EPA proposes tighter NOx limits for Navajo plant; SRP raises concerns about timing, stringency
Originally published January 22, 2013
The Environmental Protection Agency on Jan. 18 proposed new air pollution limits for the Navajo Generating Station that the agency said would reduce the plant's nitrogen oxide emissions by 84 percent by 2018. The new limits would improve visibility at the Grand Canyon and 10 other national parks and wilderness areas in the Southwest, the EPA said. The agency said it is proposing to give the plant an additional five years -- until 2023 -- to install new controls representing best available retrofit technology (BART) to achieve the new limits.
The 2,250 megawatt coal-fired plant, located on Navajo Nation land near Page, Ariz., is about 20 miles from the Grand Canyon. The power plant is operated by the Salt River Project, which also owns a share of the plant. The other co-owners are the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, Arizona Public Service, Nevada Power Co. and Tucson Electric Power.
The SRP, the plant's manager, said Jan. 18 that the owners "are concerned that EPA’s proposal to install additional controls may not allow sufficient time to get through the federal environmental review process and anticipated litigation, secure the necessary air permits, and complete the design and construction of the additional controls." The owners also "are concerned that compliance may not be achievable with the stringent emission limits in EPA’s proposal, particularly in a retrofit application," SRP said.
Monitoring data show that wildfires, control burns, windblown dust and emissions from metropolitan areas account for the majority of visibility impairment in nearby parks and wilderness areas, SRP said. "NOx emissions from all sources, including motor vehicles, industrial facilities and fires generally account for less than 10 percent of regional haze," and air quality in the region meets all national ambient air-quality standards, the utility said.
Each year, more than 4 million people visit the Grand Canyon, the EPA said, but "many visitors cannot fully appreciate the spectacular vistas because of the veil of white or brown haze that hangs in the air." The Jan. 18 proposal "would reduce the visibility impact from Navajo Generating Station by an average 73 percent at the national parks and wilderness areas" and would help protect public health, the agency said. NOx reacts with other chemicals in the air to form ozone and fine particles, which are associated with asthma, bronchitis, emphysema and even premature death, the EPA said.
The new limits can be met by installation of selective catalytic reduction technology, the EPA said. SCR technology, in combination with low-NOx burners the facility voluntarily installed between 2009 and 2011, would reduce emissions by 84 percent, or a total of 28,500 tons per year, by 2018, the EPA said. The agency said it will give the plant's owners until 2023 to install new controls, and will request comments on "other options that could set longer time frames for installing pollution controls if the facility can achieve additional emission reductions."
EPA said it has engaged "extensively" with local tribes, the Salt River Project and other stakeholders regarding impacts on power and water costs, and took into consideration more than 6,700 comments since it published an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking in 2009.
The proposal would require an investment of up to $1.1 billion in additional emission controls at the plant and "will require an appropriate amount of time to assess," SRP said.
"We appreciate that the EPA appears to have attempted to take into consideration the complex timing issues that this decision creates for the NGS owners," said John Sullivan, chief resources executive at SRP. "Unfortunately, the proposal may not allow the owners enough time to resolve uncertainties facing the plant before they will be required to make a significant financial commitment."
The low-NOx burners have already reduced NOx emissions by more than 40 percent at a cost of nearly $45 million, SRP said. "The plant’s owners believe this improvement represents BART," the utility said.
"The owners of NGS fully support efforts to protect visibility at our national parks, and we have demonstrated that with our many actions at the plant," said Sullivan. "We are prepared again to take further steps at the plant, but only within a reasonable time frame."
Before the owners at NGS could consider a $1 billion investment in additional controls, Sullivan said a number of issues must first be resolved, including:
• The initial term of the NGS plant site lease and other critical agreements expire starting in 2019. The extension of the agreements will trigger reviews under several federal environmental regulations. These federal reviews "will require at least five years to complete and likely will be followed by lengthy litigation," he said.
• The NGS owners are renegotiating their site lease agreement with the Navajo Nation. A new lease agreement that authorizes operation beyond 2019 cannot be issued until it is approved by the secretary of Interior, which cannot occur until the federal environmental reviews are completed and a record of decision has been issued.
A 90-day public comment period will begin upon publication of the notice in the Federal Register, and the EPA will hold public hearings in Arizona. More information about the proposal is available on the agency's website.
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