Commentary

Clean Air Standoff at Navajo Generating Station

While the Interior Department is approving some clean energy projects in the West, amazingly they seem to be sticking their neck out to keep one of the largest coal-fired power plants in the country as dirty as ever.

In a letter sent this past week, Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes called on the Environmental Protection Agency to delay its plans to clean up the Navajo Generating Station, putting in limbo efforts to curb air pollution from this aging coal-fired power plant and ultimately transition to cleaner energy.

WildEarth Guardians and its partner groups responded by putting the Environmental Protection Agency on notice that their delay in cleaning up the power plant is illegal under the Clean Air Act.

The goal?  Keep the Environmental Protection Agency on track to safeguard clean air.

The Navajo Generating Station in northern Arizona is the largest coal-fired power plant west of the Mississippi River and one of the largest sources of air pollution in the United States.  The cost of this pollution is shouldered by indigenous communities of the Navajo Nation, nearby National Parks and Wilderness Areas, and by Americans throughout the west that have to deal with the smog, mercury, and millions of tons of carbon dioxide that every year spew from the plant’s smokestacks.

Fortunately, the Environmental Protection Agency has been poised to propose massive clean air retrofits at the power plant this year.

Unfortunately, the Interior Department is the majority owner of the Navajo Generating Station.  Back in the 1970’s, the Bureau of Reclamation, which is a part of the Interior Department, purchased shares of the power plant in order to pump water to Phoenix and other parts of Arizona as part of the Central Arizona Project.  This means Interior has every incentive to keep the Navajo Generating Station burning coal as cheaply as possible, even though the Department has obligations to protect the environment, public health, and indigenous communities.

Plain and simple, there’s no excuse for this latest letter and no excuse for the Environmental Protection Agency to delay.  There are cleaner, more affordable alternatives to coal at the Navajo Generating Station.  One study by Natural Capital Solutions found that replacing the Navajo Generating Station with a mix of renewable energy sources would lead to a revenue surplus of more than $150 million annually.

Although Interior claimed in a recent article that delay now will not forestall a transition to clean energy, this seems like empty rhetoric.  With its latest approvals of clean energy projects, Interior is clearly more than capable of charting a quick path toward a clean energy future.  More delay at Navajo is simply a sign that politics are trumping our ability to power past coal.

Who will win this standoff?  Hopefully, the Environmental Protection Agency will stand firm against Interior Department’s delay tactics.

Navajo Generating Station

Navajo Generating Station near Page, AZ (image by San Diego Shooter).

3 replies »

  1. This article is hyperbole. The EPA itself needs to consult with the tribes and needs time to do so. The EPA BART decision regards visibility issues and not health issues as this skewed article implies.

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  2. Air pollution is air pollution and the fact is that air pollution from Navajo Generating Station impacts public health as much as it impacts the environment. To say that cleaning up this outdated power plant has nothing to do with public health misses the mark by miles. The same pollutants that create haze are the same pollutants that trigger asthma attacks in children. It’s a shame that industry has tried to minimize the massive public health benefits that will flow from cleaning up this coal-fired power plant.

    EPA has been consulting with the tribes for nearly two decades. The time for action has come.

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