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Congressmen seek to block pollution controls on Navajo coal plant

May 21, 2011 |  7:57 pm

NAVAJO-NOX-PLUME2-210x300 The massive coal-powered Navajo generating station in Page, Ariz., spews tens of thousands of tons of nitrogen oxide a year into Western skies, spreading haze across the Grand Canyon and other national parks. By law, the 40-year-old plant is supposed to install the "best available retrofit technology" to scrub emissions from its smokestacks.

But two Arizona Republicans have called a congressional hearing for Tuesday in an effort to block the Environmental Protection Agency from requiring the retrofits, which they say would cost $1.1 billion and could force the plant, which employs 1,000 people at the power station and a nearby coal mine, to close.

In a letter to the chairmen of the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power and the Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs, Reps. Paul Gosar and Trent Franks said the electricity generated by the plant, which pumps water from the Colorado River to Tucson and Phoenix, "is essential to supplying water to 80% of the state’s population. We must carefully examine regulations that could threaten the state of Arizona’s water and power supply.”

The EPA is scheduled to decide this summer whether to require pollution controls for the plant, which is one of the biggest sources of nitrogen oxide emissions in the country. "Our job is to decide, 'Are the parks adequately protected?' " said Colleen McKaughan, associate director of the EPA's air division in San Francisco. "And if they're not, does the facility need additional pollution controls?"

Environmentalists say the plant, besides obscuring the views in parks, is also a health hazard, responsible for high levels of asthma and respiratory disease on the Navajo and Hopi Indian reservations. It is also a major source of toxic mercury emissions into the air and rivers. With Arizona in the midst of building several large solar-powered plants, conservationists say the coal generator could be replaced by clean, renewable energy.

The coal plant operators, however, have intimated they might shut it down if EPA requires state-of-the-art scrubbers."We're being asked to make a significant investment with a lot of uncertainty over whether the plant would be able to operate long enough to recover that investment," said Glen Reeves, manager of power generation for the Salt River Project, a major stakeholder in the plant.

The plant's owners contend that a lesser $45-million upgrade of the three 750-megawatt units at the plant -- which will include burners that reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by 40%, or 14,000 tons per year -- should be sufficient to help clear up the haze at the Grand Canyon.

At least one Navajo environmental group pulled out of discussions over the plant's future because it said the talks were a tactic to keep the power plant running and stall the EPA's actions. Others are pushing a 10-year transition to renewable energy.

RELATED:

National Parks: A missed deadline to curb haze

Colorado River parks threatened by dams, new report says 

Coal mine near Bryce Canyon?

-- Margot Roosevelt

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Photo: The Navajo generating station in Page, Ariz. Credit: Grand Canyon Trust

 

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