups in the area. We've got two full-time staffers based in Flagstaff, Arizona -- Andy Bessler is the director of our Tribal Partnerships Program, and Robert Tohe is an organizer with our Environmental Justice Campaign. They work closely with groups like the Black Mesa Water Coalition , the Indigenous Environmental Network, Grand Canyon Trust, Dine Care, the Apollo Alliance, Honor the Earth, To' Nizhoni Ani (Navajo for "Beautiful Water Speaks") and others.
Our vision of a clean, renewable energy future for the Southwest was looking good on December 31, 2005 when the country's dirtiest power plant, the Mohave Generating Station in Laughlin, Nevada, shut down due to a court agreement between Mohave's owners and the Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Trust and National Parks Conservation Association over Mohave's Clean Air Act violations.
Seeing a unique opportunity in the shutdown, the Sierra Club and other environmental and Native American groups formed the Just Transition Coalition and developed a plan to further a shared mission of restoring environmental and economic justice for the Navajo and Hopi people while also benefiting California ratepayers.
The coalition proposed to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) that Southern California Edison Company (SCE), the primary owner of the Mohave Generating Station, allocate revenues from the sale of its sulfur credits (which could amount to more than $20 million a year) in a way that will enable Navajo and Hopi communities to invest in sustainable economic alternatives, including renewable electric energy options.
There was a step in the right direction when the CPUC on May 11, 2007, ruled that Southern Edison must record and accumulate these revenues in a regulatory account. The CPUC will then consider proposals as to how the accumulated funds will be disbursed.
Despite the recent EPA approval of the Desert Rock permit, we have hope for a better future. And we're not alone.
Nicole Horseherder, co-director of the Navajo grassroots organization To' Nizhoni Ani, a partner in the Just Transition Coalition, said, "I refuse to believe that the future of our people lies only in non-renewable energy. [The CPUC] decision is proof that we can have a future that is sustainable and is consistent with our traditional ways of life. We can have both at the same time."