By Linda Kor
The battle over regional haze continues as the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) and Sierra Club, represented by Earthjustice, filed a lawsuit with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in defense of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regional haze plan.
The lawsuit follows an appeal filed in that same court by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) in January against the EPA’s 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 lawsuit filed by Earth Justice on March 4, claims that the EPA’s plan, aimed specifically at three coal-fired power plants, Cholla Power Plant in Joseph City, Coronado Generating Station in St. Johns and the Apache Generating Station in Cochise, will “dramatically reduce air pollution and improve visibility” in at least 18 nearby national parks and wilderness areas, in addition to providing “significant public health benefits to those who work and live near the plants.”
In making the announcement, the groups provided a statement noting, “The Cholla, Coronado, and Apache coal plants spew tens of thousands of tons of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides each year. These coal plants’ air pollution causes serious health issues and mars the outstanding scenic views at many national parks and wilderness areas in the Southwest.”
The ADEQ and state officials disagree. In filing the appeal on behalf of ADEQ, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne and his office challenged the EPA’s attempt to force Arizona utilities to spend up to $1 billion for supposed pollution control measures 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 three power plants.
“This is an absurd action that would significantly raise utility rates for most Arizonans without providing benefit to anyone,” said Horne of the EPA’s decision. “This attempt by the EPA has nothing to do with ensuring clean air and everything to do with trying to eliminate coal as a source of electricity.”
According to Horne, the plan by the EPA is 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,” said the attorney general.
The ADEQ submitted a proposed air quality plan to the EPA in February 2011 that 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. Instead, the EPA approved only a portion of the plan and added the more stringent, and costly, requirements resulting in the current court battle.
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By Linda Kor