Hazed and Confused: Arizona Fights Anti-Coal Regional Haze Rules

Feb 7, 2013

How does an effort to improve the beautiful views at national parks magically turn into a tool in the war on coal? It happens when EPA and environmental groups use a “Sue and Settle” strategy to override state environmental efforts and impose the agency's more-expensive rules.

But the state of Arizona isn't standing for it. It is suing EPA for imposing federal pollution measures on coal-fired power plants. Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey explains:

At issue in the new rules, proposed in December, is nitrogen oxides.  The EPA claims that the emissions of nitrogen oxides by coal plants in Arizona creates “haze” in the Grand Canyon and other national parks.

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne argues that EPA’s regional haze regulations won’t be more effective than the state's rules, and he’s right. The U.S. Chamber report authored by Competitive Policy Institute policy analyst William Yeatman, “EPA’s New Regulatory Front: Regional Haze and the Takeover of State Programs,” contains a case study of the Navajo Generating Station, another Arizona coal plant in the same situation as the Apache, Cholla and Coronado plants involved in this suit. EPA wants to hammer the Navajo plant with regional haze controls that would cost $700 million. Yet peer-reviewed research has concluded that there’s little chance that any discernible visibility would occur.

The path to Arizona’s lawsuit began a few years ago. Yeatman explains EPA’s intention on regional haze:

EPA prefers different, more stringent, and more costly controls. And EPA is determined to force the states to implement these more costly controls over any and all objections. The problem is that the law provides primacy for the states—not EPA—to address regional haze within the states’ borders.

With “Sue and Settle,” EPA, in cahoots with environmental groups, outflanked state environmental agencies. Here’s what happened: In a federal court in California, EPA settled a suit with environmental groups (Sierra Club, WildEarth Guardians, Environmental Defense Fund, and others) over regional haze rules that committed it to “various deadlines to act on all states’ visibility improvement plans.”

Here’s where it gets interesting (emphasis mine):

On the eve of the deadlines that EPA had set for itself in the Consent Decrees, the agency found that it could not approve the states’ submissions due to alleged procedural problems, such as inadequate cost estimates…. EPA claimed that it had no choice but to impose its preferred controls in order to comply with the Consent Decrees.

In Arizona, it would cost the Apache, Cholla and Coronado coal plants over $1 billion to adhere to EPA’s regional haze rules. That would mean higher electricity costs and possibly higher water costs if the rule is extended to the Navajo Generating Station which powers water delivery in the state. And since other states like Montana, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Wyoming are also covered by these consent decrees, expect EPA to institute rules on those states that target coal-fired power plants.

And there you have it. Just like something straight out of Hogwarts, regional haze rules, an effort to protect national parks’ views, is magically transformed by the “Sue and Settle” process into an arrow used by the administration to attack coal-fired power plants. It joins Utility MACT (the “Blackout Rule”) and proposed greenhouse gas standards in the “War on Coal” quiver. The results are power plants shutting down, people losing their jobs, and and increased electricity costs.

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