Saturday, April 23, 2016
PRESCOTT, Ariz. (CN) — A Navajo environmental group sued the federal government this week for allowing a New Mexico coal plant and strip mine to operate for another 25 years without assessing clean-energy alternatives.
Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment and four other groups sued the Bureau of the Indian Affairs, the Secretary of the Interior and other federal agencies on Wednesday in Federal Court.
Diné is the Navajo word for Navajo.
The federal agencies last year approved another 25 years of strip-mining and coal combustion at the Four Corners Power Plant near Farmington, N.M. on Navajo land.
The coalition says Arizona Public Service, the majority owner of the coal plant, and Navajo Transitional Energy Company, the Arizona-based mine owner, were the chief proponents of the continued operations.
The companies applied for multiple permits and approvals to continue the operations from July 6, 2016, to 2041. Mine reclamation operations would continue through 2051 if approved, "and environmental impacts from the project's toxic mercury pollution will continue through 2074," the lawsuit says.
Representatives from Arizona Public Service and Navajo Transitional Energy Company did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The coalition says the federal government did not thoroughly investigate the effect of coal combustion waste at the plant before it approved the continued operations, and "refused to consider reasonable alternatives, such as development of alternative energy sources, offsite disposal of coal combustion waste, or early retirement of the strip mine and coal plant."
Mike Eisenfeld, with co-plaintiff San Juan Citizens Alliance, said the government should consider alternatives to coal.
"Four Corners region coal has enabled far-off places like Phoenix and Southern California to thrive, so now that coal is on a permanent decline we deserve real attention to how our region can diversify going forward," Eisenfeld said in a statement. "Given the energy landscape today, it's a serious disservice for government leaders to just tell the Four Corners to stick with collapsing coal without even a look at alternatives."
The coalition says continuing operations will exacerbate damage to native fish already near extinction due to mercury and selenium poisoning in the nearby San Juan River.
It challenges an April 2015 finding by the defendant U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that continued operations of the plant and mine will not jeopardize Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker in the San Juan River.
"The Four Corners mine-to-mouth coal complex represents a prime example of an energy operation that cannot operate without harming the surrounding people and environment," said Shiloh Hernandez, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center in Helena, Mont. "That the U.S. Department of the Interior has largely swept these dangers aside is a health and environmental injustice, and its deafening silence on transition options is an economic injustice."
The Department of the Interior does not comment on pending litigation.
Also named as defendants are the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, and the Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement.
Plaintiffs include the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club, and Amigos Bravos.