The Coal Cycle in Northwest New Mexico

The San Juan River Basin provides the majority of drinking water for the surrounding area. Surface water and groundwater are contaminated during the extraction of coal, its subsequent preparation and the disposal of mine waste if no mitigating measures are used. In New Mexico many sites have been abandoned without adequate reclamation.

Coal Fired PlantCoal mining and power plants utilize large amounts of water. For example, 260 million gallons of water are used for coal mining in the U.S. every day. In 2006, coal plants discharged 32% of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, about the same as from cars, trucks, buses, trains, planes, and boats combined. Methane is a greenhouse gas 20 times as potent as carbon dioxide. Coal mining accounts for 26% of all energy-related methane emissions in the U.S. each year.

Coal-fired power plants are the largest source of sulfur dioxide pollution (acid rain) and the second largest source of nitrogen oxides (smog).  The Four Corners Power Plant in San Juan County, NM, is the largest source of nitrogen oxide gases in the U.S. Every year, the power plant releases more than 16 million tons of carbon dioxide and tons of sulfur dioxide, which forms acid rain and poses a myriad of health risks.

In 2010, coal-fired power plants emitted 72.3% of the greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the U.S. Burning coal releases fine soot particles, which can trigger heart attacks and strokes, worsen asthma, cause irregular heartbeat, and lead to premature death.

In 2010, the San Juan Generating Station produced more than 8.5 million tons of carbon air pollution and consumed more than 9.3 billion gallons of clean water. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the San Juan Generating Station is the 18th highest nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide emitter of the 496 U.S. coal-fired power plants.

Over 90% of the state’s power-related GHG emissions occur at coal-fired power plants. The plants at San Juan and the Four Corners produce 75% of the total emissions.

4 Corners PlantThe Four Corners Power Plant also releases 487 pounds of mercury (a potent neurotoxin), 10,197 pounds of selenium, 10,199 pounds of benzene (a known carcinogen), and more than 9 million pounds of hydrochloric acid annually.

Because of the intensive gas, oil and coal industries in New Mexico, the per capita GHG emissions are almost twice the U.S. average (42 v. 25).

NGOs Working to Prevent Contamination from the Coal Cycle
Diné CARE (Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment) at



The Coal Cycle in Northwest New Mexico — 1 Comment

  1. Original comment posted May 16, 2012 at 2:17am

    As important a role as they play, there has to be a better alternative to coal-fired plants. That huge amount of carbon dioxide they emit can’t be good for the environment.

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