Hearings scheduled on Desert Rock power plant 6-16-07

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - The U.S. Department of Interior has finalized a series of public hearings to gather comments on a coal-fired power plant planned for the Navajo Nation.

The agency's Bureau of Indian Affairs released a draft environmental impact statement on the Desert Rock Energy Project last month. The controversial power plant is being proposed by the tribe's Dine Power Authority and Houston-based Sithe Global Power.

Hearings on the lengthy impact statement were set to get under way next week, but paperwork as well as requests for more hearings pushed back the schedule.

The BIA has posted a new schedule online showing the first meeting on July 17 in Farmington. Other meetings will follow in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Shiprock, Durango, Colo., and the Navajo communities of Sanostee, Burnham, Nenahnezad and Window Rock.

DPA and Sithe have touted Desert Rock as one of the cleanest coal-burning plants in the country and a much-needed source of jobs and tax revenue for the Navajo Nation. But some Navajos and environmentalists argue it would be detrimental to the environment and the health of residents.

The proposed 1,500-megawatt power plant would be the third coal-burning operation in the area.

A list of the public hearings is set to be published in the Federal Register on June 22. That will start the clock ticking on a 60-day comment period.

By the time the comment period closes on Aug. 20, the public will have had more than three months to review the draft environmental impact statement, which was first made available online in May.