08.15.2012 1

EPA’s hazy outlook threatens to bankrupt coal-fired power plants

Grand CanyonBy Rebekah Rast — The nearly five million visitors to the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona each year stare in awe at the canyon’s long 277 river miles that can be up to 18 miles wide and about a mile deep.

However, even amidst this beauty, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is focused on the haze in the national park and says it is coming from a very important electricity source in the area.

The Navajo Generating Station (NGS), a coal-fired power plant that supplies electricity for the 14 pumping stations required to move water to southern Arizona—to about 80 percent of the state’s population—is being blamed for creating poor air quality in the national park.

Currently, this power plant meets all federal clean air guidelines—except the EPA’s interpretation of the Regional Haze Rule.

The goal of the EPA’s Regional Haze Rule is the “remedying of any existing impairment of visibility” at 156 National Park and Wilderness areas throughout the U.S.  Congress approved of this amendment to the Clean Air Act in 1977, however, power to set standards of emissions was left to the states—not the EPA.  The EPA’s role was to simply provide support.

Now the EPA seems to be trampling on the state’s authority to control emissions standards by creating its own set of standards.  Is the EPA really that concerned about cleaning up haze or is this just another aggressive move to push out the coal industry?

If the EPA decides that the NGS power plant needs additional emissions control technology, owners of the power plant can expect to invest $1.1 billion, with no promise of improved air quality in the national park.

Furthermore, the plant is located on land owned by the Navajo Nation.  Its long-term lease with the tribe expires in 2019.  If the power plant operators can’t guarantee a renewed lease beyond 2019, investing more than $1 billion into the plant isn’t a viable option.  Depending on the EPA ruling, NGS might shutdown—costing 1,000 jobs, 90 percent of them belonging to the Navajo tribe.

Not only would this hurt the local economy, already plagued with high unemployment, but it would effectively destroy the water source to southern Arizona—leading to skyrocketing water rates.

How does the EPA get away with destroying communities like this one?

A political game.  It is no secret that many environmental groups ally with the EPA.  But what if these groups don’t think the EPA is doing its job or going far enough? They sue.  The EPA then settles agreeing to fix the problem. Therefore a court-imposed deadline on the EPA leaves it with no other option but to override the state’s regulations and enforce its own controls.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in a report titled, “EPA’s New Regulatory Front: Regional Haze and the Takeover of State Programs,” highlights how the EPA, along with court-mandated deadlines, has wheedled its way into state territory by delaying state plans for emission control.

By combining this tactic of delaying approval of the state plans with Sue and Settle and a court-imposed deadline to act, EPA has manufactured a loophole to provide itself with the ability to reach into the state haze decision-making process and supplant the state as decision maker. EPA has, effectively, engineered a way to get around the protections of state primacy built into the Regional Haze statute by Congress.”

The report goes on to say, “Since August 2011, EPA has used this method to impose almost $375 million in annual costs on ratepayers in New Mexico, Oklahoma, and North Dakota—over the staunch objection of their governors—by requiring installation of more costly controls than the BART [Best Available Retrofit Technology] controls each state chose.”

The Navajo Generating Station has already installed low nitrogen oxides burners and other technologies to reduce nitrogen oxides by 40 percent at a cost of $45 million.  If the state of Arizona approves of this level of emissions then according to Congress and the Clean Air Act, the EPA should as well.

The EPA’s true motive is clear: it is simply following the instructions of its leadership. In 2008, President Obama stated, “if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can; it’s just that it will bankrupt them because they’re going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted.”

As the EPA and this administration edge closer to their goal of bankrupting the coal industry, states have got to respond and fight back against this abuse of power.

This isn’t just a war against coal. It’s a war that challenges states rights’ and if it is lost will ensure the EPA’s overwhelming authority in just about anything it chooses.

Rebekah Rast is a contributing editor to Americans for Limited Government (ALG) and NetRightDaily.com.  You can follow her on twitter at @RebekahRast.

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