Appeal by advocacy groups led to agency's move

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FARMINGTON — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 9 has withdrawn a permit it issued to the Arizona Public Service Company earlier this year for discharge from the Four Corners Power Plant.

The permit was withdrawn following an appeal by five environmental advocacy groups. Those groups include Dine Citizens Against Ruining the Environment, the San Juan Citizens Alliance, Amigos Bravos, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club.

Under the Clean Water Act, discharging pollutants into a navigable water requires a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit. The permit allows the Four Corners Power Plant to discharge water from Morgan Lake into No Name Wash, which flows into the Chaco River and then into the San Juan River.

Withdrawing the permit means APS will operate the Four Corners Power Plant under the terms outlined in the NPDES permit issued April 7, 2001.

NPDES permits are required to be updated every five years, but the EPA administratively extended the 2001 permit for the Four Corners Power Plant, citing uncertainty surrounding the physical operations of the power plant.

In May, the five groups filed a lawsuit in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals arguing that the EPA had failed to update the permit. The groups stated the delay in updating the permit meant APS was operating under a permit that did not incorporate up-to-date pollution monitoring and control requirements.

Soon after the lawsuit was filed, the EPA issued a new NDPES permit to APS in June. The five groups appealed that permit, which they argued was rushed and did not adequately address several issues. That permit was withdrawn on Dec. 19.

Withdrawing the permit will allow the EPA to further examine issues raised by the advocacy groups, including the jurisdictional status of Morgan Lake. Morgan Lake is a man-made cooling pond that was created for the Four Corners Power Plant. It draws water from the San Juan River, which is used in the daily operations of the coal-fired power plant. The water cycles through the cooling pond, and APS occasionally discharges excess water into No Name Wash, according to the EPA.

EPA Region 9 anticipates publishing a draft permit in March 2019. The final permit likely will be issued in June 2019, but the timeline will depend on the number of public comments received, as well as the contents of those public comments.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

 

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