The Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to give the Navajo Generating Plant an extra five years to install $1.1 billion worth of pollution control equipment has spurred harsh criticism from some lawmakers and praise from environmental groups.
The plan announced last week would result in an 84 percent reduction in nitrogen oxide emissions in order to protect views at the Grand Canyon, reduce health effects in the region and reduce the release of heat-trapping pollutants contributing to global warming.
However, key lawmakers sharply criticized the proposal, including Rep. Paul Gosar, who represents Rim Country.
“I am disappointed that President Obama’s EPA has put forth one of the most stringent emission mandates in the country just a week after promising a strategy that would balance the economic needs of Arizona and our environmental concerns. These regulations are sure to increase water and electricity bills in our state while making, despite what the EPA says their science justifies, little to no visibility improvements at the Grand Canyon. The NGS and the Central Arizona Project have played an instrumental role in making Arizona the state it is today. Rest assured, I will continue to work closely with the Arizona and tribal stakeholders on a path forward that preserves the beauty of the Grand Canyon without damaging our local economy, threatening our long-term sustainable water supply, or violating federal trust responsibilities to Arizona tribes.”
Rep. Gosar noted that studies have offered conflicting evidence as to whether the pollution controls would actually reduce the buildup of haze that on most days has significantly reduced the visibility at the Grand Canyon and 10 other national parks and wilderness areas in the region.
Both the Hopi and Navajo Tribes expressed concern that the cost of the pollution controls could prompt the consortium of power companies that operate the plant to shut it down, eliminating jobs on the reservation — where the unemployment rate exceeds 50 percent.
However, several environmental groups praised the decision to give the utility companies until 2023 to upgrade pollution control systems.
Rob Smith, senior organizing manager of the Sierra Club, said, “It’s good news for everyone who breathes and wants to look at the Grand Canyon without the veil of haze. Our concern is that it will take extra years, up to 2023, to achieve this result.”
Kevin Dahl, Arizona program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association, echoed those comments — praising the decision to require the controls but questioning the timetable. “Why does the federal government give itself an extra five years when the technology is available and we can do it now?” he said.
However, the Republicans in the state’s congressional delegation all criticized the decision.
Newly elected Sen. Jeff Flake said the federal government has failed to link the haze in the Grand Canyon to the 2,250 megawatt, coal-fired power plant, which provides most of the power to pump water through the Central Arizona Project and that provides jobs on several Indian reservations.
“The EPA’s 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,” said Flake in a statement.
Sen. John McCain said “forcing Arizona’s water and utility companies to spend up to $1 billion on plant upgrades that would negligibly improve visibility makes little economic or environmental sense.”
However, EPA scientists and administrators said the changes would reduce haze by 73 percent and improve health.
Grant Smedley, Salt River Project’s manager of environmental policy, said the EPA’s grant of more time appears to take into account the $45 million the owners of the plant have already spent. That investment reduced emissions by 43 percent.
“However, we remain concerned that the timing of the proposal may not give us enough time to resolve some of the uncertainties facing the plant before we make a financial commitment,” Smedley said. “We also have some initial concerns that it is one of the most stringent limits in the nation and could reduce our flexibility,” said Smedley.