By Nick Worth
The Arizona Attorney General’s Office filed an appeal Jan. 31 with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ).
The appeal is in regards to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) decision to disapprove portions of the state’s implementation plan for improving visibility in protected national parks and wilderness areas, and mandating costly air pollution controls for nitrogen oxide emissions from three coal-fired Arizona power plants.
The ADEQ submitted a proposed air quality plan to the EPA in February 2011 which detailed how the state intended to reduce haze in protected national parks and wilderness areas. The EPA was required by the Clean Air Act to approve, or disapprove the entire plan by August 2012.
In August 2011, the EPA was sued by several environmental groups for failing to approve regional haze plans for 40 states, including Arizona. This suit resulted in a court-approved consent decree between the EPA and the plaintiffs that resulted in the EPA imposing strict controls on nitrogen oxide emissions at Apache Generating Station near Benson, Cholla Power Plant near Joseph City, and Coronado Generating Station between St. Johns and Springerville. The costs for the controls are estimated to be around $1 billion, and would not improve visibility in Grand Canyon National Park or other protected areas, according to ADEQ officials.
“We are not challenging EPA’s right to act on our State Implementation Plan,” ADEQ Director Henry Dar-win said. “But what we are challenging is EPA replacing Arizona’s decision with its own on an issue not related to protecting public health and the environment, but visibility. As is provided under the Clean Air Act, the State of Arizona should be making decisions about what is in its best interest, not EPA.”
According to the appeal filed by Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, his office is challenging the EPA’s attempt to force Arizona utilities to spend up to $1 billion for supposed pollution control measure that would not affect health or be visible to the human eye. The EPA’s plan calls for the installation of prohibitively expensive Selective Catalytic Reduction technology at the Apache, Cholla and Coronado power plants at a statewide cost of up to $1 billion.
“This is an absurd action that would significantly raise utility rates for most Arizonans without providing benefit to anyone,” said Horne. “This attempt by the EPA has nothing to do with ensuring clean air and every-thing to do with trying to eliminate coal as a source of electricity.
“The terrible irony of this is that the supposed improvement in visibility the EPA wants to achieve is not even visible to the human eye,” Horne said. “These plants are being told to reduce haze that cannot even be seen and has no effect on a person’s health. That is ludicrous, and it causes a tremendous hardship to every Arizonan who uses electricity or drinks water; in other words, everyone.”
Horne explained if the EPA is successful in its efforts, no haze will be diminished and the Navajo Generating Station, which is not part of this action, would be threatened in the future. The station provides the power needed to deliver Central Arizona Project (CAP) Water. If it is forced to shut down, CAP would have to buy electricity on the open market, resulting in CAP energy rates increasing by at least 20 percent. Those costs would then be passed on to the consumers.
“The federal government appears bent on causing serious economic damage to the average consumer in the name of environmental protection when the environmental benefits it wishes to confer simply do not exist,” Horne said.
On Feb. 1, additional appeals were filed in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals by Arizona Public Service Co. (APS) and the Salt River Project (SRP). Steven Gotfried, of APS said he was not yet sure if any other companies have filed appeals, including PacificCorp, which is part owner of Unit 4 at Cholla Power Plant.
Rusty Harris-Bishop, a public information representative at the EPA District 9 office in San Francisco, Calif., said the filing of appeals is “standard practice” in these cases and that the EPA is not allowed to comment on any pending appeals.
By Nick Worth