EPA rule for NGS draws mixed reaction

By Cindy Yurth
Tséyi' Bureau

WINDOW ROCK, January 24, 2013

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T he EPA's proposal to clean up the West's largest coal-fired power plant within five years predictably pleased no one, with the plant's managers complaining it isn't nearly enough time and environmentalists saying it's too much.

The EPA announced last Friday a proposed rule that will require the Navajo Generating Station to adopt "best available retrofit technology" to eliminate most of its haze-producing pollution within five years after the final rule is adopted, which could be as early as this year.

The Salt River Project, which owns a 21.7 percent share of the plant and also operates it, says the retrofit will cost up to $1.1 billion.

Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly did not return a phone call by press time, but he has advocated for lenience for the plant, which employs more than 400 Navajos and relies on Navajo coal from Peabody's Kayenta mine.

In a statement in response to the proposed rule, which now faces a 90-day comment period, SRP's chief resources executive, John Sullivan, said the time frame is too short given the fact the plant's lease with the Navajo Nation expires in 2019.

"We appreciate that the EPA appears to have attempted to take into consideration the complex timing issues that this decision creates for the NGS owners," Sullivan states in the release. "Unfortunately, the proposal may not allow the owners enough time to resolve uncertainties facing the plant before they will be required to make a significant financial commitment."

On the other side of the issue, as they have been all along, were the Sierra Club and several other environmental groups that have been leading the charge to clean up the 30-year-old power plant that made possible the Central Arizona Project.

"We do remain concerned about the lengthy time period proposed to clean up this dirty coal plant, as this pollution should have been cleaned up decades ago," wrote Andy Bessler, Southwest organizing representative for the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign.

While the tribe and the SRP have been pointing to the devastating economic impact were the plant to close, Bessler sees it another way.

"The Navajo Generating Station plant, located only 12 miles from one of our country's most cherished national parks - the Grand Canyon National Park - is a major source of industrial pollution for the region, obscuring scenic views of the Grand Canyon and ten other designated parks and wilderness areas throughout the Southwest, including Mesa Verde and Canyonlands national parks," he wrote. "The Navajo Generating Station coal plant threatens Arizona's $686 million outdoor economy and thousands of jobs that depend on the wild beauty and natural health of the region."

The EPA rule would give the NGS credit for low-nox burners it installed voluntarily between 2009 and 2011 to reduce pollution.

The Clean Air Act has established goals for reducing haze over Class 1 federal areas - 11 of which exist near NGS - since 1977, a year after NGS was completed.

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