Friday, December 22, 2006

New Mexico Navajo reservation is big battleground over proposed coal power plant

As you may know, there have been some real battlegrounds – particularly in Texas and the Midwest – over plans to build new coal-burning electric power plants. (Not only big sources of deadly “conventional” pollutants, but also of greenhouse gas emissions.)

One of the more emotional and visual dramas is playing out in northwestern New Mexico, where Navajo protesters are trying to block a $3 billion project planned by Houston-based Sithe Global Power and a Navajo power authority. (See Associated Press story, below.)

And I didn’t realize until today that my Bizarro world alter ego, Frank Maisano, is involved!

This is a classic clash. Its resolution may say a lot about our energy future.

Anyway, I offer this for what it is worth. I believe it is a story well worth monitoring. For more, also see

Protest continues, court grants access to proposed power plant site
By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN Associated Press Writer 21 December 2006
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - The dirt road winds through desert grasslands and over sandstone outcroppings before it ends -- sooner than expected -- at a camp built by Navajos who refer to themselves as the "resisters."
For more than a week, they have blocked the road to the site of a $3 billion coal-fired power plant planned by the Navajo Nation's Dine Power Authority and Houston-based Sithe Global Power.
They see the Desert Rock Energy Project as a threat to tribal resources, the environment and cultural landmarks that dot northwestern New Mexico.
"We're here to stay," Lucy Willie, vice president of the Dooda Desert Rock Committee, told supporters on an Internet blog site Wednesday.
But Sithe and DPA officials plan on staying, too.
They were granted a court order Wednesday that allows access to the site to continue survey work for an environmental impact statement. The study, along with an air permit from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is needed before construction can began.
Sithe and DPA had no choice but to seek the order, said spokesman Frank Maisano.
"We do this with some regret because it's important that people have their voice heard but it's also necessary and imperative that we continue to move the process forward," he said.
The public comment period for the EIS takes time. But more importantly, Maisano said, the Navajos will not see any economic benefits until the plant is built.
"It's not Sithe's building of the plant getting pushed back," he said. "What's getting pushed back is the building permit fees, the construction jobs, the royalties and water payments."
With the court order, Maisano said contractors planned to return to the site Thursday.
Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr. traveled to the site this week to meet with the resisters. He told the group the plant is desperately needed. Many Navajos live without running water and electricity and jobs are scarce on the reservation.
Shirley believes Desert Rock can help by bringing hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in tax revenues and royalty payments.
"My people are struggling," he said Tuesday. "... I will continue to work on this to try to help my people. I have a heart for my people."
But Shirley's words have not swayed the group.
The resisters continue to criticize Desert Rock on blog sites and with a video posted on They describe the project as "an act of terrorism" and say the plant would only add to the emissions of two existing coal-fired plants in the region.
Sithe has assured Shirley and other Navajo leaders that Desert Rock will be one of the cleanest plant with its high-tech pollution control systems.

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