By Nick Worth
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals turned down a request by four utility companies and the State of Arizona seeking to delay installing the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) mandated pollution controls at the Cholla, Coronado, and Apache coal-fired power plants. The court’s decision came Sept. 9, and denied the request by the state and power companies that wanted to wait until litigation over the EPA’s regional haze requirements is complete before installing the expensive controls.
Proponents of the EPA’s standards claim the three power plants have contributed to the haze pollution at the Grand Canyon and other national parks in the Southwest by emissions of nitrogen oxides, emissions which the state and power companies maintain is not visually detectable.
Supporters of the EPA regional haze plan, including such groups as the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) and the Sierra Club, are also fighting to uphold the EPA plan based on alleged health concerns resulting from the emissions.
In a press release issued by Earthjustice, legal representatives for the NPCA and the Sierra Club, Sandy Bahr, chapter director for the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter, said, “Reducing pollution at three of our state’s dirtiest coal plants is way past due. Moving forward with limiting these emissions protects both the skies of our iconic national parks and wilderness areas and our health.”
“Despite the promises of the 1977 Clean Air Act, 18 prized national parks have spent decades living in the shadow of the haze caused by air pollution from these plants,” NPCA Arizona Senior Program Manager Kevin Dahl said in the same press release. “The cleanup plan the EPA has set in motion is rightfully sustained by this decision and once enforced will be an important turning point for those iconic places, by clearing the air and restoring the health and beauty these national parks deserve.”
Because of the Circuit Court’s decision, the power companies now have five years in which to install the emission controls.
The court’s decision only affects the timetable set forth by the EPA and keeps it moving forward. It is not a ruling on the legal merits of the EPA’s regional haze ruling, which is currently in litigation.
The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) originally came up with an emission control plan for the coal-fired plants, which the EPA approved. The EPA then came back and told ADEQ the plan did not do enough to curb the nitrogen oxide emissions.
The federal agency then imposed a timeline which requires the power companies to show progress toward emission controls by 2013 and to complete the transition to the controls by 2018, years ahead of the original timeline. ADEQ then filed suit against the EPA.
Opponents of the EPA’s plan are concerned that the expensive emission controls, currently priced somewhere in the neighborhood of $192 million, will lead to higher rates for electricity customers and perhaps even to shutting down the affected power plants.
Arizona Public Service Co. (APS) officials did not return a call seeking comment on the court’s decision.
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By Nick Worth