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Navajo health may improve with ozone curbs

FARMINGTON, N.M. – Tribal and conservation groups applauded an Environmental Protection Agency proposal that could improve the health of Navajo people and reduce by 80 percent a power plant-induced haze that has clouded the Grand Canyon and Mesa Verde National Parks and other scenic southwestern venues.

Dooda Desert Rock and the Sierra Club were among those who hailed EPA’s Oct. 6 proposal to cut nitrous oxide emissions from Four Corners Power Plant near Farmington by 36,000 tons annually because operators of the plant would have to install “the most stringent pollution control technology available for this type of facility,” according to the federal agency.

The 45-year-old coal-fired power plant is the nation’s largest source of nitrous oxide emissions which, when combined with other chemicals in heat or sunlight, create ozone and small particles, EPA said.

The move would be equal to taking half the gasoline-powered cars and trucks in Arizona off the road, the agency said, noting that “children, the elderly, people with lung diseases such as asthma, and people who work or exercise outside are at risk for adverse effects from ozone and particulate matter.”

“The air we breathe has been polluted by the Four Corners Plant for far too long,” said Elouise Brown, president of Dooda Desert Rock, a Diné environmental advocacy group.

“This air pollution causes respiratory problems like asthma, emphysema and bronchitis. It aggravates heart disease and it damages lung tissue. It is the Navajo people living near this plant who suffer the effects of this pollution and we thank the EPA for standing up against this threat to our well-being.”

New control requirements at the power plant on Navajo Nation lands will reduce the emissions from approximately 45,000 tons per year to 9,000 tons per year and will reduce the visibility impact by an estimated average of 57 percent at the 16 national parks and designated wilderness areas in the target area, EPA said.

“The Navajo people have suffered for decades from this dirty coal plant and EPA’s announcement is an important step at restoring environmental justice and the health of the Navajo people and surrounding communities,” said Andy Bessler, Sierra Club Southwest regional representative.

“It is further proof that we need to transition our economy off dirty coal and look towards cleaner forms of energy from the wind and sun.”

On the other hand, Arizona Public Service, which operates the plant, estimated a 70 cent per week increase in electricity bills for average residential customers, although APS would have five years after EPA’s proposal was finalized to add the new controls.

Among other possible negative impacts are individual economic losses if jobs held by Navajo Nation workers were affected by installation of more stringent controls, a concern that has been raised in the past.

Nearly 80 percent of employees at the power plant west of Farmington, N.M. are Native American, APS estimated.

But installing and operating selective catalytic reduction on the plant’s five units is “cost-effective technology that will result in the greatest visibility improvement of all devices the agency considered,” according to EPA.

EPA will continue to consult with the Navajo Nation and other affected tribes, as well as with federal land managers, before the proposal is finalized, and there is provision for public comments and public hearings in the Four Corners area where Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah adjoin