EPA Green Lights Navajo Generating Station, Interior Must Approve

Tanya Lee

The Environmental Protection Agency has green lighted the Navajo Generating Station in northern Arizona to operate until 2030 on the condition that its owners – the Bureau of Reclamation, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Arizona Public Service, NV Energy, Tucson Electric Power and Salt River Project – shut down one of the plant’s three 750-MW generators or cut output at the plant by that amount by 2020. No other emissions controls will be required at the coal-fired power plant, one of the country’s biggest emitters of nitrogen oxides, until 2030. With the pollution controls installed, the plant would be able to operate until 2044.

Navajo Nation Speaker Pro Tem LoRenzo Bates said in an e-mail to ICTMN, "Although the preference would be to have all three units at NGS remain in operation, I believe the parties have reached a reasonable compromise under the circumstances. This compromise will allow for the continued revenue stream for the Navajo Nation, as well as for Navajo Mine. Meanwhile, the Navajo Nation will continue to seek renewable energy resources and development to replace the lost revenue resulting from the future shutdown of one unit at NGS."

The EPA rule, which will go into effect 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register, mandates that by 2030 NGS will have to install pollution controls that will reduce NOx emissions by 80 percent and improve visibility at 11 national parks and wilderness areas by about 73 percent by 2030.

Sandy Bahr, chapter director for the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club, tells ICTMN, “The Environmental Protection Agency really missed the mark with this rule. Particularly because it will result in additional decades of delay cleaning up Navajo Generating Station, which is one of the dirtiest coal plants in the country. The rule doesn’t meet the requirements of the Clean Air Act.”

Navajo Generating Station was one of the power plants built in the Four Corners area in the 1970s to support development of the growing cities—Phoenix, Tucson, Los Angeles, Las Vegas—of the Southwest. The plant provides the electricity to pump water from the Colorado River to Phoenix via the Central Arizona Project (CAP). Excess power is sold on the open market.

Both the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and NV Energy have said they want to sell their interests in the power plant; in the case of Los Angeles, the divestiture would bolster California’s effort to buy power only from out-of-state generators that meet its own strict clean air standards.

The plan approved by EPA is based on a compromise submitted to the agency in 2013 by a technical working group that included the Navajo Nation, CAP, the Department of Interior, NGS owners and representatives of environmental groups in response to an EPA decision to require the installation of controls for NOx emissions by 2018.

RELATED: Navajo Nation Signs Historic NGS Extension; Clean Air Battle Rages On

The elephant in the room here is the site lease for the power plant with the Navajo Nation, which is due to expire in 2019. Before the lease can be renewed, the Department of Interior has to sign off, and that requires completion of an environmental impact statement (EIS).

Coal to operate NGS comes from the Kayenta Mine, which is operated by Peabody Western Coal Company. The EIS will look at the potential impacts of extending operations at NGS and of continuing coal production at Kayenta Mine, located on Navajo and Hopi lands leased from the tribes.

RELATED: Monster Slayers: Can the Navajo Nation Kick the Coal Habit?

EPA has acted precipitously by issuing this rule—and essentially saying operations at NGS may continue at least through 2030—before the EIS has even begun, says Vernon Masayesva, a former Hopi Tribal chairman and now executive director of the grassroots organization Black Mesa Trust. The trust and other organizations, he says, intend to propose alternative sources of power to replace the power generated at NGS. Those sources could include natural gas, IGCC and/or solar and wind generation. The scoping period for the EIS ends August 31. A public scoping meeting is scheduled for August 14 at Hotevilla Village on the Hopi Reservation in Arizona. Public comments may be submitted here.

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