Arizona sues U.S. EPA over coal power plant emissions

Mon Feb 4, 2013 10:09am EST

* EPA wants to reduce haze in national parks
    * Emission control equipment to cost about $1 billion
    * Coal plant upgrades could boost water and power costs

    Feb 4 (Reuters) - Arizona challenged in federal court U.S.
environmental regulators efforts to force Arizona power
companies to spend up to $1 billion to install pollution control
equipment at three coal plants to reduce haze in the region's
national parks.
    Arizona's Attorney General Tom Horne said in a statement
last week the emission control measures proposed by the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would not affect health or
be reduce emissions visible to the human eye.
    "This is an absurd action that would significantly raise
utility rates for most Arizonans without providing any benefit
to anyone," Horne said in a statement.
    Officials at the EPA were not immediately available for
comment.
    On behalf of the Arizona Department of Environmental
Quality, which filed a plan to reduce emissions in 2011 that was
replaced by the EPA's proposal, Horne filed with the U.S. Ninth
Circuit Court of Appeals challenging the EPA's plan to impose
new haze restrictions.
    The EPA in December proposed strict controls on nitrogen
oxide emissions that could require the installation of selective
catalytic reduction technology at the Apache, Cholla and
Coronado coal plants to reduce haze in the Grand Canyon and
other nearby national parks.
    Nitrogen oxides react with other chemicals in the atmosphere
to form ozone, which causes a white or brown haze in the air
that has been associated with asthma and other breathing
disorders, the EPA said.
    "This attempt by the EPA has nothing to do with ensuring
clean air and everything to do with trying to eliminate coal as
a source of electricity," Horne said.
    Since President Barack Obama entered office in 2009, power
companies have announced plans to shut more than 40,000 MW of
coal-fired capacity due to stricter environmental regulations
and weak natural gas prices from record shale production that
has depressed power prices.
    Those low power prices have made it uneconomic for many
generators to invest in emissions control equipment needed to
keep their older coal plants compliant with the administration's
stricter environmental regulations. 

    COAL POWERS MOST
    Arizona power plants can generate about 26,400 MW of
electricity with about 13,000 MW fueled by natural gas, 6,200 MW
coal and 3,900 MW nuclear.
    But despite the lower capacity, the coal plants produce
about 40 percent of the state's electricity because coal plants
like the nuclear reactors generally run around the clock.
Nuclear produced about 28 percent of the state's power and gas
produced about 27 percent, according to federal energy data.
    Arizona Electric Power Cooperative operates the 549-MW
Apache natural gas, oil and coal-fired power plant, which has
two 175-MW coal-fired units, in Cochise.
    Arizona Public Service, a unit of Arizona power company
Pinnacle West Capital Corp, operates the 1,027-MW Cholla
coal plant in Joseph City. 
    Arizona power and water company Salt River Project operates
the 773-MW Coronado coal plant near St. John's.
    
    NAVAJO THREATENED
    In addition to the three plants named in the lawsuit last
week, Horne said "if the EPA is successful in implementing this
plan ... the Navajo plant ... would likely also be threatened in
the future."
    The EPA recommended the owners of the 2,250-MW Navajo coal
plant in Arizona install equipment to reduce haze in national
parks that could cost as much as $1.1 billion. 
    Navajo produces power used to deliver drinking water to
consumers for the Central Arizona Project Water in the state's
two largest cities, Phoenix and Tucson, among other things.
    Horne warned if the EPA forces Navajo to shut, power prices
for the Central Arizona Project Water would increase by at least
20 percent.
    "The federal government appears bent on causing serious
economic damage to the average consumer in the name of
environmental protection when the environmental benefits it
wishes to confer simply do not exist," Horne said.
    The Navajo plant is owned by Salt River Project, the U.S.
Bureau of Reclamation, Los Angeles Department of Water & Power,
Arizona Public Service, NV Energy Inc's Nevada Power Co
and UniSource Energy Corp's Tucson Electric Power.
FILED UNDER: