EPA-proposed air pollution clean-up to cost Navajo nation coal plant $500 million

Michael Bastasch | Contributor

The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to cut Grand Canyon air pollution by requiring a coal power plant in Arizona to install pollution control equipment that could cost more than $1 billion, reports the Arizona Republic.

Federal regulators want the plant to install a catalytic converter for approximately $500 million. However, particles from the catalytic converter could create further pollution problems and necessitate more pollution controls, which the Salt River Project, the coal plant’s operator, said could drive the total cost into the billions.

Eighty-five percent of the 520 employees at the Navajo Generating Station are Navajos. The Navajo Indian Reservation, where the plant is located, suffers from high unemployment.

“These are valuable jobs,” Navajo Nation spokesman Erny Zah told the Arizona Republic. “We’re disappointed.”

The coal plant has until 2023 to install the new pollution controls, according to the EPA, because the agency said it recognizes both the importance of the plant to the Native American tribes in the area and the benefit of the plant’s previously installed pollution controls.

The EPA believes that the catalytic converter, combined with previously installed pollution control equipment, would reduce emissions by 84 percent by 2018.

“By reducing emissions 84%, we will be able to breathe cleaner, healthier air and preserve the visibility essential to the economic vitality of the region,” said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “The millions of tourists who visit national parks in Arizona and Utah every year will now be able see vistas once marred by pollution.”

Environmentalists had mixed feelings about the EPA’s proposal, while congressional Republicans called the proposal another step in the Obama administration’s war on coal.

“This is a pattern of delays that is disquieting,” Kevin Dahl, who works with the National Parks Conservation Association, told the Arizona Republic. “The major owner in the plant is the federal government. One could say, ‘Why does the federal government get extra time when everyone else has to do it in five years?’”

“This proposed regulation by President Obama’s EPA is just another step in his administration’s war on coal that has already resulted in lost jobs and American families paying more when they can least afford it,” said Washington Republican Rep. Doc Hastings.

“The Natural Resources Committee plans to hold oversight hearings to examine the impact of this latest EPA effort that will reduce jobs, negatively impact Indian Tribes, and increase water and power rates on millions of customers,” he added.

According to SRP, $420 million was spent on new sulfur dioxide scrubbers for the coal plant in the 1990s, and another $45 million was spent to cut nitrogen oxide emissions between 2009 and 2011.

The coal plant is owned by several partners, including the federal government, SRP and the city of Los Angeles. The plant generates power for customers in Arizona, Nevada and California.

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