— By Lisa Meerts —

The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency released a draft air quality permit for the Desert Rock Power Plant Thursday, calling it one of the strictest permits ever.

"This has state-of-the-art control technology. It's going to be much, much cleaner (than other local plants)," said Gerardo Rios, chief of permits in the Air Division Office of the EPA. The conditions delineated in the permit are based on federal standards and, should the EPA issue the permit, it does not anticipate the plant would violate any federal air quality standards, he said.

The permit determines how much sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter and carbon monoxide the Desert Rock Power Plant can emit. It does not address hazardous air pollutants, like mercury, Rios added. Those will be set in other permit applications.

The EPA will accept public comment on the proposed permit until Oct. 27. It also plans to hold several workshops, where it will teach people about the permitting process and help them make their comments more effective, said Rios. At least one public hearing, where testimony is recorded, will also be scheduled. The EPA intends to set specific dates within a week.

Frank Maisano, spokesman for Sithe Global, Inc., said his company looks forward to meeting the EPA's requirements and considers the permit evidence the new power plant will be built in an environmentally sensible way.

"We're walking the walk with this draft permit," he said. "It's a very positive step that it's been issued as aggressively and strongly as it (has)."

Sithe Global may request small, technical changes but it feels it can meet the standards as currently set, Maisano said. Assuming progress continues, the four-year construction phase could begin by mid 2007.

However, Lori Goodman, with Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, said any new emissions will threaten residents' health and she hopes the permit will be denied.

"They're putting a power plant where health care is severely limited or does not even exist," she said. "Whatever you add on is going to be in addition to what's already there."

She said asthma and respiratory problems have increased locally and attributes the rise to poor air quality. Studies need to be conducted to determine exactly what's causing these health problems, Goodman said, adding she has been told the funding does not exist.

Steve Etsitty, executive director of the Navajo Environmental Protection Agency, also said studies determining the effects of increased pollution and its origin could be conducted. But poor air quality cannot be blamed on power plants alone, he said.

Traffic, the oil and gas industry and other sectors all contribute to poor air quality, Etsitty said, adding overall emissions should be lower by the time the Desert Rock Power Plant comes online because higher standards are being enforced across the board.

"What we're planning and really hoping for is a net reduction," he said.