Arizona’s story of growth and prosperity came through access to a supply of low-cost energy and water that is now at risk. Before World War II, Arizona was a desert outpost — a stopover on the way to California. As the post-war economy blossomed, Arizona remained the rugged West. But a few visionaries who happened to call Arizona home knew this state could be so much more. But to make that vision a reality, they needed one thing: Water.
Statesmen like Senators Carl Hayden and Barry Goldwater, alongside many other state and federal leaders, knew Arizona’s arid climate could draw East Coast and Midwest residents in droves if only there was a way to support their lifestyles. They knew that access to affordable energy and water would drive Arizona’s economic prosperity. So, they embarked on a decades-long effort to build the Central Arizona Project (CAP), a system of canals that could deliver Colorado River water to far-flung parts of the state as well as the population hub of Phoenix.
They just needed a way to move the water. And so became the Navajo Generating Station in Page, Ariz. The coal-fueled power plant was built to supply electricity to pump the water in the CAP canal system hundreds of miles from northwestern Arizona to the rest of the state.
Today, the Navajo Generating Station fueled by the Kayenta Mine, is the lowest cost provider of energy in the region and is the heartbeat of Arizona’s economy. The developing, high-growth Sun Corridor will continue to need access to the affordable power and water the plant makes possible. While we should be doing everything possible to keep the plant operating at full capacity, this tremendous asset for Arizona is being threatened.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is forcing a regional haze rule that could require the plants operators to install $1.1 billion in nitrogen oxide (NOX) emissions controls, even though low NOX burners and other controls were voluntarily installed at the plant just two years ago at a cost of $45 million. This technology reduced NOX emissions from the plant by 40 percent.
The EPA’s proposal would cost the state thousands of jobs, billions in economic activity, and could raise water rates for the 80 percent of Arizonans, families, businesses and farmers alike, who rely on CAP water.
An alternative proposal also being considered would shut down one unit at the power plant prematurely by 2020, and require installation of expensive controls on the remaining two units by 2030. Yet there is no scientific evidence that concludes early shutdown or cost-prohibitive emission controls will lead to any visibility improvement at the Grand Canyon. A study requested by the EPA itself and conducted by U.S. Department of Energy, concludes that: “The body of research to date is inconclusive as to whether removing approximately two-thirds of the current NOX emissions would lead to any perceptible improvement in visibility at the Grand Canyon or other areas of concern.”
The EPA’s pursuit of this regional haze rule is far from over. Five public hearings about the rule are scheduled by the EPA for this week. Meanwhile, the EPA will be accepting written comments from concerned parties through Jan. 6. It is critical that the families and businesses of Arizona stand united against an EPA-forced rule that would set us back for no benefit, and unravel a major economic engine that has made possible the Arizona way of life.
• David Martin is president of the Arizona Chapter of the Associated General Contractors.