5/20/2011 AP: Navajo coal plant focus of congressional hearing

5/20/2011 Navajo coal plant focus of congressional hearing by FELICIA FONSECA, Associated Press: FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — The fate of a coal-fired power plant that provides hundreds of jobs to American Indians, yet spews tons of emissions that cloud the view at the Grand Canyon and other parks, is uncertain. The Navajo Generating Station in Page serves as an economic engine that ensures water and power demands are met in major metropolitan areas. Conservationists see it as a health and environmental hazard and want to wean the plant off its reliance to coal in favor of renewable energy. A factor in whether the more than 40-year-old plant survives is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which regulates power plants on tribal lands. The agency is deciding whether to issue pollution controls this summer for the plant, which is one of the biggest sources of nitrogen oxide emissions in the country.

“Our job is to decide, ‘Are the parks adequately protected?'” said Colleen McKaughan, associate director of the EPA’s air division in San Francisco. “And if they’re not, does the facility need additional pollution controls?”

The role of the plant also has become the focus of a congressional hearing Tuesday in Washington, D.C., that came at the request of Republican Reps. Trent Franks and Paul Gosar, who represent the Hopi and Navajo tribes, respectively. They say requiring pollution controls would force the plant to close and devastate the tribal communities that rely on the jobs and revenue from coal that feeds the plant.

“This is a way to highlight the impact that it is having and the lack of commonsense that’s being adjudicated when we’re talking about coal-fired plants,” Gosar said.

Environmentalists see the hearing as a coordinated attack on the EPA and say the plant’s owners are creating unnecessary alarm with their doom-and-gloom predictions over the EPA’s actions.

Nitrogen oxide is only a small part of the issue, and the future could bring regulations for mercury and carbon dioxide, said Vernon Masayesva, a Hopi and director of the Black Mesa Trust.

“We should not put our energies into fighting over a visibility issue,” said Masayesva, who’s scheduled to testify Tuesday. “In doing so, we’re dividing the Navajo people.”

The 2,250-megawatt power plant began producing electricity in 1974 and is supplied by coal from Peabody Energy’s Kayenta Mine. Some 1,000 people are employed at the power plant and mine combined, with the majority being American Indians.

The plant’s owners are trying to stave off the EPA’s proposals to give themselves more time to secure lease extensions and right-of-way grants that begin expiring in 2019.

They contend that a $45 million upgrade of the three 750-megawatt units at the plant, which will include burners that reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by 40 percent, or 14,000 tons per year, should be sufficient to help clear up the haze at the Grand Canyon. Further upgrades could cost $1.1 billion, they say.

“That puts the owners in a situation where we’re being asked to make a significant investment with a lot of uncertainty over whether the plant would be able to operate long enough to recover that investment,” said Glen Reeves, manager of power generation for the Salt River Project, which operates the plant. “That’s the tenuous situation we’re in.”

The EPA must consider the best available retrofit technology, or BART, for reducing such emissions, which are expensive selective catalytic converters. If the EPA goes that route, it would set the plant’s owners on a timeline to install the pollution controls.

“We’re definitely for the most stringent air quality measures that can be had,” said Andy Bessler of the Sierra Club. “That’s what BART stands for.”

For some, the current situation brings back memories of the Mohave Generating Station, which shut down in 2006 because it needed pollution-control upgrades to comply with a 199 Clean Air Act settlement, a new water supply and pipeline upgrades costing $1.1 billion.

But SRP officials say the effects of shutting down Navajo Generating Station would have a farther reach. The power plant provides energy to deliver water from the Colorado River to Tucson and Phoenix through a series of canals.

Those interested in what becomes of Navajo Generating Station began meeting in January in an effort to come to an agreement on its future. The plan was to give the EPA a proposal by March that the agency could consider in making a decision on pollution controls, but that didn’t happen.

At least one Navajo environmental group pulled out of the discussions because it said the talks were a tactic to keep the power plant running and stall the EPA’s actions. Similar groups are pushing a 10-year transition to renewable energy.

“That’s a win-win right there,” Masayesva said.

The plant’s owners have said they would support a study to see if that’s feasible.

Read more: http://www.ctpost.com/business/article/Navajo-coal-plant-focus-of-congressional-hearing-1388913.php#ixzz1N0AfS0lI

Read more: http://www.ctpost.com/business/article/Navajo-coal-plant-focus-of-congressional-hearing-1388913.php#ixzz1N0AWlt7V

9 Thoughts on “5/20/2011 AP: Navajo coal plant focus of congressional hearing

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