Ariz. Utility Settles Clean Air Violations, Promises Millions in Retrofits

As part of the fifteenth settlement secured by EPA and the U.S. Department of Justice to control harmful air pollution from coal-fired power plants, the owner and operator of a plant in St. Johns, Ariz., has agreed to install pollution controls at an estimated cost of $400 million to reduce harmful emissions and pay a $950,000 civil penalty. Yesterday's settlement resolves alleged violations of the New Source Review requirements of the Clean Air Act, EPA and DOJ said.

The Salt River Project Agricultural Improvement and Power District (SRP) has agreed to install and operate new pollution control equipment on both generating units at its Coronado Generating Station. According to EPA, the controls will reduce combined emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) by more than 21,000 tons each year.

SRP will install flue gas desulfurization devices, known as scrubbers, to control SO2 at both units and selective catalytic reduction (SCR) controls to limit NOx at one of the units. This is the first settlement ever to secure an SCR retrofit of an existing coal-fired electric generating unit in the Western United States. In addition, the utility will spend $4 million on projects EPA says are environmentally beneficial to reduce air emissions and mitigate the impacts of the alleged violations. The projects include retrofitting public school bus diesel engines in the Phoenix metropolitan area with pollution control equipment; installing solar photovoltaic panels on school buildings in Arizona and funding the maintenance of the panels for at least 10 years; and offering incentives to residential homeowners, such as rebates, toward the replacement of pre-1988 wood stoves with cleaner burning, energy-efficient stoves or hearth appliances.

"This settlement marks a significant step in controlling harmful nitrogen oxide emissions in the Western United States," said Granta Nakayama, assistant administrator for EPA’s enforcement and compliance assurance program. "The installation of state-of-the-art technology sets an important benchmark for the control of this harmful pollutant. EPA is committed to ensuring coal-fired power plants comply with the Clean Air Act."

In a complaint that the government filed concurrently with lodging this consent decree, the EPA and DOJ alleged that the utility illegally modified the two units at the plant, thereby increasing air pollution. Specifically, the government cited the utility for failing to obtain necessary pre-construction permits and install required pollution control equipment.

"The reductions in harmful emissions secured by this settlement are substantial and will have a beneficial impact on air quality in Arizona and downwind areas," said Ronald J. Tenpas, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "SRP's willingness to settle rather than litigate the various issues in this case allowed the parties to focus their efforts on securing the best results for the environment. The Justice Department will continue our efforts to pursue emission reductions from power plants across the country to achieve the benefits envisioned by the Clean Air Act."

EPA noted that NOx and SO2 emissions cause severe respiratory problems and contribute to childhood asthma. These pollutants are also significant contributors to acid rain, smog, and haze which impair visibility in national parks, the agency says, adding that air pollution from power plants can travel significant distances downwind, crossing state lines and creating region-wide health problems. The proposed consent decree was lodged with the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, and will be subject to a 30-day public comment period. A copy of the consent decree is available on the Department of Justice Web site at www.usdoj.gov/enrd/open.html.

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