EPA Rules on Power Plant Emissions

More from this show

The Environmental Protection Agency issued a final rule to control emissions from the Navajo Generating Station to improve air quality around the Grand Canyon and other national parks. Many of the recommendations came from a Technical Working Group composed of stakeholders and owner/operators of the power plant. Three representatives of organizations that were part of the working group will discuss the news rules. David Modeer, General Manager of the Central Arizona Project, Kelly Barr, senior director of environmental management and the deputy legal counsel for the Salt River Project and Stephen Etsitty, executive director of the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency, will discuss the new rules.

Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to Arizona Horizon, I'm Ted Simons. The Environmental Protection Agency earlier this week issued final rules to help reduce emissions from the Navajo Generating Station. The goal is to curb air pollution at the Grand Canyon and other national Parks. Yesterday we heard from a conservationist opposed to the new rules; today we hear from representatives of a technical working group that provided many of the rules the EPA adopted. Joining us is David Modeer, General Manager of the Central Arizona Project, Kelly Barr, Senior Director of Environmental Management and the Deputy Legal Counsel for Salt River Project, and Stephen Etsitty, Executive Director of the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency. It's good to have all, Stephen especially you driving down from the reservation. Good to have you here. Let's start - David let's start with you. What exactly did the EPA decide?

David Modeer: Well I think the EPA decided that the work of the technical working group that you cited did better than what their proposal would have been, if it had been implemented. And the technical working group was a group composed of a variety of interests from tribes to CAP to the Department of the Interior, the owners, and environmental groups. And it was very successful. I think the key -- my opinion of the key to the success of those negotiations were the respect everybody had for each other in the room.

Ted Simons: And Again, that group the working group is called Twig, is that the acronym for it yeah? Talk about the process, five years of discussions, how much compromise, how much horse-trading was going on there?

Kelly Bar: Well, truly it wasn't five years of the Twig process thankfully. I'm not sure we would have gotten across that finish line. But we met for about five months and all together in a room, several times a week in some cases, to try to arrive at a compromise solution. And as David mentioned, we had members from the Environmental Defense Fund, Western resource advocates, The Department of the Interior, the Navajo Nation, CAP, and SRP as well as the Gila River Indian community. Um so really a very diverse set of interests. Got together, tried to reason with one another, tried to find a compromise that everyone could live with. And what it did was it paves the way to close one of the units in at the end of 2019, and then gives us some additional time to install STRS on the two remaining units.

Ted Simons: And again, I know the talks themselves went on for about five years or so, obviously the five months of Twig. Did those previous talks grease the skids a little bit or did you kind of have to start from Ground Zero?

Kelly Bar: It did, it was actually really helpful. There were a number of - there was a larger stakeholder process where everybody kind of got to come forward and share their perspectives. And then when we got kind of a general sense of where the various perspectives lined up we then were able to identify folks who would represent that broad group.

Ted Simons: As far as the Navajo Nation, the perspective of the nation here regarding the generating station, jobs, pollution, the whole nine yards, what did you bring to the table?

Stephen Etsitty: Well in 2003 I came on board to serve the Navajo nation in this capacity that I have. And immediately we were already enmeshed with the BART determination for Four Corners Power Plant to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions. And that just rolled right into the BART determination for NGS, we knew that that was coming next. But emission reductions are important for the Navajo Nation. We want to see these facilities perform to the best of their abilities. My job as the environmental director is to make sure that we're protecting our public health and making sure that our resources are going to be there for our people in the future. And that includes air sheds and view sheds. We do also have our own budding tourism industry so we have an interest in these similar things that you find in the regional haze rule. So the perspective we bring is trying to force people to understand that we have resources we want to use, coal. And we have these responsibilities to take care of our lands and our people, that are very similar to the goals everybody else has in the Four Corners region. And we have programs and we have processes to do that.

Ted Simons: And the importance now of the Navajo Generating Station to the Central Arizona Project, very quickly, it pumps the water uphill, doesn't it?

David Modeer: Yes, we do. We pump it uphill 3,000 feet and about 330 miles. So power is essential, without power there's no water coming in from the Colorado. So having success at this and assuring the continued operation of Navajo Generating Station provides certainty for the continuity of delivery of our water and at the lowest possible price.

Ted Simons: We'll likely see water rates go up though, correct?

David Modeer: We're going to see upward pressure on water rates from many areas in all of it, the scarcity of water as well as energy costs going up, so yes, it'll have an impact, but it certainly would have a much greater impact if we weren't successful with this process.

Ted Simons: Stephen mentioned BART, the part requirements. In general, it's five years, you got a retrofit in five years if the EPA said -- And obviously the Twig group was formed specifically to say that ain't going to cut it. Why doesn't it cut it? Because environment -- some conservationists, and we talked to one last night, saying it's five years, it's the rule, make it happen.

Kelly Barr: Right. And there are a number of issues that the power plant is facing in terms of extending the lease, going through a NEPA process which will take several years, and so we knew we couldn't install the pollution control equipment by the 2018 deadline. And EPA actually recognized that and gave us an alternative that would give us a little more time, it just wasn't sufficient time. So this proposal allows us to as I mentioned close the unit it at the end of the 2019, and then gives us till the end of 2030 to install the pollution control equipment, which allows us to resolve a number of issues that need to be resolved at the plant.

Ted Simons: Closing unit or reducing the power generated one or the other.

Kelly Barr: That's right.

Ted Simons: But still, it doesn't necessarily say pollution, it's just reducing the power, correct?

