Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Navajo Generating Station Pollutes Grand Canyon and Lake Powell

Arizona's dirtiest coal plant, the Navajo Generating Station pollutes the Grand Canyon and nearby communities.http://action.sierraclub.org/ngsprehazerule

Navajo Coal Generating Plant Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Navajo_Generating_Station

Majia here: We just returned from our annual trip to Lake Powell. We spent 3 days boating and swimming in Lake Powell's beautiful waters.

The scenery there is unbelievably fantastic.

Its stark beauty appeals to me like no other place on the planet.

I love it there.

Tragically, the coal plant is a blight on the landscape and poisons the atmosphere. The photo above fails to depict the yellowish stain in the air produced by the plant's perpetual emissions.

I could detect the acrid smell from the coal plant emissions, despite the relatively clean air.

The summer storms sweeping through prevented the massive build-up of toxic yellow smoke that we saw last year.

Still, even the summer monsoons could not scrub the air entirely clean from those toxic fumes.

Those of us with asthma had to rely more frequently on inhalers and our eyes and throat felt sore. Our sinuses were slowly congested.

That plant is a nightmare and there is no evidence that the majority of Navajos living there benefit substantially from its presence when the health costs it produces are considered fully. See overview of implications here http://www.blackmesawatercoalition.org/images/resources/coalbrochure.pdf

I cannot imagine what the long term health implications are for people living in the area. I imagine that no one bothers to tally the health costs for the Navajo, in part because so many people on the reservation there have limited access to quality health care.

Most of the electricity from the plant is used in California.

A 2012 study revealed that plant upgrades designed to reduce emissions were not cost prohibitive:

[Excerpted] "A 2012 study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) showed that, even with the most expensive new pollution controls in place, the Navajo Generating Station could still produce cheaper electricity than any other regional power plant. New pollution controls would also mean new jobs for construction, operation, and maintenance."http://arizona.sierraclub.org/conservation/energy/2012April_NavajoGenStation_FactSht_forweb.pdf

Majia here: Mandates for more environmental protections are of course hotly contested by the industry and by individuals who benefit directly. These individuals and corporations benefit precisely because the full costs - externalities - of running coal plants are shouldered by the public.

In December of 2011 the EPA issued orders aimed at cutting coal plant emissions:

EPA Orders Deep Cuts in Emissions. The Wall Street Journal 12/22/2011 p. B3.

[Paraphrasing with quotes] The EPA is "moving ahead" with air quality rules that would require "deep cuts in emissions of mercury, acid gases and soot from coal-fired power plants... 
These new rules will cost "about $9.6 billion annually to implement but will provide substantially more in health benefits, including 100,000 fewer heart and asthma attacks...." 
Majia here: Then, in July of 2012 the EPA postponed implementation of new rules:

EPA defers regulations for coal-fired power plants. The Washington Post July 2012
[Excerpted] The Environmental Protection Agency will reconsider and delay the final release of controversial regulations cracking down on power plant emissions. In a statement released late Friday afternoon, the agency announced it would conduct a “reconsideration” of the rule, originally scheduled to be completed by the end of the year. The EPA now says it will complete the regulations by March 2013, and that the additional time is necessary because of “new information provided by industry stakeholders.”

Majia here: Then in August the new rules were struck down:

UPDATE 3-U.S. court strikes down EPA rule on coal pollution. Reuters. by Valerie Volcovici Aug 21, 1012 http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/08/21/usa-epa-ruling-idUSL2E8JL56020120821

[Excerpt] A U.S. appeals court on Tuesday overturned a key Obama administration rule to reduce harmful emissions from coal-burning power plants, sparking a rally in coal company shares and relief among utility firms.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit said in a 2-1 decision that the Environmental Protection Agency had exceeded its mandate with the rule....

In the latest setback for the EPA, the court sent the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule back for revision, telling the agency to administer its existing Clean Air Interstate Rule - the Bush-era regulation that it was updating - in the interim. The EPA said it was reviewing the ruling....

Majia here: This is incredibly frustrating. These rules are designed to save lives.

The EPA uses cost-benefit analysis and data from their conservative calculus indicate that reducing emissions is cost-effective.

The externalities that the coal industry and privileged interest push onto the population - in the forms of diseases and disabilities - are market distorting and allow the industry to avoid the true costs of coal production and consumption.

The capacity of carbon-based industries to shift costs (i.e., externalities) to the public undermines development and implementation of less-contaminating energy sources.

Unfortunately, contamination and health injury from the coal plant (which is not owned by the Navajos) are not priorities among the decision makers who benefit from the coal plant operations.

Analysis can be found here:

Navajoland: Slick PR green campaign benefits dirty coal power plant. June 16, 2012

Majia here: Sadly, although some individuals on the Navajo reservation no doubt benefit directly from the plant, the majority will suffer far more from its externalities than they benefit from its presence.

The current debate over the Navajo Generation Station reminds me of an older, but similar, scenario.

This is not the first time the Navajos have paid in their bodies and blood for a coveted energy source:

The New York Times "Uranium Mines Dot Navajo Land, Neglected and Still Perilous" By LESLIE MACMILLAN Published: March 31, 2012

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