OSM issuing final enviro review on Four Corners power plant and associated coal mine

The U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) has prepared a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the Four Corners Power Plant (FCPP) and Navajo Mine Energy Project, and will announce its availability in the May 1 Federal Register.

The purpose of the Proposed Action covered in the FEIS is to allow continued operations of the FCPP, the Navajo Mine and associated transmission lines.  The FEIS evaluates the direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts of the Proposed Action at the FCPP, the proposed Pinabete Permit area, the existing Navajo Mine Permit area, and the rights-of-way renewals for segments of four transmission lines that transmit power from the FCPP.

The FCPP is a coal-fired station located on Navajo tribal trust lands. FCPP currently includes two units producing approximately 1,500 MW, and provides power to more than 500,000 customers throughout the southwestern U.S. Nearly 80% of the employees at the plant are Native American. Arizona Public Service (APS) operates the FCPP and executed a lease amendment (Lease Amendment No. 3) with the Navajo Nation to extend the term of the FCPP lease for an additional 25 years, to 2041.

Continued operation of the FCPP would require several federal actions, including:

  • Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) approval of Lease Amendment No. 3 for the FCPP. If approved, the ash disposal area would be expanded within the existing FCPP lease area. There are no additional proposed changes to the FCPP, the switch yard, or any of the transmission lines and ancillary facilities, as part of the Proposed Action.
  • BIA issuance of renewed rights-of-way for the continued operation of the FCPP, switchyard, and ancillary facilities; for a 500-kV transmission line and two 345-kV transmission lines; and for ancillary transmission line facilities, including the Moenkopi Switchyard, an associated 12-kV line, and an access road. These existing facilities are located on Navajo tribal trust lands, except for the 500-kV transmission line, which crosses both Navajo and Hopi tribal trust lands. The Proposed Action would continue operation and maintenance of these facilities. No upgrades to the existing facilities are part of the Proposed Action.
  • BIA issuance of renewed rights-of-way to the Public Service Co. of New Mexico (PNM) for the existing 345-kV transmission line. The transmission line will continue to be maintained and operated as part of the Proposed Action. No upgrades to this line are planned as part of the Proposed Action.

New mine area would supply coal for 25 years of power plant operation

In August 2012, the U.S. EPA published its Federal Implementation Plan (FIP) for the Best Available Retrofit Technology (BART) at FCPP. As a result, APS decommissioned Units 1, 2, and 3 at the FCPP in December 2013, and will install selective catalytic reduction equipment on Units 4 and 5 by 2018.

The tribal-owned Navajo Transitional Energy Co. LLC (NTEC) proposes to conduct surface coal mining operations within a new 5,659- acre permit area, called the Pinabete Permit area. This proposed permit area lies within the boundaries of the existing Navajo Mine lease, which is located adjacent to the FCPP on Navajo tribal trust lands. Surface mining operations would occur on an approximately 2,744-acre portion of the proposed Pinabete Permit area, with a total disturbance footprint, including staging areas, of approximately 4,100 acres. The proposed Pinabete Permit area would, in conjunction with the mining of any reserves remaining within the existing Navajo Mine Permit area, supply low-sulfur coal to the FCPP at a rate of approximately 5.8 million tons per year.

Development of the Pinabete Permit area and associated coal reserves would use surface mining methods, and based on current projected customer needs, would supply coal to FCPP for up to 25 years beginning in 2016. The proposed Pinabete Permit area would include previously permitted but undeveloped coal reserves within Area IV North of the Navajo Mine Lease, and unpermitted and undeveloped coal reserves in a portion of Area IV South of the existing Navajo Mine Lease. Approval of the proposed Pinabete Permit would require several federal actions, including:

  • OSMRE approval of the new SMCRA permit.
  • U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) approval of a revised Mine Plan developed for the proposed maximum economic recovery of coal reserves.
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) approval of a Section 404 Individual Permit for impacts to waters of the United States from proposed mining activities.
  • U.S. EPA approval of a new source Section 402 National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Industrial Permit associated with the mining and reclamation operations and coal preparation facilities.
  • BIA approval of a proposed realignment for approximately 2.8 miles of BIA 3005/Navajo Road N-5082 (Burnham Road) in Area IV South to avoid proposed mining areas. This realignment would not be needed until 2022; however, the potential impacts of this realignment are analyzed in the FEIS.
  • BIA approval or grant of permits or rights-of-way for access and haul roads, power supply for operations, and related facilities. In addition, in 2014, OSMRE administratively delayed its decision on NTEC’s renewal application for its existing Navajo Mine SMCRA Permit No. NM00003F. The EIS, therefore, also addresses alternatives and direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts of the 2014 renewal application action.