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Administration Scuttles Public Interest in Expanding Coal Mine
Albuquerque, NM— The Department of Interior’s U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) held a series of meetings last week in New Mexico and Colorado under the veil of public opportunity to weigh in on the future of the San Juan coal mine, which feeds the largest coal-powered generating station in New Mexico. The new public engagement process was the result of a lawsuit filed by WildEarth Guardians which busted the agency for approving more coal mining without providing any public notice or review.
The 150-page draft proposal analyzes expanded mining operations until 2033, though the primary owner of the San Juan Generating Station, the mine’s only customer, Public Service Co. New Mexico (PNM), announced its intent to retire the plant by 2022. The mine’s owner, Westmoreland Coal, has also indicated it intends to shutdown the San Juan mine by 2022, but OSM has analyzed extended mining operations 11 years past shutdown.
“The writing on the wall is clear – coal is dead, and it’s downright dangerous for the federal government to blatantly ignore the need for a just transition to a clean energy future,” said Shannon Hughes, Climate Guardians for WildEarth Guardians. “This latest proposal to shackle New Mexico to 11 more years of coal despite the economic realities is especially appalling in its total disregard of any meaningful response to public safety and concern.”
The San Juan coal complex is the second-largest source of air pollution in New Mexico. Continued burning of coal from San Juan would unleash more than 6 million tons of climate-change causing emissions per year, the equivalent of 1.3 million cars driving on the road for a year. Mining operations and coal combustion emit toxins into the air, causing severe health problems and premature deaths, as well as climate change. According to a Clean Air Task Force report, San Juan coal is responsible for at least 15 premature deaths per year.
“This proposal is putting the lives of hundreds of people at risk.” said Hughes. “The push for transition away from coal is paramount to protecting public health, clean air, climate, public lands, and to help communities move toward more sustainable and prosperous economies.”
Community members and groups are condemning the analysis as woefully insufficient, especially in its rejection of alternatives for justly transitioning beyond coal and in its findings of no significant impact on adjacent Tribal communities. In its review, OSM rejected alternatives that did not involve continued mining, even analyzing shipping coal to unknown customers after the San Juan Power Plant shuts down.
“The administration’s efforts at public engagement are aimed at silencing the public and stifling engagement,” said Rebecca Sobel, Senior Climate and Energy Campaigner for WildEarth Guardians. “These sparsely advertised meetings were absent any decision-makers with actual authority and were clearly crafted to avoid any discussion critical of prolonging the life of this dirty complex.”
Last week, WildEarth Guardians sent a letter to U.S. Department of Interior Officials, objecting to the format of the public meetings, which effectively removed any opportunity for meaningful engagement, fracturing attendance across dozens of information boards and ignoring reasonable requests to give comment in a community forum.
“By refusing to acknowledge the mine’s eventual demise, this process proffers a smokescreen for yet another corporate bailout in this dying industry,” added Sobel. “The Office of Surface Mining should show a modicum of respect for the concerns of communities that have been clear in their calls for public health protections and just transitions.”
The Office of Surface Mining is accepting written public comments on its review until July 9, 2018. More information is available on the Office’s website here >>
“For generations, coal has been extracted from our lands, has contaminated our bodies, and the companies who mine and burn the coal have left the waste without regard for our health, the waters, or the animals on which we depend. Toxic developments were and are pushed by corporations, states and the federal government in order to generate private profit without free prior and informed consent from indigenous people. These projects violate nature’s law. This Environmental Impact Statement does not protect the Diné Nation or its people. Diné land, resources, and lives continue to be expendable in the pursuit of the colonial agendas and federal and state powers which are pushing to keep this mine open – even beyond the closure date of the plant. Diné Bikéyah is treated as a colony for the economic benefit of New Mexico & the greater Southwest. We demand a seat at the table! Allowing the mine to continue until 2033 will only continue to destroy our land, water, air and livelihood and take us further down this dead end road. We demand a Just Transition. We have the opportunity as a sovereign nation to lead the way for a transition to a clean energy future and our calls for economic opportunities that do not destroy our communities must be heeded.”
- Kimberly Smith, Just Transition Organizing Director, New Energy Economy
“OSM cannot ignore its responsibilities to consider what happens after 2022. It’s reckless to disregard the sheer economics of the situation and neglect decommissioning, reclamation, stranded assets utilization, and energy replacement that need to be planned now.”
- Mike Eisenfeld, Energy and Climate Program Manager, San Juan Citizens Alliance.
“The San Juan Mine Deep Lease Extension mining plan does NOT include meaningful tribal consultation, collaboration or consent. After attending the ‘Public Comment Meeting,’ employees with OSMRE (Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement) did not know how to properly engage with tribal government entities. This is especially disconcerting because federal employees working for federal agencies are mandated to uphold government to government relationships with Indigenous Nations. This disrespect is sad to see, but isn’t a surprise when it comes to engaging with tribal governments and officials. Sending letters and emails won’t suffice; actually building relationships with tribal governments, and/or their tribal environmental/land management/natural resources divisions and departments is what constitutes as meaningful tribal consultation. If meaningful tribal consultation isn’t held as a priority and thorough cultural analysis is lacking, than the Office of Surface Mining is not completing accurate assessments.”