The Four Corners Power Plant
The Four Corners Power Plant (FCPP) and Navajo Mine complex pollute a region already being adversely affected by climate change.
In 2015, the Department of the Interior (DOI) approved the coal complex’s permit for another 25 years, saying the impacts to climate change will be ‘negligible,’ even though the plant releases an estimated 11,396,710 metric tons of CO2 equivalents a year. These emissions spur on climate change.
However, in early 2020 Arizona Public Service (APS) committed to going carbon free by 2050 and coal free by 2031, in what appears to be a decision that would see Four Corners Power Plant shuttered in just over 10 years. It is vital that we begin planning for a just transition now. Our communities can’t afford to wait.
Some entities will advocate for keeping FCPP open, but extending the life of the operation unnecessarily puts yet another generation’s economic stability and health at risk. The 2014 National Climate Assessment, put together by 13 different governmental agencies and reviewed by hundreds of experts, cast a bleak future for the region if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced. Effects on the Southwest Region included increased heat and insect outbreaks, prolonged drought, decreased agricultural yields and more intense wildfires. Investing in a dying and dangerous industry, instead of the clean and growing renewables industry, is shortsighted and dangerous.
If this weren’t enough of a reason to begin a just transition towards a sustainable future, coal is a losing investment in a market that sees utilities increasingly turn towards cheaper sources of generation such as solar and wind. Recent reports by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (found here), U.S. Energy Information Administration (found here) and Brookings Institute (found here) all see coal declining and unlikely to recover.
U.S. jobs in renewables outnumber fossil fuel jobs 3:1 and New Mexico’s solar energy potential dwarfs the output of Four Corners Power Plant.
Let’s push our leaders to invest in a clean and growing industry, not one that is on its way out the door.
Problems with the mine-mouth complex
The coal industry is in permanent decline and numerous coal companies have filed for bankruptcy. Utilities have pivoted away from coal, and fossil fuels more generally, in favor of cheap renewables. It’s not politics, its simple economics: extending operation of the FCPP and Navajo Mine complex for 25 years is a bad choice for the region’s economy.
Mining, burning, and disposing of waste associated with a mine-mouth coal operation is horrible for the environment, contaminating land, water and air with unacceptable levels of toxins, contributing to runaway climate change, and depleting rivers in one of the country’s most arid regions.
Communities in the San Juan Basin are already feeling the cumulative health impacts of 50 years of the FCPP operation. Toxic pollutants from the power plant are known to contribute to cancer, organ damage, imparied development, and early mortality. Studies show San Juan County, NM, has higher incidences of chronic respiratory diseases compared with New Mexico or the rest of the United States.
Over 50 years of pollution
The Four Corners Power Plant (FCPP) and Navajo Mine are old. They were built way back in 1962. The power plant was only designed for a 50-year life span, but in 2015 the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) approved an extra 25 years.
For most of its lifetime the power plant had five units, but in 2013 they shut down Units 1-3 to comply with new Environmental Protection Agency emissions requirements. Despite this closure, the plant is still a major polluter.
Pushed as a result of a 2012 lawsuit (involving SJCA and partners), the DOI analyzed the environmental impacts of the Four Corners Power Plant and Navajo Mine together. This was an unprecedented concept: because the mine and the power plant are connected actions (exclusively mine to mouth) they therefore need to be analyzed together in a more comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
But when the comprehensive EIS was finally published, it was inadequate and proposed an inappropriate 25-year extension of operations. When the DOI approved the extension in 2015, SJCA and partners filed intent to sue over violations of the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. We are now involved in ongoing litigation to remedy these inaccuracies to properly factor in the negative consequences and implications of a 25-year extension.
Want more history?
In 2015, the Department of the Interior approved a 25-year extension of the Four Corners Power Plant’s operating permit. The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that informed the decision was inadequate so we sued over the approval. You can read the full complaint. But here’s a summary:
ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT:
The 25-year extension gravely threatens the habitat and continued existence of the Colorado pikeminnow and Razorback sucker, both endangered species of fish in the San Juan River. The EIS unlawfully relies on a faulty U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biological opinion and does not adequately address the impacts of the power plant on these species.
NATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY ACT:
The EIS, which is required under the National Environmental Policy Act, is based on an arbitrary, capricious, and unlawfully narrow statement of purpose. The EIS also fails to consider reasonable alternatives to the 25-year extension, the cumulative impacts of air pollution on public health, and the impacts of toxic coal ash disposal at the power plant.