EPA looking at pollution controls on coal-fired power plant
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Some Navajo groups say they’re not happy with a U.S. Department of Interior study on the 35-year-old Navajo Generating Station near Page, Arizona, claiming it’s intended to sway an EPA plan to bolster pollution controls at the plant.
“Everyone who’s forward-thinking about energy knows that where we need to be heading is clean energy instead of dirty coal,” said Wahleah Johns with Black Mesa Water Coalition. “It’s very disappointing to see the U.S. government putting out a study that’s focused on staying stuck in the past rather than the opportunities to move forward.”
According to a press release from a coalition of groups, serious consideration of public health impacts from the coal-burning plant was “glaringly absent.” The study also didn’t analyze the potential benefits in terms of jobs, tribal revenues, pollution reductions, and water use savings from an orderly transition to cleaner energy options than coal.
The study, done by the National Renewable Energy Lab, looked at current employment and tribal revenues from the Navajo Generating Station and its coal mine, the costs of installing selective catalytic reduction technology and other pollution controls to significantly cut emissions of nitrogen oxides and air toxics, and the costs today of purchasing power from other generation sources on the western grid if Navajo Generating Station were closed rather than retrofitted with necessary pollution control upgrades.
“To fully account for the costs of ongoing coal-burning and mining you have to consider the contamination to the land and water and the draining of the aquifer that threaten the livelihoods of ranchers and farmers and weavers and all who rely on those resources,” said Marshall Johnson with To Nizhoni Ani. “Interior’s study doesn’t even begin to account for these costs.”
Because of its old age and air pollution impact on visibility at national parks such as Grand Canyon and Mesa Verde, The Navajo Generating Station is long overdue for an EPA decision on what air pollution control upgrades must be installed to cut its haze-producing gases as required under the Clean Air Act. the upgrades that would also significantly limit the amount of health-threatening pollution emitted by the plant.
The EPA has determined that emissions are clouding visibility at Grand Canyon and 10 other treasured public lands in the Four Corners region. But the Department of Interior — whose Bureau of Reclamation is the largest owner of the Navajo plant — pressed the EPA to delay its decision on pollution control requirements until the NREL study came out.
The Navajo Generating Station emits 25,000 tons of nitrogen oxides a year, third worst out of all coal-burning power plants in the west. Nitrogen oxide is an element in dangerous ground-level ozone (also known as smog), and is a key ingredient in the formation of fine particle pollution that can work its way deep into the lungs and trigger respiratory diseases such as asthma.
Navajo and Hopi people have suffered significantly from asthma and other respiratory problems in areas affected by the coal plant emissions, which can spread far and wide.
There are also other environmental concerns. According to the coalition, coal ash is stored on-site at in unlined pits where it blows into the air on windy days. Coal ash contains numerous dangerous toxins and heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, and mercury.
The Navajo Generating Station is also Arizona’s largest single source of carbon pollution, emitting nearly 20 million tons of carbon dioxide annually.
The Native American groups are also concerned about impacts to water, charging that coal mining operations on Black Mesa have depleted Navajo Aquifer storage by 21,000 to 53,000 acre-feet. Ninety percent of the water in the Navajo Aquifer is ancient fossil groundwater that cannot be replenished.