Tribal and US EPA open comment on plant permit

James Fenton
This area near the Four Corners Power Plant's generating units 4 and 5, seen on Oct. 12, is where retrofitting will occur to allow the plant to meet federal haze regulations.

FARMINGTON — A coal-fired power plant in Fruitland is seeking a permit renewal from the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency.

The power plant — referred to as the "Four Corners Steam Electric Station" in a recent public notice for the permit renewal — is reviewed every five years for the plant's Title Five Operating permit, according to Tennille Begay, Navajo Nation EPA senior environmental specialist in Window Rock, Ariz.

The tribal EPA held a public hearing on the Part 71 draft permit and the draft Acid Rain permit at Nenahnezad Chapter House on Nov. 19, but attendance over the draft permit was poor, Begay said.

"There were no oral comments at the hearing. No one signed in," she said.

The permit was last renewed in 2008, she said, and the public still can offer comment in writing by Dec. 4, when the comment period closes.

Begay said that the tribal air quality control program operating permit program will forward the draft permit and all comments received to the U.S. EPA, which issues the final permit.

At the same time the tribal EPA is proposing the Part 71 permit renewal, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Region 9 is also accepting comments on its proposed renewal of the plant's Acid Rain permit.

APS shut down its three older, less efficient generating units in December 2013 as part of a plan to meet federal haze rules. The three units, originally placed into service in 1963 and 1964, are expected to be demolished and removed from the plant by 2017.

The Fruitland plant's remaining two units, Units No. 4 and No. 5, which are two separate flues housed together in one common stack, are currently being retrofitted with pollution controls. The plant has until July 31, 2018, to complete the $635 million project.

Gotfried said the permit is not related to the retrofitting work.

"This is a routine permit update," he said.

Sarah Jane White is a member of Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment and a Fruitland resident.

Workers are seen guiding vehicles on the main road earlier this year at the Four Corners Power Plant in Fruitland.

She said she is encouraged by changes at the plant like the retrofitting of the remaining stacks there and the demolition of the older three units.

White said she has lived in the Fruitland area for more than 50 years and said she called the plant "Old Smokey" sometimes bitterly. White has suffered recurring bouts of respiratory illnesses and said her son has battled asthma from an early age, a condition that she blames on air pollution from the plant.

"My son was only two or three years old when he was diagnosed with asthma," White said. "It’s really painful to see a young child with a lung problem. But It’s about time they clean up the plant. 'Clean it up,' that's what I say, and meet the air quality standards of the EPA. It’s all the metals, the nitrogen oxide (from the plant). They’re no good."

White said that she knows many people in the community near the power plant and coal mine have had respiratory illnesses, which weren't a problem before the power plant went online in the 1960s.

"On the Navajo Nation I also know another lady who has asthma," White said. "It seems like it’s growing. I'd never heard of asthma before these plants came here. It’s very important that we clean the air in the Four Corners."

The Navajo Nation EPA is accepting written comments on the draft permits can be sent to Tennille Begay at NAQCP/OPP, P.O. Box 529, Fort Defiance, Ariz. 86504. Comments can also be sent via email to​. All comments are due by 5 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 4.

Comments on the draft Acid Rain permit are due to the U.S. EPA by the same date. Send comments to Lisa Beckham, U.S. EPA Region 9, 75 Hawthorne St., San Francisco, Calif. 94105-3901 or via email to

James Fenton is the business editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621 and

The "Four Corners Steam Electric Station"

The name listed in the plant's permit contains a seemingly anachronistic reference to steam.

Tennille Begay, Navajo Nation EPA senior environmental specialist in Window Rock, Ariz., said the odd name was the result of the plant owner listing it that way when the original permit application was filed. Two generating units slated for demolition were first put into service in 1963 and 1964.

The coal-fired power plant is owned and operated by majority owner Arizona Public Service Company, or APS.

Steven Gotfried, APS spokesman, said the naming of the plant was a surprise.

"Technically it uses stream. It boils water to move the turbines," Gotfried said. "I am just speculating, but the name is probably the original regulatory name used when the plant was originally built."