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Desert Rock Energy Project:
Citizens and Tribal Members Demand Records on Desert Rock Water Usage

July 20, 2007. The Energy Minerals Law Center issued a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request today demanding records related to the proposed Desert Rock Energy Project’s water usage. The FOIA request was sent to Bureau of Indian Affair’s (BIA) regional director Omar Bradley on the behalf of Diné Citizens Against Ruining our Environment (C.A.R.E.) and the San Juan Citizens Alliance.

The President of the Navajo Nation Joe Shirley is urging Congressional approval and funding of the one billion dollar San Juan River water settlement that would pipe water from San Juan River and the Animas La Plata Project (located just south of Durango, Colorado) to reservation lands where the proposed Desert Rock Energy Project will be located.

The proposed Desert Rock Energy Project will need approximately 4,950 acre feet (1.6 billion gallons) of water annually over the next 50 years. A draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for Desert Rock is now out for public review.

“We are highly concerned that the Nation may be planning to use its water rights in the San Juan River basin to feed Desert Rock,” said Mike Eisenfeld of the Alliance, “the DEIS for Desert Rock indicates that there may not be enough groundwater for this project. So we need to start asking the question, where are they planning to get all of this water?”

The BIA’s DEIS for Desert Rock states that “on-site water wells” would be the most “logical way” to supply water to Desert Rock. DEIS at 4-41. However, the DEIS keeps the door open to using “alternative sources of water” which the BIA claims “are available and could be conveyed to the site, if needed.” DEIS at 4-43.

“The entire DEIS is about approving surface and water use agreements between the Navajo Nation and Desert Rock Energy Company in the DEIS,” said attorney Brad Bartlett of the Energy Minerals Law Center, “and yet none of these leases have been released to the public. The public has no idea what deals the agency is actually approving.”

“Desert Rock and the BIA have refused to make water use plans and leases available to the public before the DEIS is finalized and before the Navajo Nation’s water settlement is authorized by Congress,” said Bartlett.

The Northwest New Mexico Rural Water Projects Act would authorize the Navajo Nation to divert over 35,000 acre-feet of water from the Navajo Reservoir and the San Juan River. A water pumping station would be placed in Kirtland, just north of the proposed Desert Rock project. Water would be pumped along Highway 491 through the Desert Rock Project Area. The bill would authorize the Nation to use the water “for municipal, industrial, commercial, domestic, and stock watering purposes.”

The Act would also authorize conveyance of Animas-La Plata Project (approximately 4,600 acre feet) via pipeline to the Desert Rock Project Area. The bill is being sponsored by Senator Jeff Bingaman (S.1171) and Congressperson Tom Udall (H.R. 1970).

“This water should be for the Navajo people, not a massive energy project”, said Dailan Long of Diné C.A.R.E. “Many Navajo people living in this area do not have running water or electricity. If the Nation is planning on handing the people’s water over to the energy industry we need to know now. Why is our government keeping us in the dark on this?”


July 27, 2007. Today, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson officially called the proposed Desert Rock coal-fired power plant “a step in the wrong direction.”

In an official statement, Richardson said he was “gravely concerned” about Desert Rock’s potential effects on New Mexico’s air, water and climate as described in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the project. He said New Mexico needs “to be moving forward, toward new carbon capture-ready technologies for power generation, not back to the old dirty coal plants of the past,” like Desert Rock.

Gov. Richardson has been at the forefront of pushing for measures to protect the state’s air, water and climate, and the more than 12 million tons of global warming pollution that Desert Rock would emit, he said, would make the aggressive greenhouse gas reduction goals he’s set for his state “difficult – if not impossible – to meet.”

While respecting Navajo Nation sovereignty, Gov. Richardson committed “high-level representatives from my Administration to conduct formal discussions with the Navajo Nation to ensure that the State’s concerns regarding this project are understood and considered at this critical stage of the project.”

Conservation groups in New Mexico applauded Gov. Richardson for taking a prominent stand against Desert Rock as a significant source of pollution and the threat it poses to hindering meaningful climate protection, especially in light of New Mexico’s abundant renewable energy sources. His statements underscore the imperative of investing in energy-efficiency measures and in developing New Mexico’s wind, solar and geothermal resources rather than in dirty, outdated coal-burning technology. In addition to protecting our air, water and climate, this commitment to clean energy will provide huge economic benefits to the state and its residents.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Releases Comments Questioning Sufficiency of the
Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Desert Rock

On August 24, 2007, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 9 submitted detailed comments to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) concerning the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the proposed 1,500 megawatt (Mw) Desert Rock Energy Project on the Navajo Nation near Shiprock, New Mexico. The EPA noted "unresolved concerns" and determined that the BIA has provided "insufficient information" for the project to move forward as currently proposed.

Local citizens opposed to Desert Rock, which would be the third major coal fired power plant in the Shiprock area, state that the EPA's comments confirm the deficiencies of the DEIS for Desert Rock.

"We commend EPA's recognition that Desert Rock presents unresolved environmental justice issues. The two existing power plants and three coal mines in the region have created a legacy of disproportionate impacts to the Diné people," said Dailan Long of Diné Citizens Against Ruining our Environment (C.A.R.E.), "Like its predecessors, Desert Rock will result in the permanent removal and relocation of Navajo Nation tribal members including elders many of whom only speak Navajo, do not have phones, electricity or running water, and use these areas for ceremonial, customary and medicinal purposes. The BIA and industry have to date failed to treat local Diné people humanely."

"The EPA rightfully notes that the DEIS for Desert Rock fails to evaluate the impacts of continued dumping of coal combustion wastes in Navajo Mine with no valid conclusion concerning the legacy of dumping practices in the region." said Brad Bartlett, attorney with the Energy Minerals Law Center. "Tens of millions of tons of hazardous coal combustion waste have already been dumped in the existing Navajo Mine from the existing Four Corners Power Plant. Desert Rock would expand the Navajo Mine by 17,000 acres and increase the unmitigated dumping of these wastes ten fold."

"The EPA comments on the Desert Rock DEIS reinforce unresolved environmental and economic problems for Sithe Global's proposal," said Mike Eisenfeld of the San Juan Citizens Alliance. "The notion that Desert Rock is a clean coal-fired power plant has been clearly refuted. It is now time for the BIA and the Navajo Nation to move beyond the ill-advised, conceptual Desert Rock project to economic development for the Navajo Nation that truly accounts for economic and environmental progress and success."

Diné C.A.R.E., Dailan Long: (505) 801-0713
Dooda Desert Rock: www.desert-rock-blog.com
Sithe Global: www.desertrockenergy.com

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