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Groups seek to force EPA to act on power plants

By Felicia Fonseca

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, March 22 2012 1:55 p.m. MDT

FILE - This April 6, 2006 file photo shows the Four Corners Power Plant, one of two coal-fired plants in northwest New Mexico, near Farmington. Two environmental groups are asking a federal court to set a deadline for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to issue mandates for pollution controls at two power plants, including Four Corners, on the Navajo Nation.

Susan Montoya Bryan, File, Associated Press

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Environmentalists are accusing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of dragging its feet on pollution controls for two coal-fired power plants on the Navajo Nation.

The National Parks Conservation Association and Dine CARE recently sued the agency and its administrator in federal court to force a firm deadline for action.

The EPA gave notice in 2009 that it would be considering whether the Navajo Generating Station in Page and the Four Corners Power Plant in northwestern New Mexico need upgrades to control haze-causing nitrogen oxide emissions. But no final decisions have been made, nor is the EPA under a deadline to do so.

The environmentalists contend the longer the EPA puts off a decision, the more it hurts the health of Navajos and Hopis and the visibility at places like the Grand Canyon.

"They've heard from all the parties, and they've had plenty of time to do their work," said Kevin Dahl, Arizona program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association. "If they need a little more time, fine, but let's get a date on the calendar."

An EPA spokeswoman said late Wednesday that the agency is reviewing the lawsuit and declined comment.

The 2,250 megawatt Navajo Generating Station serves as an economic engine that ensures power and water demands are met in Arizona's major metropolitan areas. It also contributes significantly to the economies of the Navajo and Hopi tribes. Conservationists see it as a health and environmental hazard.

The power plant already has low-nitrogen oxide burners that its owners said are more than adequate to control emissions. But the EPA could decide otherwise and mandate that more expensive technology, such as selective catalytic reduction, be installed.

EPA regional administrator Jared Blumenfeld in San Francisco has said the agency would issue a proposal for the Navajo Generating Station this spring, but the timeframes have changed before.

The EPA released a proposal last year that would trim nitrogen oxides by 87 percent at the Four Corners Power Plant, which provides electricity to about 300,000 households in New Mexico, Arizona and Texas. The plan also would reduce the effects the plant has on visibility at national parks and wilderness areas in the region by an average of 72 percent.

The agency amended its proposal after the operator, Arizona Public Service, announced plans to seek majority ownership of two units and shutter the other three, more polluting generators. APS' plan, which is pending regulatory approval, meant a larger reduction in emissions than EPA initially had proposed.

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