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Navajo-Hopi Observer | Flagstaff, Arizona

home : opinions : letters April 30, 2016

6/10/2014 11:07:00 AM
Letter to the editor: Environmental Impact Statement important to Navajo Generating Station

The Navajo Generating Station will soon be back in the news. On May 16, the Federal Register published the Bureau of Reclamation's Notice of Intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement - or EIS - for NGS and the Kayenta Mine.

An EIS is an important step in a long but necessary and complicated process to continue NGS operations. The bureau is the lead federal agency for the EIS, although several agencies such as the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation & Enforcement (OSMRE) and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) will be closely involved. The Navajo Nation, the Hopi Tribe, Gila River Indian Community, agricultural interests, Salt River Project, Peabody Coal, environmental groups and, of course, the press will monitor its progress as well.

The bureau has scheduled the first phase of the public process, called scoping meetings. A series of 10 meetings will begin June 10 in Window Rock to allow the public to offer suggestions about what people think should be studied.

Meetings have been scheduled for LeChee on June 16 and Page on June 17. Both are from 4 to 7 p.m. local time. Other scoping meetings are scheduled for Forest Lake, Kayenta, Shonto, Kykotsmovi, Tuba City, Phoenix and Marana.

Unlike last year's Best Available Retrofit Technology, or BART meetings, there will be no microphone to make a public comment and there won't be a formal presentation by officials. Instead, the meetings will be an open house format. That means you can arrive at any time and federal project team members will be available to provide information and answer questions at various stations around the room. Forms will be available to submit a comment and a court reporter will be there to take verbal comments, but it's not necessary to attend a meeting to present a comment. You can email your thoughts to NGSKMC-EIS@usbr.gov. The comment period is open until July 7.

From beginning to end, the EIS process is expected to take about four years and cost about $10 million. An EIS is required by the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, to give the federal government the information it needs whenever it has to make a decision and take action.

The decision here is whether to extend the operation of NGS and the Kayenta Mine from 2020 through 2044 in accordance with the lease extension approved by the Navajo Nation in July 2013. The Department of the Interior is required to comply with NEPA because a number of federal actions and approvals are necessary to continue NGS operations. These include a decision by the U.S. to continue its participation in NGS, BIA's approval of the NGS lease amendment and rights-of-way, and OSMRE's Kayenta Mine Life-of-Mine permit revision to supply coal.

This EIS will evaluate a number of potential environmental and economic impacts of continuing NGS for another 25 years. It will take into account everything from impacts to species listed under the Endangered Species Act to cultural resources protected by the National Historic Preservation Act. Scoping meetings help determine what will be studied and evaluated in the EIS.

The EIS will identify ways to minimize impacts and incorporate public review and comment. An EIS includes analysis of direct, indirect and cumulative impacts on everything from air and water quality, climate change, human health, soil, vegetation, wildlife, socioeconomics, recreation, cultural and historical resources, tribal assets and properties, visual resources and environmental justice.

The bureau and cooperating agencies will combine the scoping comments into the development of a draft EIS. That is expected to take two years. The draft will be released for public review in mid-2016 for more comment, analysis and revision. A final EIS is expected in late 2017.

When it's finished, the EIS must disclose all the potential impacts of continuing NGS and the Kayenta Mine, compare those impacts to the No Action Alternative if NGS and mine operations were not extended, and the consequences of implementing other reasonable alternatives that could achieve the same objectives. Once complete, the EIS is used by the various agencies to inform their decisions to approve the NGS and Kayenta Mine extension or not.

It's important to understand that this EIS process for NGS is different from the BART process. An EIS is a normal and expected federal action and NGS is not being singled out. Later this summer, the EPA is expected to issue its final rule on new pollution controls for NGS under BART.

In the meantime, NGS will always strive to be a good neighbor. Not only does it operate within the EPA's National Ambient Air Quality Standards, its owners remain committed to help keep our environment clean and provide economical electricity to Arizona for years to come.

By Robert Talbot

NGS Plant Manager

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