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Conservation Groups Move to Protect Clean Air Safeguards in Arizona

State and utilities attempt to weaken regional haze plan and undermine air pollution protections
March 4, 2013
San Francisco, CA —

Conservation and public health groups seeking to restore clear skies over some of our nation’s most scenic landscapes filed a motion to intervene today with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in San Francisco. The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) and Sierra Club, represented by Earthjustice, are acting to defend the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s partial regional haze plan for Arizona from attacks by that state and several electric utilities.

Haze in Grand Canyon National Park. (EPA)
Above: A clear day
Below: A hazy day.

At issue are three aging coal-fired power plants in Arizona with outdated pollution controls. The Cholla, Coronado, and Apache coal plants spew tens of thousands of tons of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides each year. These coal plants’ air pollution causes serious health issues and mars the outstanding scenic views at many national parks and wilderness areas in the Southwest.

EPA’s plan requires the Cholla, Coronado, and Apache coal plants to install long-overdue, modern, and cost-effective pollution controls. Under EPA’s plan, the three plants will be retrofitted with selective catalytic reduction controls, a technology now in wide use at more than 400 coal-fired units around the country, including the Springerville 4 unit in Arizona. Selective catalytic reduction will cut Cholla, Coronado, and Apache’s nitrogen oxides pollution by 22,700 tons annually.

The pollution reductions resulting from EPA’s rule will dramatically improve the famed scenic views at Grand Canyon National Park, Petrified Forest National Park, Saguaro National Park, and many other national parks and wilderness areas in Arizona and nearby states.

“The Clean Air Act requires these large coal plants to clean up their act and reduce air pollution that for too long has obscured the outstanding scenic views at the Southwest’s famed national parks and wilderness areas” said Earthjustice attorney Michael Hiatt, one of the attorneys handling the case. “Hundreds of power plants across the country already use these cost-effective pollution controls, and EPA correctly decided that Arizona’s old and dirty power plants should not get a free pass.”

“It's outrageous for the state of Arizona to be siding with dirty coal polluters instead of protecting public health. The clean air rules which protect our national parks also protect our lungs," said Sandy Bahr, Chapter Director of the Sierra Club—Grand Canyon Chapter. "The EPA’s long-awaited air safeguard rules will limit the dangerous emissions from the Apache, Cholla, and Coronado coal plants that pollute skies over Arizona’s national parks, better protecting public health and saving Arizonans millions of dollars in health costs. It is critical that we protect families from the devastating effects that coal pollution can have on local communities."

“The laws of our country require and expectation of people worldwide demand that our national parks be protected for our children and our grandchildren. These coal plants have degraded the air and resources in places like Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde and Petrified Forest for decades,” said NPCA Clean Air Counsel Stephanie Kodish. “These three spectacular places alone provide the region with 8243 jobs and more than $517 million in revenue annually. EPA’s air plan will simply bring these Arizona polluters into this era with pollution controls.”

In 1977, Congress set a national goal of clean, haze-free air in our country's treasured national parks and wilderness areas so Americans could enjoy the views and breathe clean air. Congress and EPA have long recognized the importance of protecting and improving the internationally-renowned scenic views at iconic places like Grand Canyon, and EPA’s plan is the latest in a series of actions to clean Grand Canyon’s air. EPA’s plan will also improve visibility in at least 18 other national parks and wilderness areas in Arizona and nearby states. In addition, EPA’s rule will lessen the health burdens imposed on the region by Cholla, Coronado, and Apache. The same pollutants that cause haze in our national parks also contribute to heart attacks, asthma attacks and emergency room visits for asthma, chronic bronchitis and respiratory illness. EPA’s plan will reduce the health-related costs from hospital admissions, lost work days, and premature death that are often the hidden price of Cholla, Coronado, and Apache’s air pollution.

Read the motion to intervene.

Contacts

Michael Hiatt, Earthjustice, (303) 996-9617

Stephanie Kodish, National Parks Conservation Association, (865) 964-1774

Sandy Bahr, Sierra Club, (602) 999-5790

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.