Hey all, great news. The Four Corners won! Isn’t it great to live in a community that tops the charts?
As it turns out, the answer depends. Here are a few distinctions our community has “won” that perhaps we wish we hadn’t.
According to the Los Alamos National Laboratory, thanks to the Four Corners Power Plant and San Juan Generating Station complex, the Four Corners is home to the largest point source of greenhouse gas emissions in the nation. Historically, the Four Corners Power Plant also has helped us lead the nation in emissions of nitrogen oxides, a precursor to ozone and known respiratory irritant.
Filled with civic pride yet? It gets better. After adding our newly minted status as “methane hot spot” of the country to the list, consider this: Though you’d think our air was clean and water pure in this relatively remote corner of the world, our levels of ozone pollution rival those of large cities, and our waterways are so contaminated with mercury that the government issues Fish Consumption Advisories lest the bounty of local waters poison those skilled enough to fish them well.
Whoa. What exactly is going on here?
First, if this is the first time you are hearing of these regional accolades, I’m not surprised. They are not exactly fit for print in tourist brochures, and beyond that, who really wants to dwell on these facts?
If you are like me, you live in the Four Corners because of a deep appreciation for some mix of great people, inspiring and unending natural landscapes and enough economic opportunity to keep you in house and home (if barely). Or maybe you got lucky and were born here. Either way, most people who live here do so deliberately.
Whatever draws and keeps you in the Four Corners is only one part of the story of life in these parts. The other part – the long shadow – is that a sizeable portion of the wealth in our community is directly or indirectly tied to the exploitation of coal, oil and gas. These industries are directly responsible for our polluted air, toxic water and status as Enemy No. 1 when it comes to combating climate change.
As disconcerting as our Faustian bargain with the fossil fuel industry is, what I’m hoping to help inspire with this information is the opposite of despair. What we need now is action, the type of action that only leaders unattached to narrow interests can imagine.
That action starts with asking the right question. How can we unhitch our train from this toxic fossil fuel engine and maintain the economic well-being of our community? Sound tricky? Yep. Sound important? If clean air, pure water and a climate conducive to human civilization are of interest, then yep to that as well.
Other communities around the nation and around the world already have begun asking and answering this question. What are our leaders waiting for?
firstname.lastname@example.org. Dan Olson is executive director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance.