Final environmental impact statement issued for power plant and coal mine

James Fenton The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement released a final environmental impact statement on the Four Corners Power Plant and Navajo Mine on Friday.

The document evaluates the potential environmental impacts of continued operations at the Four Corners Power Plant through 2041, approval of the Navajo Mine permit — including proposed operations in the Pinabete Permit area — and approval of rights of way for associated power transmission lines.

The document, which is more than 800 pages, analyzes the impacts associated with implementing four proposed actions at the power plant and coal mine.

Nearly 20 public scoping meetings held by the office in 2012 and 2014, and public and agency comments received during a 92-day review period all helped shape the final version of the statement. The final document is currently under a mandatory 30-day waiting period. After 30 days, the office is expected to issue a "Record of Decision" on the document, which is not expected until June.

Erny Zah, a spokesman for the Navajo Transitional Energy Company, said company officials are glad the two-year process is nearly completed.

"The final impact statement does help us," Zah said. "It ensures that we're going to continue our business of mining coal and providing jobs for people, the Navajo Nation gets their revenues and making sure that (Arizona Public Service), the owners of the power plant, gets the fuel that they need. It's really a document that will help us continue all those relationships."

Zah said approving the proposed actions would allow the continuation of around 800 jobs and keep revenues flowing to the Navajo Nation. Last year, NTEC delivered $37 million in royalties and related taxes to the Navajo Nation, he said.

"In the scope of things this is good for us so that we can continue operations," Zah said. "With this statement, the federal government approves and recognizes that the Navajo Nation can own the coal mine that's within our lands. It will help us move forward with the next step of continuing the formation of our new business to find a new mine operator."

NTEC will issue a request for proposals later this month, Zah said.

Clark Moseley, NTEC's CEO, said in an email on Tuesday that approval of the final draft is critical to ensuring the socioeconomic health of the Navajo Nation, NTEC and the its stakeholders.

"(The final draft) properly recognizes the federal trust responsibility to the Navajo Nation and the dire socioeconomic impacts that would result to the Nation, the environmental justice community of concern, if the Project did not move forward," Moseley wrote. "(It) also recognizes the critical consideration that the Nation, as a tribal sovereign with a right to self-determination and economic independence, has decided to develop its own coal trust resources, through the creation of NTEC. Together with the Final Biological Opinion issued by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service on April 8, 2015, which found no jeopardy to endangered species from the Project, publication of the Final EIS allows the project to move forward, for the good of NTEC, the Navajo Nation, and other stakeholders."

Sarah Jane White, an organizer with Diné Citizens Against Ruining our Environment, said the Navajo Nation's investment in coal mining has multiple negative impacts to the tribe and the environment.

"The Navajo Nation made a very bad deal with its investment in the power plant and the mine," White said from her home in Fruitland during a telephone interview. "They are both old. To me, it's a grandfather, a thing of the past. We need to move on and invest in something newer rather than a coal mine that has been polluting the Four Corners for over 50 years. It's done its part with health defects and bad pollution. It's done."

White said her all-Navajo environmental organization will continue to speak out against the power plant and mine and would like to promote renewable energy as a smarter investment by the tribal government.

"I would rather see it gone. We need to invest in cleaner energy," White said. "Something better for the environment for the next generation, so the children in the next 50 years can say our grandmothers and grandfathers did something great for the Navajo people's health and future. It's the future we are concerned about. Our grandchildren and what they will see."

James Fenton is the business editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621 and Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.