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EPA puts new emission limits on Arizona power plants

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has imposed
new pollution limits on three coal-fired Arizona power plants, aiming to protect
the environment and air quality for wilderness areas and landmarks such as the
Grand Canyon.

The EPA set limits for the Cholla, Coronado and Apache generating stations that
will require technology upgrades to keep 22,700 tons of nitrogen oxide out of
the air each year.

State officials quickly denounced the decision Friday, saying it needlessly was
harsh, would require a $500 million investment by utilities and will make
electricity more expensive for consumers.

“We are disappointed that EPA would choose to unilaterally decide what’s best
for Arizona rather than” partner with the state Department of Environmental
Quality on a proposal, said department director Henry Darwin.

He added that any air quality improvements, specifically a reduction in haze
that obscures mountains and sunsets and can make breathing difficult for people
with respiratory problems, would be imperceptible.

States have the authority to come up their own plans to reduce haze, but they
are subject to EPA review. The agency approved Arizona’s plan for sulfur dioxide
and particulate matter, but said the state didn’t do enough to limit nitrogen
oxide emissions.

Colleen McKaughan, associate director in the EPA’s air division, agreed with
the state’s estimate on the cost of upgrades, but said the power plants should
be able to afford the improvements.

The limits set by the EPA under the new rule finalized late Thursday are less
strict than a July proposal and give the power plants more flexibility,
McKaughan said.

“We’re not picking on power plants, we’re not picking on the state of
Arizona,” she said. “This is a nationwide effort looking at all sources of
visibility impairing pollutants.”

Environmentalists touted the decision as a victory for public health. The
regional haze program under the federal Clean Air Act is meant to address
visibility in Class I areas like the Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde and the Petrified
Forest, but environmentalists say the same pollutants are linked to respiratory
illnesses and death.

The plants’ operators now have five years to comply with new limits for
nitrogen oxide at most of the units. The rule is subject to challenge through a
petition for reconsideration or a lawsuit.

The operators haven’t decided what route they’ll take but said Friday they were
disappointed with the EPA.

Kelly Bar, an official with the Salt River Project, which owns and operates the
Cholla Power Plant near Holbrook, said she’s unsure if the company can comply
with the new limits.

“We don’t believe there’s going to be any perceptible improvement in
visibility,” she said. “The rule puts us in a difficult position.”

The EPA will address the remaining portions of Arizona’s air quality plan by
Dec. 8.


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