The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced new regulations to limit hazardous emissions at three of Arizona’s coal plants near Cholla, St. Johns and Willcox in an effort to reduce regional haze, visibility problems in the national parks and possible negative health effects.
Some Arizona residents, physicians and tribal leaders have shown their support for implementation of the EPA’s guidelines to clean the air, but others believe these changes are unnecessary and may hurt local economies.
Kevin Dahl, Arizona program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), said cleaning the air is a difficult task, but needs to be done.
“Producing clean air is very complicated, but something we’ve been doing for decades,” Dahl said. “Recently, the state was required to come up with a State Implementation Plan of what they call regional haze – specifically, nitrogen oxide pollutants from these big power plants.”
To this end, the EPA will install modern pollution controls, called selective catalytic reduction (SCR), at the Cholla coal plant near Holbrook, the Coronado Generating Station near St. Johns, and the Apache Generating Station near Willcox.
Dahl acknowledges that residents’ utility bills may increase, but believes it is a reasonable cost to decrease pollution. “The price tag is not cheap; it’s in the millions of dollars, but these plants produce a lot of electricity,” Dahl said. “So when [the cost] is spread across the U.S., people’s electrical bills will go up a little bit. On the other hand, [utility companies] have been getting a free ride.”
Andy Bessler, Southwest regional representative for the Sierra Club, explained that the regulations are needed because the plants are hurting local respiratory health and the tourism industry. Bessler says the EPA based its proposals on scientific research to determine the amount of pollutants in the air.
“You need the pollution controls because [the plants are] impacting people’s health and also places like the Grand Canyon, which feeds our local economy in the hundreds of millions of dollars,” Bessler said. “There is atmospheric modeling that [the EPA] can do to determine how much nitrogen oxide pollutants are in the air, and how much it reduces visibility. People say coal is cheap and it’s reliable, but really, if you look at the total cost of coal in terms of our health [and] our environment, it’s very costly. The regional haze issue is one additional cost that coal brings to the table.”
However, Ed Fox, vice president and chief sustainable officer for APS, says they are not pleased with the way the regulations are being undertaken, and have two main issues with EPA’s proposed implementation. According to information by APS, the proposed changes would cost $436 million for the Cholla coal plant alone.
“One, we think that EPA overstepped its authority by rejecting the state plan,” Fox said. “Two, we think that EPA’s own analysis is flawed because they used these generalized national costs on controls at power plants, even though we have site-specific data that shows that the cost of doing this at Cholla would be higher. Another point is that they used the model for determining visibility improvements that has technical flaws in it,” Fox claimed. He also said the issue of public health has not been scientifically confirmed and should therefore not be a part of these new rules.
“And if there is a public health issue, then let’s address them with the laws that address public health,” Fox said. “But arguing that somehow or another we should be using this particular law to address something that’s never been scientifically proven or established is wrong.”
Patrick McCourt, city manager of Willcox, says the nearby Apache Generating Station already has a plan to reduce toxic emissions. He believes the EPA’s additional regulations will just burden the city.
“The Apache Generating Station currently has an improved plan and is working on that plan to further cut emissions,” McCourt said. “Any federal EPA involvement that we’re going to have is just an additional undue burden that is going to have no perceptible impact.” He also believes EPA involvement could hurt the local economy.
“We don’t see where [the EPA plan] would benefit this area, in any way,” McCourt said. “We see where it would be very detrimental. [Taking] a great deal of resources out of an already depressed area will raise the cost of living down here. We don’t have any way to make up that additional money.”
The EPA is currently reviewing comments submitted by local communities, utilities and coal plants. They will finalize their new regulations by Nov. 15. FBN