Monday, July 16, 2007

UPDATED: Navajoland: Desert Rock mercury poisoning threatens endangered species

From Steve Cone
Comment 17 July 2007 Farmington Civic Center, New Mexico

Public Hearing, Desert Rock Energy Project -- Draft Environmental Impact Statement

Of course there is NO valid purpose or legitimate need for the Desert Rock Energy Project. The need for the project has been invented to justify construction of the Project. The apparent purpose of the Project is to generate maximum profit by offering a glut of power to make-believe customers to fuel rampant, unrestrained development in remote markets. “But just trust us,” says Sithe Global, LLC, somewhere, sometime, someone will purchase Desert Rock power to sell to restless consumers with a craving for more of all those gadgets no respectable American should live without: the electric knife, the 55-inch plasma TV, the weed whacker, and the electric lint remover. The real purpose of the project is to create an artificial demand for more electricity and still more projects, as growth is unleashed to feed on itself unabated, always begetting more growth. So, the real purpose of the project is to kill for profit; some must be murdered so others can bask in a bottomless pool of obscene wealth.

Sadly, no! A reasonable range of alternatives has NOT been considered. The Environmental Impact Statement for Desert Rock is woefully inadequate because the No Action Alternative has not been rigorously explored or objectively evaluated. The public has been deprived of an opportunity to fully consider the impacts of the proposed Project because the No Action Alternative has been mischaracterized and misunderstood. The National Environmental Policy Act [“NEPA”] specifically requires that the examination of a proposed action must include a thorough analysis of a No Action Alternative, and that the No Action Alternative then be raised as the standard against which all other alternatives are weighed. Satisfactory analysis of a No Action Alternative provides a reliable benchmark, enabling the public and decision makers to compare the magnitude of environmental effects of the various alternatives.
The Executive Summary on page ES-7 of the DEIS notes that if No Action is taken to construct and operate the Desert Rock Energy Project, air quality in the Project Area “would remain unchanged”. But in assessing adverse environmental impacts of Desert Rock, the DEIS presumes a substantial reduction of toxic emissions from the existing Four Corners and San Juan power plants. These emissions reductions have not actually occurred yet. Sithe, nonetheless, claims credits and offsets associated with some future, scaled-down operation of these two plants. The fact is that air quality would improve dramatically in the Four Corners if the “No Action Alternative” was adopted, and the Desert Rock Energy Project was not constructed. If the Proposed Project were not constructed as planned, and the additional thousands of acres of the Navajo Mine were not developed, the incidence of cardiopulmonary disease would drop dramatically and lives would be saved.

Surprise! Surprise!! The system is rigged! Land managers at the Department of the Interior are expected to maintain the façade of serving the interest of the public in the preparation of Environmental Impact Statements and by conducting public hearings. But the fundamental purpose of this NEPA process and this Draft EIS is to understate the damage to be done by Desert Rock and arrive at a finding of “NO Significant Impact”. Those who wield power --the Government (both United States & Navajo Nation) in collusion with private corporations (Sithe Global, BHP, Blackstone, and URSCorp), are literally using the law to get away with murder. Industry stooges, politicians, and bureaucrats cooperate as partners in the business of murdering communities and murdering the Earth.
- It is not uncommon for Federal agencies to fire, threaten to fire, harass, or strong arm biologists who find that activities such as the construction of a power plant would harm Federally listed, legally protected species.
- It is not uncommon for Federal agencies to fire, threaten to fire, harass, or strong arm cultural specialists who report that proposed activities would destroy archaeological sites or sites sacred to Native Americans.
- It is not uncommon for Federal agencies to fire, threaten to fire, harass, or strongarm hydrologists who disclose that a planned project would damage aquifers, streams, or rivers.
- It is not uncommon for Federal agencies to fire, threaten to fire, harass, or strong arm toxicologists who reveal that project operations would result in the poisoning of the people and their landbase.
Naïve as we all sometimes can be, it may come as some surprise at first that an Environmental Impact Statement is not, in fact, a document designed to help people make informed decisions about anything, but instead attempts to justify decisions made long before, to satisfy backroom deals cut between politicians and their corporate backers. It is ridiculous to pretend this Draft EIS is important as a decision-making document. The die has already been cast, and the system is rigged from top to bottom.

