FARMINGTON — Farmington City Council approved a resolution expressing the city's support for continuing the operation of the Four Corners Power Plant and nearby Navajo Mine.
In order to continue the operation of both entities, the power plant and mine owners are seeking renewal of necessary land leases, environmental and regulatory permits and other approvals from state, tribal and federal agencies.
Mayor Tommy Roberts proposed the city's resolution to the council because he is concerned with the potential impacts to the local economy if both operations cease.
Councilors passed the resolution 3 to 1 during a May 20 work session.
Four Corners Power Plant is operated by Arizona Public Service and is located on lands owned by the Navajo Nation that are held in trust by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
The power plant receives its coal supply solely from the mine, which was acquired from BHP Billiton last year by the Navajo Transitional Energy Company.
Roberts said majority of the council believes it was "appropriate" to show support for renewal of the permits.
In public meetings that Roberts attended, he heard that 200 jobs would be lost at the power plant and the mine due to the closure of units 1, 2 and 3.
Losing those jobs would take $20 million from the local economy, he said.
If a full closure occurred, more than 800 jobs would be eliminated causing an $80 million loss to the economy.
"I think it's extremely important to preserve those jobs," Roberts said.
Councilor Mary Fischer voted against the resolution because she thinks the issue of continuing to operate coal-fired power plants was not fully discussed, especially since there is a nationwide movement to reduce dependence on coal-base energy.
Although Fischer is worried about job loss, she thinks the decision made by the tribe to purchase the coal mine was a "mistake."
From the business point of view, it does not make sense to buy a coal mine when there is discussion about transitioning beyond coal-based energy, she said.
She also questions why the tribe did not complete a due diligence investigation that focused on emission standards, the liability for fly ash clean up, and replacement of aging equipment.
"I don't feel in my own good conscience that I could vote for this," Fischer said.
Copies of the city's resolution will be sent to Navajo Transitional Energy Company, APS, BHP Billiton, the Navajo tribe, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies city staff may determine are involved with the permitting process.
San Juan County commissioners unanimously passed a similar resolution to support the renewal of the power plant lease with the tribe.
County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter said the county ensured both APS and BHP Billiton that a statement of support would be issued and copies of the resolution would be submitted to each party.
The county's resolution mentions the power plant's move to reduce air emissions and the mine's plan to expand its operation.
The resolution also noted that the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement is preparing an environmental impact statement for the power plant and mine energy project.
A draft environmental impact statement was released in March and the public comment period ends June 27.Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @nsmithdt on Twitter.