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For Immediate Release, September 25, 2009

Contact: Amy Atwood, (541) 914-8372,

Permit for New Mexico Coal-fired Power Plant Sent Back to EPA

WASHINGTON— In response to appeals by the Center for Biological Diversity and other groups, the EPA’s decisionmaker on administrative appeals – the Environmental Appeals Board – today ordered an air permit for the Desert Rock coal-fired power plant to be sent back to EPA for more consideration. The permit, which was issued by the EPA during the Bush Administration, was required for the plant to be constructed, and its return to EPA by the agency’s appellate board for more analysis of the plant’s environmental effects puts the plant’s future in doubt.

The Desert Rock facility was to be a new 1,500-megawatt coal-fired electric generating facility located approximately 25 miles southwest of Farmington, New Mexico. The EPA’s July 2008 issuing of a “prevention of significant deterioration” air permit to the Desert Rock Energy Company was necessary for the power plant to be constructed. The return of the plant’s air permit to EPA continues a pattern of federal and state agencies, and power plant companies, delaying or canceling proposed coal-fired power plants around the country as concern grows for their environmental impacts and financial viability. Coal-fired power plants are the single greatest stationary source of carbon dioxide emissions in the nation, and their future has become uncertain as the federal government progresses toward regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

One of the issues that led EPA’s board to send back the permit was the agency’s failure to consider the effects of the plant to threatened and endangered species under the Endangered Species Act before issuing the permit. As the Center’s appeal demonstrated, the coal plant would have emitted mercury and other contaminates into the San Juan River basin, where the river and two endangered fish species are already afflicted with heavy-metal contamination resulting from operation of three nearby coal-fired power plants. The Center’s appeal pointed out that potential for additional contamination and effects to endangered species required that EPA analyze impacts to those species before issuing the new permit. In today’s order, the board said that it “wholeheartedly agrees” that the EPA “should reconsider its ESA compliance strategy for the Permit.”

“We are thrilled about the board’s decision to send back to EPA the air permit for Desert Rock, which would have contributed even more air pollution to areas that are already driving fish species toward extinction in the San Juan River basin,” said Amy Atwood, senior attorney and public lands energy director at the Center. “The Desert Rock project is fraught with environmental problems and has just been handed a major setback.”

The Desert Rock power plant could emit hundreds of millions of tons of greenhouse gases over its 50-year lifespan, exacerbating local contamination problems in the process. Climate change is already contributing to long-term drought, weakening the ability of species like the highly endangered Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker to survive and recover. In addition, the plant would have contributed more contamination of mercury and selenium, among others, to the fishes’ habitat.

Desert Rock would be built near three existing coal-fired power plants: the San Juan Generating Station, an 1,800-megawatt facility located 15 miles west of Farmington; the Four Corners Power Plant, a 2,040-megawatt plant about 25 miles west of Farmington; and the Navajo Generating Station, a 2,250-megawatt station located on the Navajo Nation near Page, Arizona.

The Center for Biological Diversity is dedicated to ensuring that atmospheric CO2 pollutant levels are reduced to below 350 parts per million (ppm), which leading climate scientists warn is necessary to prevent devastating climate change. Further development of greenhouse-intensive energy sources, including coal-fired power plants, is incompatible with achieving this goal. If greenhouse emissions are not immediately reduced, the current atmospheric CO2 level of 385 ppm will rise to approximately 500 ppm by mid-century, triggering mass wildlife extinctions, catastrophic global weather and ecosystem changes, and tragic human suffering.

To download the Environmental Appeals Board’s order, click here.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 225,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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