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Brewer blasts EPA proposals for three coal plants

Gov. Jan Brewer (AP Photo/Matt York)

Gov. Jan Brewer is asking the Environmental Protection Agency to reverse its demand that three coal-fired power plants complete a retrofit that will cost utility companies $1 billion and could mothball the plants entirely.

In a July 25 letter, Brewer asked the EPA to withdraw its plan aimed at reducing nitrogen oxide emissions at the Apache, Cholla and Coronado generating stations, and allow the state to move forward on a less expensive plan proposed by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality. The federal plan is aimed at reducing haze near the three plants.

“It is clear the states should be given the lead role in the regional haze process, as states are unquestionably the best suited to make important determinations regarding the resources within state boundaries,” Brewer wrote. “EPA’s current action usurps Arizona’s authority under the (Clean Air Act) and interferes with the longstanding partnership between EPA and the state to address protection of visual air quality in Arizona’s national parks and wilderness areas.”

The EPA’s July 2 proposal affects three plants – the Apache Generating Station near Benson, owned by the Arizona Electric Power Cooperative; the Cholla Generating Station near St. John’s, owned by Salt River Project; and the Coronado Generating Station near Holbrook, owned by Arizona Public Service.

Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson said the EPA made a politically driven decision stemming from its “war on coal.” The agency last month partly rejected Arizona’s plan, which the state submitted to the EPA in early 2011.

“It would be one thing if this discrepancy were about health concerns, but it’s not. It’s about air visibility. And in the opinion of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, the difference between the state plan and the federal plan in terms of the cleaning up of the air is so slight that it wouldn’t even be discernible to the human eye,” Benson said.

Supporters of the proposed rule, however, say the increased haze that would be allowed under the state plan would have a negative effect on the health of people living near the plans. Groups such as the Sierra Club and National Parks Conservation Association say the increased pollution would also have a detrimental effect on local economies that rely on national parks and landmarks.

APS said the proposed rule, which would require the company to invest about $336 million in technology upgrades at three units of the Cholla station, could force the permanent closure of one of the plant’s five units. The company, Arizona’s largest utility, said it has already invested “considerable sums of money” in equipment that would comply with a plan enacted by the state in 2006 to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and airborne particulates.

Ed Fox, vice president and chief sustainability officer for APS, said the EPA is claiming health benefits from the proposed rule, though it hasn’t demonstrated that there is a health issue at any of the three plants. Fox said there are other mechanisms through the Clean Air Act the EPA can use to address health issues, but it hasn’t done so with the three plants.

“They’re saying there will be health benefits. Well, they haven’t quantified the health benefits. They haven’t said there’s a health issue at any of the power plans,” Fox said. “They can’t bootstrap the visibility issue by claiming health benefits when they have not done the work to prove whether there’s a health issue or not.”

Fox also said the data EPA has used to quantify visibility benefits is not site-specific and is based on an outdated model that is has long acknowledged is flawed.

The state plan was enacted to meet requirements established by the EPA in 1999 to control haze.

The EPA will hold a hearing at 6 p.m. today at the federal courthouse in Phoenix on its decision to reject Arizona’s plan for combatting regional haze from the three plants.

Senate President Steve Pierce and Sens. Gail Griffin and John Nelson plan to testify at the hearing about the impact of the EPA plan, which they say will force the utility companies to needlessly spend hundreds of millions of dollars that will be passed on to consumers.

ADEQ spokesman Mark Shaffer said the state plan would limit the creation of nitrogen oxides at the source, while the federal plan requires more expensive catalytic converter-style technology to eliminate nitrogen oxides after they’re created.

However, some, such as the Sierra Club and the National Parks Conservation Association, are urging support for the EPA’s plan.

In a joint press statement, the group said the proposals, which stem from revisions to the 1977 Clean Air Act, are critical for both health and economic reasons.

“This month, the Environmental Protection Agency announced implementation of long-awaited safeguards that, if finalized, will lead three of Arizona’s dirtiest coal plans to limit dangerous emissions, which will protect public health, help save Arizonans millions of dollars in health care costs, and clear the skies over Arizona’s popular national parks and monuments. Those landmarks contribute millions of dollars in economic benefits for local communities,” the statement read.

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