BURNHAM — A coalition of seven environmental groups, represented by Earthjustice attorney Nick Persampieri, Thursday filed a challenge to the federal Environmental Protection Agency's July 31 decision to grant an air permit for Desert Rock.

Desert Rock Power Plant is the 1,500 megawatt pulverized coal-burning plant proposed near Burnham, about 30 miles southwest of Farmington on the Navajo Nation.

"We feel EPA placed the public health and the environment at risk by not doing a number of required analyses before it issued the permit," Persampieri said.

The challenge to the EPA's Environmental Appeals Board in Washington, D.C., enumerates five main points it states were not addressed in advance of the permit. They include:

  • Failure to do a Maximum Achievable Control Technology analysis for hazardous air pollutants.

  • Improper analysis of whether the plant violates national ozone standards — of special concern in San Juan County, where ozone levels hovered at the new federal ozone level of 0.75 parts per billion of ozone to air much of the summer.

  • Failure to include emission limitations for carbon dioxide — an issue within New Mexico because of Gov. Bill Richardson's 2005 executive order mandating greenhouse gas emissions be reported.

  • Failure to consider impacts related to mining, disposal of combustion waste and impacts on the region's scarce water supplies.

  • No consultation with other agencies, as required, on the impacts of the plant on endangered species.

    "This was a politically motivated decision to issue the permit in response to Sithe's suit against EPA," Persampieri said. "EPA caved in to the pressure and issued the permit without doing the analyses."

    Sithe Global is funding the plant's construction. It will be operated by Diné Power Authority, an entity created by the Navajo Tribal Government.

    "We are also very concerned about mercury pollution, especially because the fish in the San Juan River are already compromised," Persampieri said. "Advisories already exist for several lakes in the Four Corners area."

    The groups want the Environmental Appeals Board to withdraw the permit and require the agency to complete the required analyses. The coalition contends the double actions ultimately would lead to denial of or significant changes to the permit.

    "This permit is another example of the rush by the agency's political appointees to hand out gifts to industry before President Bush leaves office," said Dailan J. Long of Diné CARE, a Navajo tribal group that opposes the plant.

    Frank Maisano, Desert Rock spokesman, said the latest challenge is simply more of the same from environmental groups.

    "They're misconstrued, they're misleading and in some cases they're just plain wrong," he said. "This is the most strict permit that EPA has ever issued."

    The appeal seeks a 45-day extension of time, until Oct. 17, in which to file a supplemental brief with a complete and detailed description of each of the objections.

    EPA had no comment on the petition — the first of several expected to be filed.

    "We don't comment on pending litigation," said EPA Region 9 spokeswoman Margot Perez-Sullivan.

    Gov. Richardson and New Mexico Environment Department indicated on July 31 their intentions to challenge the permit decision.

    Challenges must be filed within 30 days of EPA's decision, giving those preparing the documents until Aug. 30 to complete them.

    Thursday's petition was filed by the Sierra Club, Diné CARE, San Juan Citizens Alliance, Grand Canyon Trust, WildEarth Guardians, Environmental Defense Fund and Natural Resources Defense Council.

    Cornelia de Bruin: cdebruin@daily-times.com