Groups threaten to sue over longer life for Four Corners coal plant

Regional and national conservation groups on Dec. 21 filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue the U.S. Office of Surface Mining, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other federal agencies for approving the Four Corners Power Plant and Navajo Mine Energy Project in July.

They claim that the approval prolongs the 52-year-old power plant and coal mine through 2041 despite impacts from coal toxins to communities, the San Juan River Basin, its ecosystems and endangered species.

“While the rest of the world is transitioning to alternative forms of energy, the Four Corners Power Plant continues to burn coal and will do so for the next 25 years,” said Colleen Cooley with Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment. “Prolonging coal not only condemns our health and the water, air, and land around us, it undermines our community’s economic future because we are not investing and transitioning to clean energy. Even former owner of the Navajo Mine, BHP Billiton has exited many coal contracts across the globe because coal is no longer economically feasible.”

Community and conservation groups said they have exposed deficiencies in the U.S. government’s impact study on the power Ppant and coal mine, including inadequate analysis of clean energy alternatives to prolonged operation of the coal plant and insufficient consideration of carbon pollution impacts, public health problems, threats to endangered species, water contamination from coal ash waste, and impacts to Navajo culture.

The Dec. 21 notice cites alleged violations of the Endangered Species Act, and will be followed in 60 days by additional claims under the National Environmental Policy Act relating to pollution impacts on climate, people and local communities.

“This toxic, outdated facility has been wreaking havoc on the health of people and ecosystems for far too long,” said Nellis Kennedy-Howard, senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. “The Office of Surface Mining and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ignored the obvious environmental impacts of this facility when they approved extending its life.”

Groups party to the Dec. 21 notice include Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, San Juan Citizens Alliance, Amigos Bravos, Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club.

These groups said they intend to sue for numerous violations of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) arising from the formal consultation for the Four Corners Power Plant (FCPP) and Navajo Mine Energy Project (NMEP) and issuance of a 2015 Biological Opinion (BiOp) covering them.

They said in the notice of intent: “The Conservation Groups intend to challenge the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (Service) issuance and the action agencies’ reliance on the BiOp and subsequent incidental take statement (‘ITS’) to the FCPP and NMEP pursuant to Section 7(a)(2) standards of the Endangered Species Act, 16 U.S.C. § 1536(a)(2), 50 C.F.R. Part 400. Reliance on the illegal BiOp and ITS allows for immediate increase in species mortality and the destruction of critical habitat in exchange for speculative, unplanned conservation benefits that are uncertain to occur even decades into the future.”

The two-unit, 1,540-MW Four Corners plant, located on the Navajo Indian Reservation west of Farmington, New Mexico, is operated by Arizona Public Service.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.