FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — The largest
coal-fired power plant in the West will produce one-third less
energy by 2020 and is on track to cease operations in 2044 under
a proposal that the federal government adopted to cut
haze-causing emissions of nitrogen oxide at places like the
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Monday that
the owners of the Navajo Generating Station could either shut
down one of the plant's 750-megawatt units or reduce power
generation by an equal amount by 2020. The owners would have
until 2030 to install pollution controls that would cut
nitrogen-oxide emissions by 80 percent.
EPA regional administrator Jared Blumenfeld in San Francisco
said a final decision didn't come easily and required
flexibility. Along with meeting energy demands in the West, the
2,250-megawatt plant powers a series of canals that deliver
water to Phoenix and Tucson, fuels the economies of the Navajo
and Hopi Tribes, and helps fulfill American Indian water-rights
settlements with the federal government.
"This is so complex and integrated into the fabric of Arizona,"
The final rule comes five years after the EPA gave notice that
it was considering pollution controls for the plant. The agency
later released a proposal that would have required the upgrades
A group made up of the plant's operator, tribal and federal
officials, a canal system known as the Central Arizona Project
and environmental groups said they could do better and came up
with their own proposal, which was adopted by the EPA.
Reducing power generation by one-third should come easily
because the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and NV
Energy have announced their intention to cut ties with the coal
plant by 2019. Together, they own almost one-third of the plant
near Page, run by the Salt River Project, one of Arizona's
largest utility companies. None of the other owners would lose
any power generation as a result.
"On the whole, while we're increasing our costs associated with
the plant, the plant itself is still valuable enough to our
customers and Arizona for us to continue," Salt River Project
spokesman Scott Harelson said.
Conservation groups not part of drafting the alternative
proposal had urged the EPA to reject it. They said that the best
choice EPA could make was to require the plant's owners to
install selective catalytic reduction — similar to catalytic
converters on an automobile — by 2018.
The EPA received about 77,000 comments on the alternative
The final rule means the Navajo Nation ultimately will see less
revenue from coal that feeds the power plant. But the executive
director of the tribe's Environmental Protection Agency, Stephen
Etsitty, said it provides a better chance of the power plant
"Of course it's not perfect," he said. "It's an indication that
EPA is really open to the recommendations of local stakeholders.
To me, that's a good move in the right direction."
Steve Michel of the environmental group Western Resource
Advocates said he would have liked to see faster action to
improve air quality. But the group agreed to participate in
drafting the alternative proposal because it felt a better
outcome would be achieved through negotiation, Michel said.
He's looking forward to the rule having a positive impact on air
quality at the Grand Canyon and other pristine areas in the
"You need these kinds of national programs because they can look
at this comprehensively, rather than one facility at a time," he
said. "If we do this across the West, it will have a meaningful
The EPA's rule goes into effect 60 days after it's published in
the federal register, which is expected to happen within two to