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EPA ruling on Arizona coal power plants sparks criticism

February 19, 2013
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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has plans to introduce rigorous pollution control on coal-fired power plants, causing a wave of criticism from Arizona Republicans who have compared the move to the "tyrannical micromanaging that caused the Founding Fathers to revolt against England."

The controls aim to clear haze in wilderness areas and federal parks, including the Grand Canyon. However, local politicians argued that the benefits from the upgrade would be negligible, compared with the costs that plant operators would have to face, and claimed that the agency has overstepped its authority in rejecting a more cost-effective plan proposed by the state.

Attorney General Tom Horne warned that the costs would be so great that some plants might be forced out of business, leaving whole areas in the state without electricity. For instance, Cochise County has no physical possibility to buy electricity from neighboring counties because it lacks the infrastructure to do so, he explained. In addition, residents are going to see electric and water rates increase significantly. The proposal has no practical advantages at all and it does not even aim to promote health but only to improve visibility, Horne claimed.

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The EPA stated that three plants in Arizona have to upgrade with nitrogen-oxide-clearing equipment which would leave them with bills for hundreds of millions of dollars, AZ Central reported. The Agency proposed the same for a fourth plant, at a cost of $500 million.

Gov. Jan Brewer reacted to the news by issuing a statement in which she called the EPA proposal for upgrading Navajo Generating Station "a hidden tax Arizonans will be paying for years to come."

The plan proposed by the state is cheaper but would also remove less pollution, although the state, the EPA and the utilities themselves use different software to calculate the estimated effect of the different measures, so a precise estimate of how much haze would be removed cannot be presented.

In an attempt to stop the implementation of the EPA proposal, Horne has filed an appeal with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, claiming that the state has to use the pollution-reduction plan it has devised. Meanwhile, an Arizona Senate committee also rejected the EPA's prescription.

The biggest concern for many local utilities is the fact that the only option for them to fund the upgrade will be to pass on the costs to customers. Salt River Project, the utility that manages the Navajo Generating Station, stated that it was a non-profit and it had no other way to get the money.

Managers of the Salt River Project say that they are looking to diversify operations into solar and other projects but this would be impossible if they have to fund the upgrade under the EPA ruling. In fact, this would put the facility in a very difficult situation, as the utility may have to pay for the upgrade before it has completed a new lease that guarantees the facility will remain in business.
 

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