By Linda Kor
Officials of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) announced last Friday that they intend to file suit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for failure to take timely action on the state’s implementation plan for regional haze and for splitting the decision on Arizona’s statewide plan into two parts.
According to ADEQ, Arizona submitted a proposed air quality plan on Feb. 28, 2011, to improve visibility in protected national parks and wilderness areas throughout the State. The EPA was required by the Clean Air Act to approve or disapprove the entire plan by Tuesday, Aug. 28, but has proposed action on only part of the plan related to three power plants.
“The regional haze program is about improving visibility by 2064, not about protecting public health,” said ADEQ Director Henry Darwin. “We would have much preferred to work with EPA as a partner to make sure the visibility benefits are justified by the costs, but because we have been cut out of the process we feel as though we have no other choice but to file suit to protect Arizona’s rights. EPA’s decision to split the decision on a statewide plan into multiple parts simply makes no sense and is contrary to the Clean Air Act.”
Arizona originally submitted a regional haze plan to the EPA in December 2003 and updated that plan a year later. EPA officials determined more than five years later, in January 2009, that specific parts of the plan were incomplete.
ADEQ reported that between January 2009 and May 2010, the department worked with its partners among tribes, industry and other states, and also with EPA to fix the plan. When it became clear that it was no longer possible to satisfy the federal agency’s concerns, ADEQ developed its own regional haze plan and submitted it to EPA in February 2011.
In August of last year a number of environmental groups sued the EPA for failing to approve regional haze plans for 40 states, including Arizona. The court for the District of Columbia ruled on motions filed by the plaintiffs and EPA before Arizona was given the opportunity to oppose. The court upheld the settlement proposed by the plaintiffs and EPA on July 2. ADEQ has filed a notice of intent to appeal.
The July 2 ruling allows the EPA to delay and offer a partial decision regarding Arizona’s 2011 regional haze plan. The EPA is required to decide by Nov. 15 whether the state’s proposed emissions controls for Apache Generating Station near Benson, Cholla Power Plant near Joseph City and Coronado Generation station near St. Johns are adequate for reducing regional haze. Under the settlement opposed by ADEQ, the EPA’s decision regarding the rest of the plan is due July 15, 2013. According to ADEQ, if the EPA disagrees with the state, the EPA is required to notify the ADEQ of any problems it identifies in the plans at the same time it notifies the state of its final decision.
Locally, the regional haze requirements presented by the EPA have worried area residents and employees of Cholla Power Plant, with as many as 500 residents in attendance at an EPA public hearing held in Holbrook in August. The majority of those in attendance were in opposition to the EPA’s change to the plan made by ADEQ, which would require Arizona Public Service Co. (APS) to upgrade Cholla Power Plant with Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) technology to reduce Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) emissions. The Cholla plant has been upgraded by APS since 2006 with other forms of pollution control devices that have reduced NOx emissions by 25 percent. Many who spoke felt the SCR technology would not make any appreciable difference to emissions from the plant. In addition, APS maintains that the addition of the SCR technology to Cholla’s Unit 2 would make it no longer economically feasible to keep in operation.
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By Linda Kor