The Daily Times
FRUITLAND — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sidestepped its responsibility to protect public health when it finalized a regulatory plan for the Four Corners Power Plant, according to a Sierra Club lawsuit.
The plan issued in May clarified jurisdictional questions about the 2,040-megawatt coal-fired power plant on the Navajo Nation. It also set enforceable limits on how much pollution the plant can release. But it failed to study how the pollution affects Four Corners residents, said Matt Kenna, an attorney for the Western Environmental Law Center representing the Sierra Club.
"The regulations require that when a (regulatory plan) is issued, the EPA, state or tribe has to do a modeling report and put out air quality monitors to find out how much (pollution) is being caused by the source and how much needs to be reduced," he said. "That's all work they need to do and they're not doing."
Arizona Public Service, which operates the Four Corners Power Plant, filed the first lawsuit about the regulatory plan, or Federal Implementation Plan — but not because it wanted the pollution limits changed.
"We asked for more operating flexibility in a couple of areas of the plan," said Richard Grimes, the plant's environmental health and safety manager.
The company wants more leeway in the dust and opacity limits less than 1 percent of the time in case its pollution-control equipment breaks down. It filed a legal complaint because it thought it was necessary to keep open the door for discussion.
The EPA declined comment on pending litigation.
According to Kenna, the agency spelled out that it issued the plan to fill a regulatory gap rather than to protect health.
"That doesn't excuse you from issuing something that's legally noncompliant (with the Clean Air Act)," he said.
The Sierra Club wants to see emissions reduced at the Four Corners Power Plant but does not have a number in mind. A monitoring study of the air quality should determine what must be done to protect public health.
Emissions from the plant, and other industry sources, are involved in the complex chemical process that produces ozone, a respiratory hazard. Sunlight, temperature and other factors all contribute to ozone formation.
"This is really important for the health of New Mexicans, but also for people in the whole Four Corners region," Kenna said.
Lisa Meerts: firstname.lastname@example.org