The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing regulations to reduce emissions from the massive Navajo Generating Station by as much as 84%, in a compromise that would give the plant's operators more time to install scrubbers and would ease the economic impact on two Native American tribes.
Situated in northern Arizona, less than 20 miles from the Grand Canyon, the generating station is the source of haze viewed by tourists at nearly a dozen parks and wilderness areas in the Southwest.
The EPA's proposed rules would allow the 2,250-megawatt plant until 2023 to install pollution controls to meet emissions standards mandated by a Regional Haze Rule. The plant is one of the largest sources of harmful nitrogen oxide emissions in the country, but the agency is proposing to add five years to the compliance date in response to concerns by Navajo and Hopi tribes, EPA Regional Administrator Jared Blumenfeld said.
"It's a deserving compromise, given the real economic threats that face the tribal nations," Blumenfeld said, calling the issue the most complicated he'd ever dealt with. "We wanted to provide enough time to work out the economics so that the facility remains open."
The coal-fired power plant is on land leased from the Navajo Reservation and burns coal mined on both the Navajo and Hopi reservations. The equipment required to bring the plant into emissions compliance would cost an estimated $500 million, and the tribes and a number of groups argued that the economic burden might cause the operators to close the facility, which employs hundreds of tribal members.
The generating station is co-owned by several entities, including the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
Blumenfeld said the EPA proposed extending the compliance period also in recognition that the plant's operators had previously installed emission-reducing equipment. When the plant is in compliance, its emissions will total no more than 28,500 tons per year.
"For 90% of the year, the Grand Canyon's air quality is impaired by a veil of pollution haze that reduces the pristine natural visual range by an average of more than 30%," Blumenfeld said in a statement.
National parks and wilderness areas are required to maintain Class I airsheds -- the highest level of clear skies. In addition to the Grand Canyon, nearby parks include Zion, Bryce Canyon, Mesa Verde, Arches and Canyonlands.
The plant also provides the power that drives the Central Arizona Project, an aqueduct system that provides water to much of Arizona. State agencies had petitioned the EPA to consider the proposed rules' effect on the cost of water delivery.
The proposed regulations are open to a 90-day comment period.