Environment | National

Native Sun News: Deadline set for Navajo Nation power plant

The following story was written and reported byKate Saltzstein, Native Sun Correspondent. All content © Native Sun News.

2023 deadline for Navajo Generating Station
By Kate Saltzstein
Native Sun News Correspondent

ALBUQUERQUE - The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing measures to reduce air pollution from the Navajo Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant on the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Reservation, which is “one of the largest sources of harmful nitrogen oxide emissions in the country,” according to a press release from the White House Office of Communications.

The coal-fired plant is located about 20 miles from the Grand Canyon near Page, Ariz. and provides power throughout the Southwest in Arizona, Nevada and California. The Peabody Coal Mine associated with the plant is located at Black Mesa on the Navajo and Hopi reservations.

The EPA hopes to improve visibility in national parks and wilderness areas in the Southwest, as required by Congress under the Clean Air Act, according to the press release.

The proposed regulations would reduce visibility problems by 73 percent at parks and wilderness areas, the press release continues. And, they would improve air quality.

“Nitrogen oxide (NOx) emitted by the plant reacts with other chemicals in the air to form fine particles associated with bronchitis, emphysema and other diseases,” the release continues.

If measures are approved, the plant will be required to install a pollution control known as Selective Catalytic Reduction and, along with burners already installed, would reduce emissions. As proposed, the plant will have until 2023 to put the new controls in place.

Meetings have been held with local communities and more are scheduled. There is a 90-day public comment period and the EPA will hold public hearings in Arizona before final approval.

The plant is owned by the US Bureau of Reclamation, and five utility companies: Salt River Project, Arizona Public Service, the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, Nevada Power Company and Tucson Electric Power. The largest owner of the plant is the Bureau of Reclamation in the Department of the Interior which uses the power for the Central Arizona Project a water delivery project to Tucson.

Stephen Etsitty, executive director of the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency, welcomes the new proposals to clean up the air, but he thinks that the timeline for accomplishing the goals may be too soon.

The Navajo Nation benefits from the generating station because it is fueled from coal from the Peabody Coal Mine which employs hundreds of people, most of them Navajo, Etsitty said in a telephone interview. The mine has been the source of controversy through the years for terms of its contract and fears that it uses too much water in its slurry line to transport coal.

The tribe receives payments from the coal company for leases of land and for rights- of- way.

“On the Navajo Nation there are lease permits and rental payments and hundreds of jobs at the plant. There are 580 jobs, and 85 per cent of them are filled by Navajo people,” he said.

Navajos living around the plant receive their energy from other energy plants including the Four Corners Power Plant, he said, adding that he was not sure if Navajo people get energy from the Navajo Generating Station.

Asked about pollution from the plant, Etsitty said “Pollution does come out of the plant. There are sulfur dioxide emissions, a precursor to acid rain. We do comply with regulations in the Clean Air act.”

He continued: “There are problems with visibility as well as particulate matter that impairs visibility. We’re working on it. We meet all of national ambient air quality standards and public health standards. None exceed these standards on the reservation. I have never had an incident of (energy plants) violating air quality standards.

“I hear reports of health problems and increasing health issues. There are assertions of power plant emissions. Our agency is not the first to call. We hear and see a compilation of data by the Indian Health Service. To my knowledge there is no direct correlation to verify such claims,” of health problems caused by energy plants.

There are also other power plants on or near the reservation he said including the Four Corners Power plant.

Also, Etsitty said, there are other natural causes of air pollution on the reservation.

“On the Navajo Nation a major source of air pollution is particulate matter in the form of dust on high windy days. We have huge wind storms and visibility is impaired. That’s the number one pollutant on the Navajo reservation. We’re still able to maintain dust standards according to EPA National Ambient air quality monitoring system on the reservation which has collected this data for two decades.

“I don’t question that people may be experiencing more frequency of illness. Power plants are factors. But other things generate pollution. There are other emissions too such as wood stoves. People use outdated stoves, for burning coal or wood.“

Studies have shown that coal production in the area affected outdoor and indoor air quality, he said.

Etsitty has been working with the EPA to regulate air quality over the reservation and the Grand Canyon. In 2004 and 2005 the EPA required pollution to be cut in the Four Corners area when emissions of sulfur dioxide were reduced from 36,000 tons per year to 12,500 tons per year, he said.

The EPA required reduction of emissions from the Navajo Generating station and from other plants in the area including the Salt River Project which is headquartered in Tempe, Ariz. and supplies electricity to Phoenix and water to central Arizona, he added.

“This proposal is reasonable. It allows the Navajo Generating Station to continue to operate and meet long term reductions. The EPA must consider what’s best and the cost of the controls. We need more flexibility to the time frame. We want to see reasonable emissions rate. We want to have time and not put too much pressure on the Navajo Generating Station. It doesn’t make sense to force the issue. We don’t want the NGS to close the plant. They may close the plant if they are required to do it too soon.”

In the late 1960s, the Navajo Nation approved the lease which has been renewed through the years.

“We have a good working relationship with the power plant. Our regulators have the authority to inspect the plant. There was a 25 year lease extension until 2024,” he said.

“We’d like the EPA to be more flexible with the time frame on these requirements and value working with us on a longer time frame. The progress we’re making should not be compromised. To close the plant would not be good for the Navajo Nation.”

(Contact Kate at salty223@aol.com)

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