EcoFlight flew the Institute for Journalism and Natural Resources (IJNR) and members of the media over the Four Corners region of New Mexico.
The Four Corners area is home to two of the highest polluting coal plants in the western United States. The 1,800-megawatt San Juan Generating Station and the 2,040-megawatt Four Corners Power Plant burn over ten million tons of coal per year, discharging into the air approximately 42,000 tons of nitrogen oxides, 12,000 tons of sulfur dioxide and 1,300 tons of particulate matter. The Four Corners Power Plant is the only coal-fired power plant in the nation to operate without enforceable federal, state or tribal pollution limits for significant pollutants.
These power plants supply electricity to the major population centers of the west, yet the transmission lines cross Navajo lands where the vast majority of Navajo homes have no electricity.
In addition to the coal-fired power plants, thousands of natural gas facilities in the region are contributing to the high levels of ozone being recorded in San Juan County. Ozone in the Four Corners region approximate those of large urban centers such as Denver, Phoenix and Dallas and the ensuing brown haze is having a huge visibility impact on Class 1 National Parks, including Mesa Verde, Canyonlands and Arches National Park.
Coal mining and combustion at the Four Corners Power Plant and the disposal of tens of millions of tons of coal-combustion waste are putting mercury, selenium and other deadly toxins into the San Juan River, a significant tributary of the Colorado River, which supplies drinking water downstream to tens of millions of people in New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, California and Mexico and provides critical habitat to two of the West's most endangered fish species.
In January 2011, The San Juan Citizens Alliance, together with The Center for Biological Diversity and Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment sued the Department of the Interior's Office of Surface Mining for failing to protect the San Juan River ecosystem from the impacts of energy development.
The lawsuit was prompted by a draft biological study by the US Fish and Wildlife Service that shows that 64 percent of the endangered Colorado pike minnow in the San Juan currently exceed mercury contamination thresholds and that high levels of selenium are impairing growth, reproduction and survival in 40 percent of razorback sucker offspring.