After operating for many years without sufficient smokestack pollution controls for soot- and smog-producing nitrogen oxides, the Cholla, Coronado, and Apache coal-fired power plants will be required to update with pollution-cutting technology widely used in the industry under a decision finalized late yesterday by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Visibility Impairment from Air Pollution at Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. (EPA)
Above: A clear day. Below: A hazy day.
The pollution-cutting requirements for the three plants are part of implementation of Clean Air Act provisions first adopted by Congress in 1977.
“Not everyone sees Arizona’s coal plant smokestacks from their front doorstep, but the chemicals that pour from these plants spread far and can hurt widely, especially among children and elderly whose lungs are at the greatest risk,” said Dr. Barbara Warren with Physicians for Social Responsibility in Tucson. “Reducing this pollution is doable, with far better emission controls or with transitions to clean, renewable and safe power sources. These will be life-savers.”
Smokestacks at the Cholla, Coronado, and Apache coal power plants together emit about 18,000 tons of sulfur pollution and 26,000 tons of nitrogen oxide pollution a year according to EPA Air Markets Program data, as well as hundreds of pounds a year of neurotoxins such as mercury and lead and cancer-causing carcinogens such as chromium, according to EPA Toxic Release Inventory data. Sulfur and nitrogen oxide react in the atmosphere to form fine particulate pollution, one of the most dangerous air pollutants because it can penetrate so deeply into the lungs, enter the bloodstream directly, and reach other organs.
"When you see so much asthma and respiratory illness in our rural area as we do now and you look at the big pollution sources, you see the coal plants, from Cholla on one side to Navajo Generating Station on the other," said Adella Begaye, a longtime registered nurse on the Navajo reservation and a member of Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment (Diné CARE). "It’s been a lifetime with little to nothing being done, until finally now there’s some hope."
Fine particle pollution from Cholla, Coronado, and Apache combined accounts for approximately 41 deaths, 63 heart attacks, and 747 asthma attacks, plus 38 emergency room visits and 26 cases of chronic bronchitis a year, resulting in more than $300 million in annual health costs born by the public according to the Clean Air Task Force.
The required air pollution reductions at the three plants will also help cut smog at the Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest, Saguaro, and other treasured national parks and wilderness areas in the Southwest. National parks impacted by air pollutants from the plants support thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in economic activity, according to independent analysis by Headwaters Economics.
To meet the required nitrogen oxide emissions limits, seven coal boilers at the three plants will likely need to be retrofitted with selective catalytic reduction controls, a technology in use at over 200 coal-fired units around the country. Selective catalytic reduction can cut nitrogen oxide pollution by 80–90 percent.
APS operates Cholla Generating Station in Joseph City; SRP operates Coronado Generating Station in St. Johns; and Arizona Electric Power Coop operates Apache Generating Station in Willcox.
A proposal from EPA for necessary pollution reductions at Navajo Generating Station (operated by SRP) near Page are expected later this year or in early 2013.