Gov. Jan Brewer is trying to get federal environmental officials to back off from a push that could force a major coal-fired power plant to install expensive pollution-control equipment that would raise the cost of power for Arizona consumers.
In a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency, Brewer said the move to require the "best available retrofit technology'' to be installed on the Navajo Generating Station "offers minimal benefits and possible risks.''
She said the EPA’s plan to reduce affected pollutants would be only 50 percent more effective than less expensive technology. Yet the cost, Brewer said, would be 10 times as much, costs that would be passed along to customers of the utilities that own the facility, including Tucson Electric Power, Arizona Public Service and Salt River Project.
But that, said Brewer, isn't the whole picture.
The governor said those higher costs also would raise what the Central Arizona Project has to pay for pumping costs of Colorado River water.
That, in turn, would boost the cost of the water for cities that have a CAP allocation. Brewer said Tucson would be especially hard hit: By 2020, 80 percent of city water would come from the project.
That's assuming the best-case scenario.
"Navajo Generating Station probably cannot economically sustain costs of that magnitude, and may need to cease operations,'' Brewer wrote. And that, aside from affecting the utilities and the CAP, would undermine the finances of the Navajo and Hopi reservations.
But Sierra Club lobbyist Sandy Bahr said the time is long past to upgrade the pollution equipment at the power plant, which started operations in 1974.
Bahr acknowledged that much of what is at issue involves visual pollution rather than any health risks. But she said cleaning up the air, especially in the Grand Canyon, "is pretty darn important, some might say priceless.''
She said the National Parks Service estimates that the power plant emits more than 34,000 tons of oxides of nitrogen a year, resulting in impaired visibility. And Bahr said the solution the EPA is considering would substantially improve that situation.
Gubernatorial press aide Paul Senseman said Brewer agrees with the sentiment that air quality at the Grand Canyon is important. "No one cares more about the Grand Canyon than Arizonans,'' Senseman said.
"But the additional ramifications must be considered as part of a sustainable environmental and economic program,'' he said. "And, at this point, they're not even being considered in the process.''
He said the EPA needs to recognize that ratepayers have already spent close to $500 million to reduce visible pollutants from that power plant.
Ultimately, Senseman said, Brewer fears that what the EPA wants "is threatening the closure of the Navajo Generating Station.''
Bahr acknowledged there will be costs. But she said the spending would only be considered excessive "if you were talking about a clean plant.''
"We're not,'' she said. "They have old technology. It's time for them to update it, clean it up.''
Bahr also disputed Brewer's contention that the EPA, in deciding what will be required at the Navajo Generating Station, will not take costs into account. But Bahr acknowledged that her organization views the ultimate price tag in a different light than the governor.
The fight over the Navajo Generating Station is just one piece of what has become a schism between the environmental community and Native American tribes. Indian leaders, citing their financial dependence on the power plants, have recently told Sierra Club members they are not welcome.