Of course it will! The Proposed Project is an exercise in predatory capitalism, rooted in human misery and environmental degradation. The drilling of twenty water wells to supply the Project will result in a deterioration of water quality and a reduction in the diversity and density of wildlife habitat and groundwater dependent vegetation in the upper reaches of the Chaco River.
Sithe Global is a profit extraction corporation which treats the human and natural environments as resources to be exploited, converted into capital, and destroyed. As a profit extraction corporation Sithe Global, LLC is devoted to an ideology of greed and endless economic growth without the slightest concern for the public good or the natural environment.
The treatment of cumulative impacts in the Draft EIS is haphazard and self-serving, failing as it does to consider all past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future actions. Existing impacts of current mining activities, power transmission, and the operation of two existing coal fired plants, as well as the cumulative impacts of nearly 30,000 approved oil and gas wells are conveniently swept under the rug as the San Juan Basin is further relegated to a permanent status of National Sacrifice Area.

Of course NOT! Mitigation is a myth designed by the Government and Sithe to buy people’s trust and approval. As the corporation funnels profits from the rape of the earth and the annihilation of life, the public is supposed to feel satisfied and secure in the knowledge that everything possible is being done to compensate for this murder and mayhem. Shouldn’t we be eager, shouldn’t we be proud to provide corporate incentives and Payment in Lieu of Taxes perks to reward the nameless, faceless folks who profit handsomely by poisoning our precious air and water and sickening our children?
Disproportionate impacts of the Project to the indigenous population are unconscionable, as these people already bear the brunt of pollution form two other existing power plants. The Project promoters’ disdain for environmental justice demonstrates a penchant for colonialism and an utter disregard for public health.
There is no way to mitigate for the spewed filth that will impede vision and impact visual resources. You cannot put a price tag on the misery of those forced to suffer from crippling asthma or chronic emphysema. But for Project proponents, all those respiratory ailments and lung cancer deaths to come are simply corporate “externalities” – collateral damage that cannot and will not be mitigated.
And so, the NEPA process is law the government uses to mitigate murder by the project promoters. Throw a handful of cash at a school district to buy its assent. Sidestep the ESA and strong arm the F&WS to produce a “No Jeopardy” opinion allowing for further contamination of the river and the extirpation of two federally listed aquatic species.
A recent ruling in a California U.S. District Court in the case Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) v. DOI (Kempthorne) cited the Bureau of Reclamation’s failure to consider the best available science with respect to the potential effects of climate change on endangered species. The impact of global warming on the San Juan Basin’s hydrologic future is significant, and climate change associated with power plant emissions may well interfere with the Fish & Wildlife Service’s obligations under the endangered Species Act to recover federally listed aquatic species in the San Juan River.

NO, of course not! A massive, private, multinational corporation, URS Corp., has been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by a massive, private, multinational corporation, Sithe Global Power LLC, owned by a massive, private, multinational corporation, The Blackstone Group, to write a public document, the EIS, for a public agency, the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In the process the NEPA has beensubverted, and the public’s mind has been poisoned with propaganda purporting the unrivaled cleanliness and state-of-the-art efficiency of the Desert Rock Energy Project.
Frank Maisano of Rudy Guiliani’s law firm, is the media/public relations specialist hired to create a smokescreen, defuse the justifiable public outrage, twist the truth, and put the people back to sleep. These poor, confused locals must simply be made to understand that emissions from a third massive power plant in the National Sacrifice Area they call home “will be”, in Maisano’s words, “negligible” and won’t pollute the air, sicken or kill them.
The “Scoping Report” referred to on page E-20 of the Executive Summary as “a detailed report of comments and issues heard from the public”, actually fails to address many of the public’s most pressing, legitimate concerns such as accurate air quality monitoring and valid health studies. Critical issues raised in the scoping process have been totally ignored in the Draft EIS, and all those who submitted scoping comments early-on in this process should resubmit them for inclusion in the Environmental Impact Statement.


