By Linda Kor
The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) is voicing its displeasure with the Environ-mental Protection Agency’s (EPA) response to the state’s proposed plan for regional haze and visibility control for three of the state’s coal-fired power plants. EPA officials notified ADEQ in their final ruling Nov. 15 that they are approving in part and disapproving in part Arizona’s Regional Haze State Implementation Plan to control air pollution at the Arizona Public Service Cholla Power Plant near Joseph City, the Salt River Project Coronado Generating Station near St. Johns and the Arizona Electric Power Cooperative Apache Generating Station near Benson.
ADEQ officials believe the EPA is imposing unnecessarily strict air pollution controls under a program designed to protect visibility, not public health. According to ADEQ, the EPA’s action would require the installation of more than $500 million in air pollution controls that will likely result in no perceptible improvements in visibility.
“The Clean Air Act gives each state the responsibility and right to develop a plan to improve visibility within its own borders. It also obligates EPA to determine whether the state’s plan complies with the act, not to substitute its judgment for the state’s,” said ADEQ Director Henry Darwin. “We are disappointed that EPA would choose to unilaterally decide what’s best for Arizona rather than work with ADEQ as a partner to address its concerns.”
Arizona originally submitted plans to improve visibility, also known as regional haze, at protected national parks and wilderness areas throughout the state in 2003 and 2004. EPA’s only action on the plans was a 2009 determination that some elements of the plans were missing.
On Feb. 28, 2011, ADEQ submitted a new, comprehensive regional haze plan to EPA. As required by the Clean Air Act, ADEQ balanced cost, the energy and non-air quality environmental impacts, existing air pollution controls, the remaining life of the facilities and the potential visibility improvement of controls. Based on these factors, ADEQ’s plan called for less stringent air pollution controls than those imposed by EPA’s decision.
EPA was required to make a decision on the entirety of ADEQ’s plan on or before Aug. 28. On July 2, despite Arizona’s objections, the District of Columbia Circuit Court approved a settlement between EPA and a number of environmental groups that allowed EPA to split its review of Arizona’s Regional Haze plan into multiple parts, extended EPA’s deadline to act and authorized EPA to override the state’s plan. Arizona has appealed the court’s approval of the settlement.
On Oct. 12, ADEQ also provided EPA with 60 days advanced notice of its intent to sue for EPA’s failing to act timely on the plan and the decision to split its review into parts. Both actions are still pending.
The most recent decision by the EPA outlines three areas that agency officials reviewed. For sulfur dioxide (SO2) and particulate matter (PM), EPA is approving Arizona’s determination that these units at the three power plants are subject to emissions limits, along with the specific emission limits Arizona has set for these facilities. But for nitrogen oxide (NOX), the EPA is disapproving Arizona’s emissions limits at all of the units at the three power plants, except Apache Unit 1. In this same action, EPA made known a federal implementation plan (FIP) that includes emissions limits, based on additional cost-effective control measures, for NOX on most units and compliance requirements for all the units.
EPA officials stated that this action would improve visibility by reducing NOX emissions from the three power plants by about 22,700 tons per year. The EPA will propose action on remaining elements of the State’s Regional Haze State Plan by Dec. 8.
By Linda Kor