Environment: $160 million cleanup ordered at coal-burning, pollution-spewing Four Corners power plant

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New pollution controls will cut emissions at the Four Corners power plant.

Settlement includes requirements for regional public health and environmental mitigation projects

Staff Report

FRISCO — One of the dirtiest coal-burning power plants in the country will be required to upgrade pollution controls, cutting thousands of tons of harmful sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide emissions.

The $160 million cleanup at the Four Corners Power Plant, located on the Navajo Nation near Shiprock, New Mexico, comes under a court-ordered Clean Air Act settlement between the EPA and several Arizona and New Mexico-based utility companies.

The total combined emission reductions secured from the settlement will exceed 2 million tons each year, once all the required pollution controls are installed and implemented.

The agreement resolves claims that the giant coal-burning plant violated the Clean Air Act by illegally modifying equipment without obtaining required permits or installing and operating the best available air pollution control technology. EPA experts said the clean will reduce harmful emissions by about 5,540 tons per year.

The plant is currently operated by the Arizona Public Service Company. El Paso Electric Company, the Public Service Company of New Mexico, the Salt River Project Agricultural Improvement and Power District and Tucson Electric Power Company are co-owners of the plant and Southern California Edison Company is also a former co-owner of the plant.

The settlement also requires $6.7 million to be spent on three health and environmental mitigation projects for tribal members and payment of a $1.5 million civil penalty.

“All power plants should be using the latest air pollution control technology,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “The law requires companies to protect clean air, and those living nearby – like Navajo communities – expect it,” Giles said.

“In addition to installing pollution controls, Arizona Public Service will also take the responsible steps to protect the health of those living near the Four Corners plant, which is one of the largest sources of harmful pollution in the country,” she added.

“The agreement will require stringent pollution controls as well as public health and environmental projects that will have lasting benefits for the Navajo people. It is also a reflection of how serious we are about addressing environmental justice issues in Indian country,” said John C. Cruden, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

New Mexico U.S. Attorney Damon P. Martinez praised the persistence of the community and environmental watchdog groups  who helped represent the interests of the Navajo people and the environment.

The companies involved in operating the plant will invest $6.7 million in three types of mitigation projects, including cleaner heating systems, weatherization and a Health Care trust fund.

Southern California Edison will spend approximately $3.2 million on a project to replace or retrofit local residents’ inefficient, higher-polluting wood-burning or coal-burning appliances with cleaner-burning, more energy-efficient heating systems.

Arizona Public Service and the other current co-owners will spend about $1.5 million for weatherization projects for local homes to reduce energy use by upgrading insulation, doing passive solar retrofits; and testing and repair of combustion appliances.

Another $2 million will go toward establishing a health care project trust fund to pay for certain medical expenses for people living on the Navajo Nation, near the Four Corners Power Plant, who require respiratory health care.

The funds may be used to pay for complete medical examinations, tests, review of current medications, prescriptions, oxygen tanks and other medical equipment. The funds may also be used to pay for transportation to and from the hospital or doctors’ offices.

Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide have numerous adverse effects on human health and are significant contributors to acid rain, smog and haze. These pollutants form particulates that can cause severe respiratory and cardiovascular impacts and premature death.

The pollutants from the Four Corners power plant have long been linked with air quality and health issues in the region.

Citizen groups including Diń́é Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, To’ Nizhoni Ani and National Parks Conservation Association are co-plaintiffs to the settlement and will simultaneously be resolving their own currently pending lawsuit against the companies.

The settlement was lodged with the U.S. District Court for New Mexico and is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval. For more information on the case and to view to the proposed consent decree, visit http://www2.epa.gov/enforcement/four-corners-power-plant-clean-air-act-settlement.

More information about EPA’s enforcement initiative:
http://www.epa.gov/compliance/data/planning/initiatives/2011airpollution.html.

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