A decision by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to impose new pollution limits on three coal-fired power plants in Arizona on Friday drew criticism from state officials, who said that the costly measure, which overrides the state’s regional haze plan, is designed to protect visibility, not public health.
The EPA set limits on nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions by Arizona Electric Power Cooperative’s 408-MW Apache Generating Station near Benson, Arizona Public Service’s 995-MW Cholla Power Plant near Joseph City, and the Salt River Project’s 773-MW Coronado Generating Station near St. Johns. The EPA said the limits would reduce NOx emissions by about 22,700 tons per year.
But the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) said the action would require more than $500 million in air pollution controls "that will likely result in no perceptible improvements in visibility."
Tensions have been brewing between the state agency and the federal agency since a federal court in July approved a settlement between the EPA and environmental groups that allowed the EPA to split Arizona’s February 2011–submitted state regional haze plan into multiple parts, and essentially authorized the EPA to override the state’s plan. Arizona has appealed the court’s approval of the settlement. On Oct. 12, it also notified the EPA of its intent to sue the federal agency for "failing to act timely on the plan and their [d]ecision to split its review into parts."
ADEQ said Arizona originally submitted plans to improve visibility at protected national parks and wilderness areas throughout the state in 2003 and 2004. "EPA’s only action on the plans was a 2009 determination that some elements of the plans were missing," it said in a statement.
“The Clean Air Act gives each [s]tate the responsibility and right to develop a plan to improve visibility within its own borders. It also obligates EPA to determine whether the [s]tate’s plan complies with the Act, not to substitute its judgment for the [s]tate’s” said ADEQ Director Henry Darwin on Friday. “We are disappointed that EPA would choose to unilaterally decide what’s best for Arizona rather than work with ADEQ as a partner to address its concerns.”
The EPA’s decision was decried by Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who echoed the state agency’s concerns and said that the "severe" federal regional haze plan would increase Arizona electricity bills. “By grossly overreaching their authority and refusing to work with Arizona on the State-submitted plan, the EPA is now shouldering Arizona’s residents with increased utility costs that could have been avoided,” said Flake. “What’s worse, these unnecessary and exceedingly expensive upgrades will do little to actually improve air quality in our national parks—which is their stated goal.”
The EPA’s imposition of what has been claimed to be a more costly federal implementation plan to curb regional haze over state implementation plans has, over the past year, also been contested by New Mexico, Oklahoma, and North Dakota. Industry analysts predict that the EPA is also poised to act in Wyoming, Minnesota, Utah, and Arkansas.
Efforts by the federal agency to improve air quality in national parks and wilderness areas began with the 1999-promulgated Regional Haze Rule. That rule requires that states, in coordination with the EPA, the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service, and other interested parties, develop and implement air quality protection plans to reduce the pollution that causes visibility impairment in 156 national parks across the nation.
Sources: POWERnews, EPA, ADEQ
—Sonal Patel, Senior Writer (@POWERmagazine)