A _Desert_ Rock By Any Other Name

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					A (Desert) Rock By Any Other Name

July 2008

By Laura Paskus

Glancing at the northwestern corner of New Mexico in
snapshots, it's easy to become ensnared in a fantasy of what the
Southwest might once have been—a Navajo hogan set against
the horizon or framed by a red-faced sandstone cliff, with long
stretches of desert broken by two-track roads more akin to horse
trails than highways.

But throw in two coal-fired power plants, more than a century of poverty, uranium mines and mills,
long stretches of oil and gas fields, and a river that runs less fiercely each year and only then does a
realistic picture of the region begin to emerge.

Now, the Desert Rock Energy Company, a subsidiary of Sithe Global Power, and the Navajo
Nation's Diné Power Authority hope to build a 1,500 megawatt coal-fired power plant on a Navajo
reservation about 30 miles southwest of Shiprock.

At the end of October, Elouise Brown held back tears while overlooking the proposed power plant
site; drillers were there, testing the water supplies. As president of the Navajo opposition group,
Dooda Desert Rock, Brown regularly checks the area and had recently noticed new, larger pipes
stacked near the wellhead.

"I was checking to see what was going to happen," she says. "Within a couple of hours, some more
people came in [from Layne-Western]. I was sitting on top of the hill with binoculars, but curiosity
got the best of me, so I went down there." They would resume drilling again tomorrow, she was told,
and they would drill for ten hours.

So two days before Halloween, Brown watched the drillers from a nearby hill. She described the
goings on to a friend on her cellphone: "I'm watching the water just sprinkle out into the open," she
said. "It's going to be happening for ten hours and it's really sad."
                  Resistance Camp against proposed coal plant—photo from Elouise Brown

Members of the Navajo opposition have occupied a makeshift resistance camp at the edge of the
proposed plant, some 580 acres near Burnham. They've invited lawmakers and state officials to visit
the site. And almost daily, Brown roams the area with a camera, posting pictures to the group's
website and emailing them to local reporters.
While the tribal government supports Desert Rock as a much-needed economic development project
for the tribe, Brown says Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley, Jr. and the tribal council don't speak
for her or the growing numbers of Navajo who have come to stand with her in the fight against the
power plant.

"The more I think about it, I'm thinking these guys don't give a hoot about us, not just us in Burnham,
but the Navajo Nation in general," she says. "If they did, they wouldn't be doing what they're doing."
Of course, she says, the Navajo people would prefer local jobs, "as long as you're not killing us with
At the end of July, Governor Bill Richardson (New Mexico) announced he was "concerned" about
the plant. According to a press release from his office, Desert Rock as currently proposed would be a
step in the wrong direction. Any new coal plants built in New Mexico, Richardson stated, should
employ what's called integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) technology, and only plants that
can capture at least 60 percent of carbon emissions will be eligible for state tax breaks.
The company was disappointed in Richardson's remarks, coming, as they did, some four years into
the project. Desert Rock Energy Company spokesperson Fred Maisano says the project is still on
schedule. Desert Rock will not be an IGCC plant, he said, but a supercritical pulverized coal-type
facility. Maisano doesn't like to hear Desert Rock compared to the area's two other coal-fired power
plants—the Four Corners Power Plant and the San Juan Generating Station. "That's like comparing a
'75 Gremlin with a 2007 Prius," he says. "It's way more advanced, way cleaner and way more
efficient than a '75 Gremlin."

And who is going to pay the plant's $3 billion price tag? "It will come from investors," says Maisano.
"We're hopeful that up to 25 to 49 percent will come from the Navajo Nation, which has the ability to
take an equity stake in the project." (Yes, that's right, the Navajo tribe—with a 44 percent
unemployment rate and a median family income of $11,885—is expected to come up with between
$750 million and $1.47 billion.)

The plant is expected to release some ten million metric tons of carbon each year. How will the state
of New Mexico reconcile that fact with Richardson's plans to cut New Mexico's carbon emissions by
10.5 million metric tons by 2012? According to a September Albuquerque Journal story by reporter
Raam Wong, Desert Rock's carbon likely won't count toward the state's total emissions level
"because the electricity is expected to be exported out of state."

Meanwhile, environmentalists are mounting their own fight against the plant, citing issues of air
quality (San Juan County's air quality is already comparable to urban areas), environmental justice
(the area's poor, Navajo residents already live near refineries, mines, tens of thousands of gas wells,
and two coal plants), and carbon emissions (which affect climate change).

For his part, activist Steve Cone is worried not only about
emissions, but also about dwindling water supplies in the
San Juan River. Based on e-mail exchanges he has
obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request,
he's also concerned that the company has pressured U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service officials to "compromise their
analysis" related to effects that changes in the hydrology
and water resources of the river might have on
endangered fish and birds.

"The raw arrogance and threatening posture of Sithe
Global, LLC in these exchanges constitute a classic case             Elouise Brown—photo from
of promoters of private profit projects reviling front-line,
public employees charged with safeguarding the environment and upholding the public trust," writes
Cone in an e-mail of his own. "The fact that such machinations have become commonplace cannot
mitigate for the severe impacts of this intended assault by [Desert Rock Energy Facility] promoters on
the natural environment and the practice of good government."
Meanwhile, Elouise Brown will keep checking the site.

Laura Paskus is a writer living in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

From: Z Net - The Spirit Of Resistance Lives
URL: http://www.zcommunications.org/a-desert-rock-by-any-other-name-by-laura-paskus

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