Power plant, mine operators ask Council's backing

By Marley Shebala
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, Nov. 28, 2011

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Arizona Public Service and BHP Navajo Coal Co. need more time to clean up their act.

And they want the Navajo Nation to help them.

On Nov. 18, Ann C. Becker, APS associate general counsel, and Kent Applegate, BHP superintendent of National Environmental Protection Agency Process, asked the Naa' Bik'iyati' Committee to help them win a six-month extension on a July 31, 2018, federal deadline.

At the end of the deadline, APS must have $400 million worth of new air pollution controls in place at its Four Corner Power Plant and its coal supplier, BHP, must have completed environmental protection procedures required to satisfy a proposed federal permit to expand its Navajo Mine by an additional 800 acres.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency notified APS in February that it accepted the company's proposal to shut down three of the power plant's oldest generating units by 2014. However, the agency said federal law prohibited it from deferring pollution controls on the two newer units until December 2018, as the company wanted.

The Naa' Bik'iyati' Committee did not give the companies an immediate answer to their request, but voted 13-0 to accept their report at Friday's (Nov. 18) meeting.

According to EPA records, APS knew in 1999 that the feds were planning to require large reductions in sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon dioxide, mercury, and particulate emissions.

EPA did not finalize its plan because the tribe, APS, the National Park Service, Environmental Defense, Western Resource Advocates, and the New Mexico Citizens for Clean Air and Water were negotiating a plan to reduce sulfur dioxide.

However, the Sierra Club went to court in 2006 and demanded that the federal agency act. In May 2007, the USEPA finally announced that it would begin finalizing clean-up requirements.

Following public hearings, the EPA announced in October 2010 that its plan was ready. A month later, APS offered an alternative plan, centered on shutting down the plant's three oldest units by 2016 and expanding its ownership share of the other two units.

The shutdown of the three units was not entirely tied to the EPA pressure, however. Part-owner Southern California Edison was looking to unload its share of the plant.

The California company's decision was based on a California law that prohibits California utilities from making long-term investments in generators that produce high levels of greenhouse gases, such as Four Corners Power Plant.

In April 2010, SCE announced that it would sell its 48 percent share of the plant, which provided an opportunity for APS to acquire the additional generating capacity it needed and to avoid laying off workers.

APS reported to the Naa' Bik'iyati' Committee that it has an agreement with SCE to buy units 4 and 5. The proposed closing date for the deal is October 2012, following approval by the California Public Utilities Commission, Arizona Corporation Commission, and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Meanwhile, last month several environmental groups sued the plant owners, accusing them of violating a federal Clean Air Act requirement to obtain environmental permits for any major modifications to the plant.

The groups, represented by Earthjustice, stated in their lawsuit that APS, SCE, El Paso Electric Co., PNM Resources, Salt River Project, and Tucson Electric Power had failed to install pollution controls when it had the chance over 20 years ago.

This would include when the plant replaced existing coal pulverizers at units 4 and 5 in 1985 and 1986, and when it began renovating boilers, turbines and generators - including units 4 and 5 - starting in 2007.

Suma Peesapati, Earthjustice lead attorney, said Tuesday that APS has not yet filed a response to the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in New Mexico.

APS general counsel Ann Becker referred questions about the Earthjustice lawsuit to APS public information officer Damon Gross. As of press time Tuesday, Gross had not responded to a call from the Times.

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