Opinion: EPA Fighting for Arizona Air

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For years, people from across the world have traveled to Arizona to marvel at the magnificence of the Grand Canyon and contemplate the forces of nature that shaped it, only to be met with a dim haze blanketing the park.  Northern Arizona citizens’ health continues to suffer as they are constantly subjected to potentially lethal chemicals, such as nitrogen oxide.  Modern scientific evidence demonstrates greenhouse gases emitted from the process of burning hydrocarbons are perpetuating climate change.  Despite these circumstances, Arizona congressmen have vociferously announced their opposition to an EPA proposal, which would seek to mitigate these circumstances by cutting emissions at the Navajo Generating Station by 84 percent, due to fear of possible effects on the economy.

Grand Canyon

(Editorial cartoon by Brian Regan)

While there is certainly a dilemma of potential economic impact that could result from this new proposal, it should not prevent the fruition of a solution about the degradation of the environment and health of Arizona citizens.  Although there is a possibility of increased water and electric rates, the EPA has made the right choice, and this is a significant step toward improving the air quality of northern Arizona.

Located near the Grand Canyon, the Navajo Generating Station — a coal-fired power plant — has been cited as a major cause for smog at the national park.  Despite provisions in the Clean Air Act, which seek to ensure decent air quality at national parks, visibility at the park continues to be impaired by the haze constantly being emitted from the towering smoke stacks, just 20 miles away.  With their new proposal, the EPA has claimed the installation of Selective Catalytic Reduction could reduce visibility impact at the park by approximately 73 percent.  While there is debate over the potential improvement, it is clear the power plant is contributing significantly to the haze at the park.

Considering this plant is one of the highest emitters of nitrogen oxides in the country, it’s obvious the Navajo Generating Station is in dire need of upgraded technologies.  Nitrogen oxide has been shown to lead to respiration problems and can be potentially lethal for those who are exposed to it.  As Flagstaff Business News reports, these emissions at the plant are responsible for approximately $127 million in healthcare expenses every year.  With the installation of modern technologies proposed by the EPA, total emissions at the plant could be reduced by approximately 84 percent, as detailed on their website.  Although these levels of emissions and their potential effects are well documented, congressmen — including Senator John McCain — have come out against the proposal, arguing it could raise electricity and water costs.  Considering the healthcare costs associated with the plant, the implementation of more effective filtration may not have as drastic of economic impact as purported by opponents of the proposal.

Another beneficial facet of this new proposal is the degree of flexibility it offers to the power plant.  While it does ask for significant reduction of harmful emissions, it gives the operators of Navajo Generating Station until 2023 to meet the stipulations of the proposal.  By doing so, the EPA has effectively alleviated fears of a new proposal casting uncertainty on the future of the plant.  This leniency has been overlooked by many opponents of the proposal, but should be recognized in order to reach an agreement between all parties involved.

Air quality at our national parks and the health of the nation’s citizens are not conditions that should be likely. In order to preserve the spectacle Arizona’s landmarks have to offer and to mitigate the level of harmful substances being exposed to Arizonans, emissions at these massive coal-fired power plants must be brought to expectable amounts.  This proposal is a significant step in the path to cleaning our environment.



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