Four Corners power plant operator sued over emissions

Coal power plant

Arizona Public Service, Inc, operator of The Four Corners Power Plant, located about 25 miles west of Farmington, was sued Tuesday by Earthjustice, a non-profit environmental law firm, which claims that for years the plant operated outside the rules set down in the Clean Air Act. Earthjustice seeks for the plant to improve its emissions or otherwise it have to shut down

The lawsuit alleges that the plant never installed a set of legally required pollution control mechanisms and as a result pollutes New Mexico and the surrounding states. The suit also names five other entities, including California Edison to the El Paso Electric Company.

According to a recent Environmental Protection Agency study, the Four Corners is the worst nitrogen oxide polluter in the nation, emitting 38,000 tons of the carcinogen into the atmosphere annually. The Four Corners plant alone produces more than 11,000 tons of sulfur dioxide pollution and over 14 million tons of carbon dioxide pollution each year.

The Four Corners plant provides power to about 300,000 households in New Mexico, Arizona, California, and Texas. Earthjustice’s suit claims that the plant, one of the largest coal-fired generating stations in the U.S. dating to 1963, has not updated its pollution controls in years. A group of organizations that included Dine Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, To’Nizhoni Ani, the National Parks Conservation Association, and the Sierra Club joined Earthjustice in the suit.

Some point to health problems experienced by a number of Native peoples living in the vicinity of the plant as evidence of its non-compliance. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health identified a cluster of 37 Navajo communities that rank disproportionately high for diseases and lung ailments associated with pollution stemming from coal-fired power plants.

Suma Peesapati, an attorney for Earthjustice, said the plant came to the group’s attention about a year ago. “We found their first set of violations went as far back as 1985,” she said. “Then during our research over the past year, we found a second set of violations that went back to retoolings the plant did in 2007.” The group hopes for the case to be resolved as expeditiously as possible, but Peesapati conceded that “generally, big industry defendants like to draw these cases out as long as possible.”

The plant and its fellow defendants now have 30 days to either comply with the lawsuit or to respond with a lawsuit or a motion of their own.

Peesapati also pointed out that two Natives are also listed as plaintiffs in the suit, adding “it’s the workers who’re suffering the most.”