Kelly Barr: No, if you reduce the power, you also reduce the pollution right, so we would either curtail requirements or add some pollution control.

Ted Simons: Okay, so pollution controls -- Because the conservationists, and they're talking about folks there in Northern Arizona saying, actually all this does is say until 2029, the generating station can go full guns and maybe even more so, until the rules hit. Is that valid?

Stephen Etsitty: Well from the perspective that we bring to the table, and the reason we're - I think one of the primary reasons for the way the rule was written is because this is one of the few power plants that are actually sited on an Indian reservation. All the other facilities that are subject to BART are not on an Indian reservation. And in that regard there are other responsibilities that the federal government has in dealing with decision making that will impact an Indian tribe. In this case it impacts the Navajo Nation and a Hopi tribe. And in that regard, EPA has some tools that they haven't used very much over these past several years, coming out of the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments there was a tribal authority rule that was promulgated, which provides flexibility in certain instances gives EPA a little bit more discretion and flexibility as to how to implement Clean Air Act programs when it comes to facilities on Indian lands.

Ted Simons: As far as this working group was concerned, what -- did you feel the EPA was showing a little more discretion here? What seemed to be the - Because again, critics are saying this is just kicking the can down the line. The EPA is kind of saying well hold on a minute, maybe we can work something out. Were you surprised by that?

David Modeer: I think that the initial response of the EPA changed over those five years you mentioned as they became more knowledgeable about the impacts to water deliveries, to water settling tribes, to the Navajo and the Hopi. That this wasn't just a very simplified worship plan operating out in the middle of Texas or something like that. So their attitude began to change and said, well let's see what we can do to still reduce pollution, which is what the BART process is about, and at the same time address the concerns that everyone in this process that were members of the Twig expressed. And so I congratulate the EPA for recognizing that this was different and it needed a different approach.

Ted Simons: Agree?

Kelly Barr: Absolutely agree, and I think one thing that kind of gets lost sometimes is that this proposal is better than BART, so we will have more emission reductions associated with our proposal than what EPA proposed.

Ted Simons: And that is part of the deal isn't it? That they will take an alternative as long as it's better than our alternative, which is BART.

Kelly Barr: Absolutely.

Stephen Etsitty: And other people, many of them overlook the fact that the regional haze rule has a goal to attain all of these reductions by the year 2016. So the plant is going to close potentially in 2044, we've got time to work on these things and to load everything up as Kelly was talking about. There are certain things that are happening right now in this time frame for the next six years that are very, very sensitive. We, the Navajo Nation have decided to extend the lease that currently is in place, it was a 50-year lease that ends in 2019. We've decided we want to extend it for another 25 years which will take it out through the year 2044. So during that transition period, these rules the EPA is promulgating have some very serious implications. To have the flexibility to work through this real sensitive time frame is important.

Ted Simons: When do these rules go into effect?

David Modeer: I think I'll turn that over to Kelly. I'm not sure exactly when the end period is that they become final-final.

Kelly Barr: Well they'll be published in the federal register and then they become effective immediately after that. That's when the legal challenges may start.

Ted Simons: Okay, I was going to say, because it sounds like there might be some legal challenges that would not be surprised?

Kelly Barr: We hope not, but because we are as everyone has said we really, really proud of this process. We think it's a model for resolving complicated environmental issues, and we're really very, very grateful to the people who sat around the table and then supported the product after we were done.

Ted Simons: Stephen last question for you, you made the longest drive down here, so you get the last question. Critics are concerned, they're concerned about the health of those on the Navajo Nation, that they're concerned about visibility to a lesser extent, I think probably even than the health factor. What are you telling your people, what are you saying?

Stephen Etsitty: I told people this week that put in the context of the last 20-30 years, we've had -- we're on a trend for emission reductions. SRP reduced emissions in the 90's on the heels of the Grand Canyon visibility transport commission. We saw reductions in the early 2000's at Four Corners Power Plant. We're going to continue to see reductions because the Four Corners Power Plant is going to be taking three units off line. They did in December of this year. So we have almost one full year now of emission reductions at Four Corners power plant. There's another coal fired power plant just off the reservation called San Juan generating station. They're going to be taking two more units offline. And then when you consider that the Mohave generating station that used to use coal from the Navajo Nation no longer exists, it was decommissioned starting in 2005, those two units are gone. So when you compile the entire amount emissions reductions on an annual basis, we have much cleaner air as a result of the power plants having less emissions. Now it's my job to find out where the problems still reside that are causing my people to continue to have respiratory illnesses or other things that are attributed to air quality concerns.

Ted Simons: All right. Thank you all for joining us, we appreciate it.

Kelly Bar: Thank you.

Ted Simons: Great Discussion.

David Modeer:General Manager, Central Arizona Project; Kelly Barr:Senior Director, Environmental Management and Deputy Legal Counsel for the Salt River Project; Stephen Etsitty:Executive Director, Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency;

The four men of Il Divo
airs June 2

Il Divo XX: Live from Taipei

Illustration of columns of a capitol building with text reading: Arizona PBS AZ Votes 2024

Arizona PBS presents candidate debates

An armed forces bugler playing the trumpet in front of the United States Capitol building.
aired May 26

National Memorial Day Concert 2024

Graphic for the AZPBS kids LEARN! Writing Contest with a child sitting in a chair writing on a table and text reading: The Ultimate Field Trip
May 26

Submit your entry for the 2024 Writing Contest

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters

STAY in touch
with azpbs.org!

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters: