Conservation groups have asked federal agencies to require New Mexico’s dirtiest coal-fired power plant to take measures to reduce its air pollution, and thereby lessen the amount of haze it causes in national parks and wilderness areas.
The groups petitioned the Department of Interior and the Department of Agriculture to declare that the pollution from the Arizona Public Service Company’s Four Corners Power Plant (Four Corners) on Navajo land in northwest New Mexico is violating the Clean Air Act by causing poor visibility in protected areas in Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado.
"Emissions from this dirty, outdated coal plant have obscured priceless views in our national parks in a brown haze for years," said Stephanie Kodish, Clean Air Counsel for NPCA. "It’s time for EPA to take action to protect our residents’ health and our cultural and scenic treasures."
Four Corners is the largest single source of air pollution in the state of New Mexico, according the Arizona Public Service’s monitoring reports. Every year Four Corners’ five generating units burn over ten million tons of coal, and discharge into the air of the Colorado Plateau approximately 42,000 tons of nitrogen oxides,12,000 tons of sulfur dioxide, and 1,300 tons of particulate matter. These pollutants are the major components of haze.
Because Four Corners is within 300 kilometers of sixteen Class I national parks and wilderness areas, much of this pollution degrades their beauty. In fact, the National Park Service has found that Four Corners has the greatest visibility impact on Class I national parks of any coal plant in the country. Places with world-recognized cultural and natural value, including Mesa Verde, Canyonlands, and Arches National Parks are among those most affected by Four Corners’ pollution.
"When the wind is blowing pollution from the Four Corners plant to Mesa Verde, Bryce Canyon or Grand Canyon National Parks, visibility is seriously impaired," said Roger Clark, air and energy program director for the Grand Canyon Trust. "Only when the wind is coming from another direction is the clarity of the landscape anything like what it used to be. The number of days when views in these parks is clouded by pollution seems to be ever- increasing."
Air modeling done for the Arizona Public Service Company has found that the plant’s air pollution reduces visibility by 25 times the amount defined as causing impairment by the Environmental Protection Agency. The Clean Air Act states that Class I areas deserve the highest level of protection, and should be free from man-made haze.
"Not only is the pollution hurting national parks, but the Four Corners Region, which is home to several indigenous tribes," said Anna Frazier, Diné CARE Coordinator, who lives on the Navajo reservation. "Their health and way of life are impacted by deadly chemicals from pollution."
James Zion of Dooda Desert Rock agrees. "I frequently travel to Shiprock from Gallup on business, and in winter, the horizon is yellowed with pollution," he said. "Much of this pollution seems to be coming from the Four Corners plant. As an attorney who represents Navajo clients interested in tourism and economic growth, I am concerned that tourists will not want to visit this area because of all the pollution in the air."
Janette Brimmer, an attorney for Earthjustice, says her organization is also concerned. "The Four Corners coal plant has had a free ride for too long with devastating impacts on some of our nation’s most pristine places," she said. "EPA must step up and enforce the Clean Air Act to protect the air from Four Corners’ dirty coal pollution."
The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), Earthjustice, Sierra Club, San Juan Citizens Alliance, the Center for Biological Diversity, Dooda Desert Rock, Diné CARE, WildEarth Guardians, and the Grand Canyon Trust are part of the coalition taking action today.