The federal agency filed comments on a draft environmental impact statement issued by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in August. Its main points of contention focused on coal-combustion waste or byproducts and the amount of dust increased traffic to a rural area would cause.
The environmental review office of the EPA issued the comments through a branch that differs from the air quality bureau that is responsible for giving the power plant its air quality permit, also known as a prevention of significant deterioration permit. While different, the two departments work together. Nova Blazej, manager of the EPA Region 9 Environmental Review Office, said the department gave the project its most common rating.
"What we're saying is that we would like them to provide us with more information about both the coal-combustion byproducts issue and the Particulate Matter 10 issue," she said.
The EPA is a cooperating agency on the impact statement and it said many of its comments have been incorporated into the document. But the impact statement does not consider that the plant's advanced pollution control technology will increase the carbon content of coal combustion waste, or fly ash, making it difficult to be reused in concrete.
The draft impact statement found asthma rates in New Mexico to be the same as for other populations in the U.S. but the EPA pointed to a U.S. Geological Survey study that said people living in Shiprock are more than five times as likely to be seen for respiratory complaints than other nearby communities. It urged the BIA to include the impact of nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compounds, which form the respiratory irritant ozone, from vehicle-use when computing those numbers for the power plant.
Karen Vitulano, EPA Region 9 environmental scientist for the environmental review office, said another concern was about how much particulate matter, or dust, would be increased because of construction vehicles driving over dirt roads in an area that has not seen much traffic. Once built, the area will also see increased traffic as people drive to work, she said.
The EPA also had concerns about how the impact statement estimated mercury emissions. The EPA said the estimate of 161 pounds of mercury per year with 80 percent controlled — while not impossible to obtain — seemed high. It suggested a more accurate number would be 60 to 80 percent control.
"There's a lot of uncertainty about what the emissions are going to be," said Vitulano.
The EPA also encouraged more concerted ground water monitoring and cited worries about environmental justice issues. It encouraged the BIA to work with the tribe and Sithe Global to create ways for local residents to have power, be it through solar, wind or electrical generation projects.
Calls on Wednesday to the BIA for comment were not returned.
Frank Maisano, spokesman for Desert Rock, said plant developers welcome and respect all environmental opinions concerning the project.
"These opinions can be used to go through where there may be shortcomings and could provide ways to improve. We welcome anyone's contributions," Maisano said.
The proposed Desert Rock Power Plant would generate 1,500 megawatts of electricity and boost the Navajo Nation economy by creating jobs and increasing its annual operating budget. It would be built by developer Sithe Global and the Dine Power Authority, a Navajo Nation enterprise. The plant would be located near Burnham, about 30 miles southwest of Farmington.
Lisa Meerts: email@example.com