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Clearing the polluted air

Sandy Bahr, director of the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club. (Photo by Josh Coddington/Arizona Capitol Times)

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


  1. Are you people trying to destroy this country? You have gone way to far with your ecological agenda. We cannot sustain this relentless attack on our utilities-our
    lifestyles and our environment. You are pushing us to the brink of disaster by your constant attacks on how we live. Everyone wants clean air and clean water, but you are way over the edge with your radical and unsustainable agenda.

  2. Ms Kober,

    Unless we have clean air and water, we have lost our lifestyle…..life!

  3. What Kathryn doesn’t seem to understand is that it is OUR environment, not her’s. The energy companies are posting record profits — and good for them, then they have the resources to invest in their facilities that are polluting the air we all breath. This state’s government is in the pocket of polluters and that includes our “environmental” protectors.

  4. What you don’t understand is that the pollution controls the EPA is requiring will not have any visual effect on the air quality around, near or even miles from the plants. In fact, the controls are so negligible that it takes very sophisticated and expensive monitoring equipment to measure even the most minute traces of nitrogen oxide. If Ms Bahr, or anyone else, stood next to the Apache Generating plant you would not see or smell ANY smog or pollution, maybe a little dust because this is the desert after all. There are no extreme number of cases of breathing problems within the area, there is no smog. The EPA is creating make work with their new stringent and unnecessary regulations which will make the cost of electricity prohibitive to the cooperators who use it. It is not worth the expense to add the new controls.

  5. How do you define an “extreme number of cases” and do you know that some pollutants can’t be seen individually until they chemically react in the atmosphere?

  6. How odd that Ms. Bahr NEVER mentions that this is a HAZE rule; that is, a visibility issue. Instead, we have the inaccurate hot-button issue of pollution and health issues. It is hypocritial for the Sierra Club, Ms. Bahr and the EPA to use these issues make a wildly inaccurate, but carefully crafted rebuttal. Credibility is at stake here; Ms. Bahr has lost hers.

  7. What corporate profiteers don’t want to admit is this is an environmental justice issue? It seems corporate executives don’t care about the health of Native Americans who live near the plant. How much profit is enough? Stop the greed, put human beings first.

  8. Usually when health issues related to pollution are banded about it is because of “extreme” numbers. Truth is there are NO more health problems near the plant than there are miles from the plants. Siting health problems are a red herring and unsubstantiated. The truth is, the actual nitrogen oxide emissions are negligible and proof is these new controls will clean up 90% of them when the only way to tell is by very high tech detection equipment by EPA’s admission–these devices are not snifflers but air samplers that have to be taken to a lab for analysis. The real issue is “haze” which is what you have in the DESERT. There are always particles in the air that are NON pollutants and that is what you see. If there were REAL problems EPA would be talking about current violations not future pretend violations. The article is Ms Bahr’s opinion there are no FACTS. Back up with actual written documentation–can’t do that because it doesn’t exist.

  9. Concerned Citizen

    This lady doesn’t even mention the contaminationof our “air” by chem trai s, which contain harmful chemicals which you can see falling toward Earth, cause the heat to not dissapate, prevent rain and contamiate our vegetable gatrdens, the grasses out meat animals consume, to list a few things. If any of you really want to research out non-propaganda chemtrail information, there are several sites to go to. Just do a search. Chemtrails are being done all over the Earth to control weather, cause drouth, contaminate the food we eat. I have talked tonumerous people who never look at the sky and do notnotice it is white and the clouds blocking the sun are not clouds, but chemtraisl. At anytime of the day a person can look up at the sky and see the planes emitting the chemtraisl. The Clean Air Act seems to be ignored when it comes to chem trais. This blocking of the sun cause fruits and vegetbles to take longer to mature. Why is she picking on coal plants when chemtrails are a more serious problem. In fact, these chemtrails keep the pollutants suspended in the air and make it appear our coal fired plants are the true contaminators. Look up at the sky, wach the trails be emitted and watch them form “clouds” that meld together . No commercial flight is laying a contrail or would fly that high up. Under ARS
    Title 45, Chapter 9, Article 1 and the National Weather Modifications Air Policy Act of 1976, this spraying is unlawful. Our Own Statute clearly states that a permit has to be issued to do any spraying that effects the weather. How can the polticians and air quality “experts” allow this to be happening all over the world. Do they think they are impervious to this air pollution. There was even a special on TV about these chemtrails. Obama has a “secret Budget just for chemtrails. Remember Georgie boy said “Don’t look at the sky.” From the UN, Agenda 21, Nationa; Governments tot he smallest hamlet, everyone is affected by these chemtrails> The Sierra Club should be more interested in these rather than our coal plants, plus the Sierra Club should be taking a stand against Smart Meters which also pollute the air

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