By Steve Cone

15 July 2007
[Farmington] The Fish & Wildlife Service is undertaking a Jeopardy Analysis for the proposed Desert Rock Power Plant because Preferred Alternative B --the full-scale project outlined in the DEIS-- is likely to adversely affect two Federally listed aquatic species -- Colorado Pikeminnow & razorback sucker. The Biological Assessment, Appendix G of the DEIS, prepared by Ecosphere Environmental Services in Farmington, confirms that increased mercury contamination due to emissions from Desert Rock is likely to adversely affect the two endangered species.
According to the Fish & Wildlife Service ["F&WS"], such increased mercury contamination could well interfere with the reproductive capacity of the fish (resulting in a "taking"). The F&WS has submitted 27 questions regarding the Biological Assessment in a letter to Ecosphere (available pursuant to FOIA), and will likely have follow-up questions depending on Ecosphere's responses. FWS plans to have a Biological Opinion with either a "Jeopardy" or "No Jeopardy" ruling completed by August. A source from the F&WS anticipates pressure and a lot of heat in the form of "arm twisting" by "this administration" to come out with a finding of No Jeopardy for the Desert Rock Project.
In addition, the F&WS is closely eying a recent ruling in California's U.S. District Court in National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) v. DOI (Kempthorne) in which NRDC prevailed in part due to the Bureau of Reclamation's failure to consider the best available science with respect to the potential effects of climate change on the endangered delta smelt. The impact of global warming on the San Juan Basin's hydrologic future is critical, and climate change associated with power plant emissions might well interfere with the F&WS obligations under the ESA to recover Federally listed aquatic species in the San Juan Basin.
Another major concern is the failure of the Desert Rock DEIS to address the issue of cavitation and subsidence in relation to the 20 deep wells to be drilled into the Morrison Formation. A Federal employee at Chaco Canyon had identified this as a significant threat during the Desert Rock NEPA scoping process more than two years ago.
Steve Cone
The Four Corners
Steve Cone
1217 Chaco Avenue
Farmington, NM 87401

July 15, 2007
TO: Region 2 FOIA Officer
United States Fish & Wildlife Service
P.O. 1306
Albuquerque, NM 87103

ATTENTION: FOIA REQUEST [submitted electronically for expedition]

Dear FOIA Officer:
Pursuant to the federal Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552, I request access to and copies of a letter comprised of some 27 questions regarding the Desert Rock Energy Project from the United States Fish & Wildlife Service to:
Ecosphere Environmental Services
4801 North Butler
Suite 15101
Farmington, NM 87401
2257 Main Ave.
Patio Level
Durango, CO 81301.
An expedited response to this request is sought as it is a matter of public well-being. The public has an urgent need for information about possible jeopardy to endangered species due to proposed construction of a third massive coal fired power plant and associated mining activity in the Four Corners Region on Federal, tribal trust land. Citizens are faced with an imminent deadline in responding with comments to the Bureau of Indian Affairs/Department of the Interior on a Draft Environmental Impact Statement on the Desert Rock Energy Project. The United States Fish & Wildlife Service intends to prepare a Jeopardy Analysis and Biological Opinion on the Desert Rock Energy Project based in part on answers to 27 questions it has recently posed to Ecosphere Environmental Services regarding the likely adverse effects to two Federally listed aquatic species, the potential impacts of cavitation and subsidence due to planned construction activities and subsequent operation of the Project, and various other concerns. It is in the public interest that this letter be released immediately, so as to allow for timely and informed public comment and full implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act.
I agree to pay all reasonable duplication fees for the processing of this request in an amount not to exceed $20. However, please notify me prior to your incurring any expenses in excess of that amount.
If my request is denied in whole or part, I ask that you justify all deletions by reference to specific exemptions of the act. I will also expect you to release all segregable portions of otherwise exempt material. I, of course, reserve the right to appeal your decision to withhold any information or to deny a waiver of fees.
As I am making this request as a scholar/educator and this information is of timely value, I would appreciate your communicating with me by telephone, rather than by mail, if you seek clarification regarding this request.
I look forward to your expedited reply, but no later than within 20 business days, as the statute requires.
Thank you for your cooperation and prompt consideration in this matter.


Steve Cone

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