Clearing the polluted air
Published: March 22, 2013 at 9:54 am
We know when our opponents do not have a strong argument, they resort to personal attacks and don’t really address the key issue, in this case, clean air. In its hit piece “Sierra Club ‘Clearing the Haze’ comments undermine its credibility” published March 15 in the Arizona Capitol Times, Arizona Electric Power Cooperative (AEPCO) leaves out key factors regarding the cleanup of its coal-fired Apache Generating Station.
Utilities act like it is a huge surprise that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced air quality protections for Arizona’s dirtiest coal-fired power plants. However, these standards have been
35 years in the making, resulting from 1977 revisions of the Clean Air Act, which aimed at reducing pollution over America’s most pristine public lands, including Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest, Saguaro, and Mesa Verde national parks, among others. In recent years, the federal government had missed numerous court-ordered deadlines to implement the 1977 directive to protect our national parks, which contribute hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity for local communities across Arizona and the country.
The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) was also more than three years late in submitting a state plan for cleanup. ADEQ’s plan was remarkably weak and did not meet the Clean Air Act’s protective standards. In an ironic twist, ADEQ, the lead state agency for environmental protection, is now joining the utilities in suing the EPA to stop our air from being cleaner.
Now they say they want more time? Aren’t three plus decades long enough?
The new safeguards proposed by EPA will require operators of the Apache, Cholla, and Coronado coal plants to install modern pollution reduction equipment to limit nitrogen oxide emissions by nearly 90 percent. Nitrogen oxide is a key ingredient of smog, one of America’s most dangerous forms of pollution. That equipment, known as selective catalytic reduction, is now in wide use at over 200 coal-fired power units across the country, including Arizona’s Springerville Generating Station, so it is not like EPA is asking for something unusual or impractical.
Every year, pollution from these coal plants contributes to significant health problems, including heart attacks, asthma attacks, hospital admissions, emergency room visits and chronic bronchitis, and cost Arizonans almost $314 million in health expenses every year. Reducing pollution at these plants will improve haze and public health.
The EPA looked at five factors in making its determination on pollution controls for these plants, including the cost of compliance. Although AEPCO claims it cannot afford to install updated pollution controls at Apache, many similar electric cooperatives across the country have successfully installed modern and cost-effective controls. Further, EPA and independent economists have found that AEPCO’s claims of a large rate hike under EPA’s plan are overblown. Instead, EPA found that AEPCO’s rate increases would remain roughly the same as in the past. Rather than acknowledge these facts, AEPCO apparently prefers to make its claims using forums where the opportunity to respond is absent — as was the case with the joint legislative committee meeting, where no supporters of the Clean Air Act were allowed to speak.
The utilities are not looking for a “reasonable timeline” to comply; they want to continue to delay. It is way past time to meet the protective standards in the Clean Air Act and to begin transition plans. Coal-fired generation will only get costlier and will continue to risk our health and our national icons. It is time for planning for clean solar and wind resources and more energy efficiency.
— Sandy Bahr is director of the Sierra Club — Grand Canyon Chapter