Report on the 11/14/2013 EPA Hearing: Navajo Generating Station

by Patrick O'Malley
Precinct Committeeman (LD12)

At the EPA Hearing on November 14, the EPA asked those who wished to speak to come up and take a seat at the front table two at a time for efficiency. So I’m making my comments and the guy sitting next to me is with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Is he supposed to be the balance to my conservative comments? No, we are both there trying to convince the EPA to leave Navajo Generating Station (NGS) alone. Or at least leave something in operation after they make their final ruling, because we both clearly see the damage changes at NGS will have on Arizona’s economy. It’s not just a federal authority out of control or state’s rights issue. This agency is messing with our everyday lives.

There were about 200 people at the hearing and about 100 of them made statements. It broke pretty cleanly into the Sierra Club wanting quick, drastic changes that will close NGS, and everybody else. Everybody else included legislators, union workers, Central Arizona Project, farmers, Indian Tribes, and average citizens. Rep. Warren Petersen and Joy Staveley from Canyoneers wanted the EPA completely out of our business and to back off completely from NGS. They have the right principles for the long term fight with the EPA, but I’m afraid it’s too late for principles to triumph on NGS.

The Technical Working Group (TWG) Negotiates a Surrender

In June of this year the Technical Working Group (TWG) got together and proposed a negotiated surrender as opposed to having the EPA force them into an unconditional surrender. TWG consists of Salt River Project and the Department of the Interior as major owners of NGS; Central Arizona Project (CAP) as the biggest customer of NGS; Gila River Indian Community as a major customer of CAP; the Navajo Nation because NGS is on their land, and they supply the coal to make it go; and two environmental groups, Environmental Defense Fund and Western Resource Advocates. The Sierra Club was originally part of TWG, but walked out when the plan wasn’t severe enough to satisfy them.

So why didn’t the State of Arizona get a seat at the TWG table? Technically because the EPA is dealing directly with the Navajo Nation and it’s not an Arizona issue, but it’s safe to assume the other members of TWG were afraid a State of Arizona representative couldn’t be trusted to surrender fast enough.

So the TWG proposal to shut down part of NGS in return for not having to install more major pollution controls until 2030 is supported by the major owners of NGS and the major customer of NGS and a couple of environmental groups to make it look nice and green. It’s hard for average citizens to make a case to resist the EPA when all the major players have already surrendered.

So I gritted my teeth and said nice things about the TWG proposal, as did most of our legislators, and the union workers, and the farming community. None of us were happy with the deal, but we supported it as the best offer on the table. We all know it will have a bad effect on Arizona’s economy, but not nearly as bad as NGS shutting down.

Does the EPA Care About the Economic Impact of a Shut Down to the Navajo Generating Station?

The EPA evaluates 5 factors before they make a ruling. One of those factors is economic impact. If the diverse group of people supporting the TWG plan can clearly see the economic impact of major changes to NGS, why can’t the EPA? Do they really not see it, or do they see other factors that outweigh our economic pain in their calculations?

Big changes to power plants don’t get built by a local HVAC contractor. They get contracted out to the kind of big engineering and construction companies that build power plants. So a big change at NGS may or may not add jobs at a big engineering company, but it does keep work queued up so their business is steady and profitable. When politicians leave office many of them become lobbyists. So where do high ranking bureaucrats go when they leave the EPA? You guessed it. They get jobs at big engineering and construction companies.

The NGS issue isn’t over yet. The comment period has been extended to January 6, 2014. But right now we’re waiting to see which way the EPA moves. There may need to be another call to action before they year is out.

Special thanks to our elected officials who came to the EPA Hearing and spoke to minimize the damage the EPA wants to inflict: Senator Judy Burges, Senator Gail Griffin, Senator Carlyle Begay, Rep. Frank Pratt, Rep. Bob Thorpe, Rep. Warren Petersen, and CAP Board member Mark Lewis.