The Desert Rock power plant proposed near Ship-rock was staggered this week by the Environmental Protection Agency's request to revoke the project's air-quality permit. Citing the permit's numerous deficiencies, the EPA's regional office in San Francisco announced its intention to take back the permit and start over.
This is the second near-fatal blow to Desert Rock in just two months. In March, the Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Indian Affairs rescinded the permit for the 472-mile Navajo Transmission Project, the power line necessary to convey electricity from Desert Rock to hypothetical sources of electric demand in the Southwest, including Phoenix and Las Vegas.
No permit to emit pollution, and no permit to move electricity from source to demand. It's making Desert Rock a more dubious proposition all the time.
Desert Rock's proponents hyped the issuance of the air-quality permit last summer as a major achievement for the project, figuratively paving the way for the 1,500-megawatt coal-fired dinosaur. They were singing a different tune this week when the EPA pulled the plug on the pollution permit.
Desert Rock is yet another example of the woes that befall rich and powerful interests that hope to trade on insider political connections, and thereby avoid the annoying details of complying with laws and regulations. Desert Rock's chief lawyer-lobbyist, Jeffrey Holmstead, stymied common-sense action on global warming during a four-year stint as an EPA political appointee in the Bush administration. Once he hopped over into private practice, he was clearly planning to trade on his insider connections with the Bush EPA to help ramrod through Desert Rock, regardless of the project's compliance with the Clean Air Act.
This tactic of cutting corners and currying political favors always blows up in the faces of its practitioners whenever public scrutiny is present. The Village at Wolf Creek is another recent classic example of well-connected, wealthy big shots figuring the laws didn't really apply to them. Their arrogance and bravado, combined with tireless public oversight, brought down the house of cards. Now the same thing is repeating itself with Desert Rock. Once the thing disintegrates beneath their fingers, they run rampant blaming everyone else, including a dubious public.
What's next for Desert Rock? The Environmental Impact Statement for the project is still pending, but true to form, it's chock full of holes and likely to crumble at the first whiff of public scrutiny. Desert Rock still lacks a permit for mining coal, for water to cool the plant, for disposal of its coal waste and a passel of other critical permits.
At some point, saner heads will have to prevail at Sithe Global and among its financial backers at the Blackstone Group and figure that it is financial insanity to pour $4 billion into a speculative power plant without any customers, and now lacking progress on even the most basic permits like permission to pollute and a transmission line. Don't be surprised if another headline in the near future announces the project's final demise.
Mark Pearson is director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance.