On Monday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a proposed Arizona State Implementation Plan that will address three pollutants from the Cochise Arizona Electric Power Cooperative (AEPCO) Apache power plant and two other major older power plants that cause haze in wilderness areas. The other two power plants, the coal-fired Cholla and Coronado power plants in northeastern Arizona, are considered to be major contributors to regional haze in the Grand Canyon.
The 1970 and subsequent Clean Air Acts established a mandate to protect what are known as “Class 1 protected areas,” consisting of certain federal public lands, from air pollution or “regional haze.”
EPA has come up with a plan to reduce the Apache plant’s emissions of visible pollutants that contribute to haze in such regionally protected areas as the Chiricahua National Monument and Wilderness Area, Galiuro Wilderness and the Gila Wilderness.
The three regulated pollutants, nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur oxides and larger PM10 particulates, are also contributors to respiratory health problems among sensitive individuals such as asthmatics, children and the elderly. The three contaminants combined are considered a greater health hazard than any one pollutant, and nitrogen oxides also are a major contributor to ozone pollution, which has been a ubiquitous problem in Arizona.
EPA and AEPCO disagree
NOx control is a bone of contention between EPA and AEPCO and Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, who has backed an AEPCO plan for pollution reduction.
As part of the plan, EPA approved ADEQ and AEPCO’s proposals for controlling emissions of sulfur oxides and particulates.
However, EPA has proposed the SRC plan rather than the plan proposed by ADEQ and AEPCO for removal of NOx pollution.
EPA estimated that 4,702 tons of NOx pollution will be removed from the two coal-burning boilers at the Apache plant by use of a pollution control technology called SCR (Selective Catalytic Reduction) that produces anhydrous ammonia as a byproduct.
AEPCO spokesman Geoff Oldfather said that the company will continue to work with “EPA and other agencies to find the most feasible and economical solutions to the regional haze issue,” but objected to EPA’s NOx pollution reduction proposal.
Oldfather added that, “going all the way back to 2003, we have submitted proposals to use what’s referred to as ‘low NOx burners with overfire air’ to reduce emissions that could contribute to regional haze.”
“Unfortunately, the EPA, responding to pressure from environmental and other special interest groups, is rushing forward to force implementation of …SCR, a technology that could cost up to 40 times that of our original proposal with no noticeable benefits. In fact, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality has done its own analysis and stated that SCR would result in imperceptible visibility benefits,” Oldfather said.
In a July 2 Federal Register notice, EPA strongly disagreed with AEPCO and ADEQ’s financial and technical analyses and the agency subsequently hired a contractor to use what they said are accepted national norms for determining costs and efficiency of visibility protection.
EPA said that, in estimating pollution control costs, AEPCO and ADEQ presumed that controls would be applied in 2013 and that the power plant would close in 2021.
EPA stated that there was no reason to presume an imminent closure and used a 20-year cost basis for controlling the nitrogen oxides at the Cochise plant. They estimated that 3,100 tons per year less of nitrogen oxides would be removed through the AEPCO proposal, and that cost differences would be in a “cost effective range per ton of pollutant removed.“
The agency estimated a cost of $11.97 million per year for SCR, versus $2.3 million for low NOx burners proposed by AEPCO, but predicted that SCR would be three to three-and-a-half times as effective in reducing haze in the Chiricahua Mountains.
ADEQ spokesman Mark Shaffer said Monday night of EPA’s proposal, “We’re very pleased that they approved this part of our state implementation plan (for visible sulfur oxides and particulates). We’re disappointed that they felt the need for a federal implementation plan for nitrogen oxide, but we are looking forward to the process and working with them and the utilities to reach a reasonable approach for Arizona.”
Oldfather added, “We (AEPCO) are also concerned that the EPA seems determined to bypass the state of Arizona’s Regional Haze State Implementation Plan process, a process the EPA itself mandates but now seems determined to ignore. Both the state attorney general’s office and the governor’s office have expressed concern over the EPA circumventing its own procedures in order to respond to political pressure over an issue that should be resolved based on measurable results, not unproven technology.”
The debate over the haze implementation plan will presumably continue at a July 31 public hearing in Phoenix and comments can be filed through Aug. 31 with EPA Region 9 by contacting Thomas Webb (415) 947-4139 or email@example.com.
The deadline for final EPA action is Nov. 15, 2012.
For additional information on the proposed rulemaking and opportunities to provide input, please go to: www.epa.gov/region9/air/actions/az.html#all
(Dick Kamp is the Environmental Liaison at Wick Communications.)