FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Republican politicians expressed disappointment in the federal government’s proposal Friday to require pollution control upgrades at a coal-fired power plant on the Navajo Nation, saying it could drive up costs for energy and water to residents.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed that the Navajo Generating Station in Page reduce haze-causing nitrogen oxide emissions to help clear the air at the Grand Canyon and other national parks and wilderness areas.
The plant’s owners said it will be costly, up to $1.1 billion, and may be economically unfeasible if they cannot first secure an extension of the site lease and other agreements.
“This remains the least sustainable solution for the environment and the cost of doing business in Arizona,” Gov. Jan Brewer said. “The costs of these controls will be passed to the ratepayers of Arizona and without a commensurate improvement in visibility. The EPA’s actions amount to a hidden tax Arizonans will be paying for years to come.”
U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake said the EPA proposal “is sure to raise water and power rates for tribal and non-tribal communities throughout Arizona, undermining three decades worth of bipartisan water policy and numerous water-settlement agreements.”
That same sentiment was echoed by U.S. Reps. Matt Salmon and Paul Gosar, while U.S. Sen. John McCain said the upgrade plan for the plant “makes little economic or environmental sense.”
The Navajo Generating Station powers the Central Arizona Project, which delivers Colorado River water through a series of canals to much of Arizona’s population. It also provides $48 million in revenue to the Navajo Nation each year through tax and lease payments. The Hopi Tribe depends on the associated coal mine for a majority of its budget.
Other Native American tribes receive water through the canal system as part of settlements with the federal government.
The owners of the power plant have been on notice since 2009 that the EPA might require additional pollution controls at the 40-year-old generating station.
The proposal would reduce haze-causing nitrogen oxide emissions at the 2,250-megawatt plant by 84 percent, or 28,500 tons per year. It doesn’t mandate a specific technology for cleaning up the power plant but acknowledges that installation of selective catalytic reduction, such as catalytic converters on an automobile, would meet the limits.
The Salt River Project, which operates the plant, has argued that requiring anything beyond the low nitrogen oxide burners already on the three generating units would result in negligible improvements to air quality.
Owners of the generating station will have until 2023 to make the upgrades under the EPA proposal.
“The EPA’s proposal would give everyone more time, but still fails to strike the appropriate balance since the anticipated air-quality improvements would not even be visible to the naked eye,” said Arizona Department of Environmental Quality Director Henry Darwin.
Some Navajo community groups were happy to hear the news of a pollution control plan for the power plant.
“It’s been so many years of worsening air, water and health in our communities from coal,” said Adella Begaye, a registered nurse on the Navajo Nation and a member of Dine Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment. “Coal industry and government leaders have fought against change here for so long, but times have changed. It is a new era.”