Desert Rock signs agreement with Navajo EPA 5-17-07

SHIPROCK, N.M. (AP) - Developers of a proposed coal-fired power plant on the Navajo Nation in northwestern New Mexico have signed an agreement with tribal officials to reduce some emissions beyond requirements proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Houston-based Sithe Global Power and the tribe's Dine Power Authority, which are partnering to build the plant, first floated the plan in February. But concerns were raised about how the voluntary effort would be enforced.

Navajo EPA director Steven Estitty and officials with the Desert Rock Energy Project signed a memo of understanding Tuesday that calls for Desert Rock to control 90 percent of mercury emissions and contribute $300,000 a year to environment improvement projects in the Four Corners.

The agreement also says Desert Rock will sponsor cleanup projects at existing facilities that will decrease sulfur dioxide in the region by 110 percent of what the plant would create. Otherwise, it would cut haze-producing nitrogen oxide emissions by three times its sulfur dioxide production.

Desert Rock executive vice president Dirk Straussfeld said the agreement is a symbol of Desert Rock's commitment to the Navajo Nation and the region's environment.

The 1,500 megawatt power plant would be capable of producing electricity to up to 1.5 million homes in cities across the Southwest, and tribal officials have said the project would bring in about $50 million a year in taxes and royalty payments and some 400 permanent jobs.

But environmental groups and some Navajos who live near the proposed site have warned that plans for another coal-fired plant in the region threatens Navajo natural resources and could compromise the environment.

The U.S. EPA is working on a final air permit for the plant after receiving hundred of comments on a draft permit that the agency considers one of the strictest for a coal-fired plant in the United States. The permit sets limits for emissions covered under the federal Clean Air Act, such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and particulates.

Several public hearings also have been scheduled in June on a draft environmental impact statement.

In other news, the Central Consolidated School District voted in favor of accepting a payment in lieu of taxes proposal made by Desert Rock officials. Under the deal, the district would receive $8 million initially, $800,000 for the four years of construction and then $1.65 million each year for the next 26 years.

Elouise Brown, president of Dooda Desert Rock, a group that has been fighting the power plant, had urged the board to vote against the PILT proposal.

“We're opposing this power plant because it's not a good deal, it's not good for us, it's not good for anybody,” she said. “Due to the health reasons and the health problems it causes, we really don't want this power plant.”

Board member Hoskie Benally Jr. acknowledged that the project has sparked controversy, but because of the board's responsibility to the students, he said he could not in good conscience turn down the deal.