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No New Year’s Resolution from Blackstone on Coal

December 23, 2009

LAS VEGAS, Nev. - You probably don't send a thank-you note when you get a lump of coal as a present, so it appears the Blackstone Group won't be responding to protestors who delivered a chunk of it to their office last week. Sierra Club activist Michele Burkett, Mesquite, traveled from Nevada to New York, where she put on an elf costume and joined a holiday protest in front of the Blackstone Group headquarters.

The protestors delivered a symbolic lump of coal, she says, to urge the company to rethink its backing of the Toqoup Energy Center in Mesquite. The plant will be powered by coal transported to Nevada by rail from outside the state, she adds.

"It seems ridiculous to us that they need to bring the coal all the way from Wyoming, when in Nevada we have this beautiful sunshine. It's time for a new generation of power - and we'd like to see alternatives."

The Blackstone Group did not return repeated calls for comment. The company has indicated it still plans to back coal-fired Sithe Global power plants in Nevada and New Mexico.

Santa and his "environment elves" also paid a surprise to visit to Mesquite on Tuesday afternoon, where they asked local residents to sign postcards calling for Blackstone to end its support for the coal plants.

Laurie Goodman, with the New Mexico Native American group Dine Care, says the Navajo Nation in San Juan County already has two coal-fired power plants. Before Blackstone pours money into a third proposed plant, called Desert Rock, she suggests company employees visit the reservation and just try breathing the local air.

"The number of people with respiratory problems and asthma has just gone through the roof, and we have little kids - 3- and 4-year-olds - having to carry oxygen because of the bad air. "

Sithe Global says it is committed to being a responsible steward of the environment and that Blackstone is raising capital for what it terms a "clean-technology fund." Goodman counters that respiratory ailments are now the number one reason local residents are admitted to the hospital.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NV