FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency expects to make a decision on whether to mandate pollution controls for a coal-fired power plant on the Navajo reservation next spring.
But with so many competing interests, regional administrator Jared Blumenfeld in the EPA's San Francisco office admits the agency won't satisfy them all, and the differences likely will have to be ironed out in court.
"To say it's complex would be an understatement," he told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday.
The Navajo Generating Station near Page ensures water and power demands are met in major metropolitan areas and contributes significantly to the economies of the Navajo and Hopi tribes. Conservationists see it as a health and environmental hazard.
Blumenfeld said the EPA ultimately must decide what technology would best protect the air around the Grand Canyon and other pristine areas as part of its regional haze rule. Whether that means low nitrogen oxide burners already installed at the plant, more expensive scrubbers or something else won't be disclosed until next year. The plant's owners would have five years to comply once a final rule is issued.
"It is likely we will be scrutinized, so we are sticklers for following the rules," he said.
The Navajo Generating Station is just one of three coal-fired power plants in the region that directly or indirectly affects the Navajo Nation. The EPA already has proposed pollution controls for the Four Corners Power Plant and the San Juan Generating Station in northwestern New Mexico, which are in clear view of one another. The latter is overseen by another EPA region.
The Department of Interior is conducting a study with a draft due out this month on the 2,250-megawatt Navajo Generating Station that will show just how vast the interests are in the plant that began producing electricity in 1974. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is the majority owner of the plant. It is run by the Salt River Project and fed by coal from Peabody Energy's Kayenta Mine.
The regional haze rule allows the EPA to look at factors other than air quality and cost effectiveness in determining regulations for power plants. Navajo Generating Station provides energy to deliver water from the Colorado River to Tucson and Phoenix through a series of canals and fulfills water rights settlements reached with American Indian tribes.
Blumenfeld said the agency needs specific information on what tribes, like the Gila River Indian Community, would expect to pay for water if that power no longer was available, or the figures from the Navajo and Hopi tribes on revenue losses should the power plant cease operation. SRP has said it could be forced to shutter the plant if it doesn't secure lease agreements or it cannot afford more the expensive pollution controls.
"Until we have the detailed information about what those impacts are, we can't do very much with that," Blumenfeld said.
His office also has been criticized by some Republican members of Congress for what they say are unnecessary regulations that are hurting local economies. Blumenfeld said while critics believe states can take over the EPA's duties, his agency ensures consistency across the board.
"Ultimately it's an example of common-sense standards of helping the American public have a healthy life," he said. "We recognize that we also need energy, but I think they are not in conflict."
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