Last week the U.S. Office of Surface Mining held a series of public meetings around its environmental review of operations at the San Juan coal mine. The mine fuels the San Juan Generating Station near Farmington, New Mexico, the source of millions of tons of toxic air pollution.
The review was triggered after a successful lawsuit filed by WildEarth Guardians busted the agency for approving more coal mining without providing any public notice or review. Guardians went to the meetings to join the discourse and voice the need for a “Just Transition” away from coal, instead of ongoing mining and coal burning.
Together with our allies, last week we showed up at several of the meetings to voice our concerns and see where the Office of Surface Mining is headed with its review. The review comes as it appears the San Juan mine and Generating Station are destined to close entirely within five years, underscoring the need for a Just Transition.
A little background:
The review of the San Juan coal mine comes as the owner of San Juan Generating Station, Public Service Company of New Mexico, or PNM, declared shuttering the coal plant by 2022 “could provide long-term benefits to customers.”
Despite President Trump’s political moves to boost coal, the realities of the market continue to keep the industry in decline. An increase in cheaper and clear solar, wind, and even natural gas, are all conspiring to kill coal. The truth is, all the politics in the world can’t save coal.
That’s what makes San Juan coal mine review all-the-more unprecedented and important. This isn’t a matter of whether or not coal mining should be approved, it’s a matter of whether President Trump is going to help workers and local communities transition away from coal.
The need for “Just Transition” is critical. The San Juan mine and Generating Station pose tremendous environmental and health impacts to the Four Corners region, particularly among Navajo Nation and other Tribal communities in the region. As the plant and mine shut down, the economic impacts are likely be felt acutely in nearby Navajo Nation communities, including the Diné Chapters of Nenahnezad, San Juan, Shiprock, and Upper Fruitland.
As we said in a statement, “It’s time to face the facts that our federal government needs to develop plans that truly help workers transition, ensure meaningful clean up of these coal messes, and support communities, particularly Tribal communities, as they develop new and more prosperous economies.”
We’ll see whether President Trump actually cares about workers or scoring points for coal industry executives and their shareholders.
In the meantime, what was our takeaway from the meetings last week?
While this was a robust effort by the federal government to show they were being transparent, the actual meetings were more like a science fair and less like a public forum for discussion. It’s not that there weren’t any great discussions, but it wasn’t exactly a forum meant to draw out robust public concerns and comments.
And for a process that is truly about the fate of the San Juan coal mine and Generating Station, it was a disappointment that the Office of Surface Mining seemed oblivious to the facts and reality facing the future. See for yourself, check out some of the pictures we got at the meeting in Durango.
At this Durango meeting, WildEarth Guardians was even asked to stand outside of the meeting room to hand out information–not exactly a place where open discussion was welcome.
Why is this a problem? Check out this video put together by our friends at the San Juan Citizens Alliance explaining more about the process and its shortcomings for the public.
Stay tuned for more from WildEarth Guardians, including more opportunities to weigh in and influence this process. In spite of these trying political times, we still have a chance to keep coal in the ground and ensure a Just Transition away from fossil fuels.