FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) â¿¿ The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is facing a deadline to issue a final decision for controlling emissions from three Arizona power plants that it contends have impaired visibility at places like the Grand Canyon. The agency had proposed approving Arizona's air quality plan to reduce sulfur dioxide and soot at the Cholla, Coronado and Apache generating stations. But the EPA indicated earlier this year that the state's plan to lower nitrogen oxide emissions didn't go far enough. Instead of low nitrogen-oxide burners, the EPA had proposed that some of the older units at the plants be equipped with selective catalytic reduction technology to keep 17,000 tons nitrogen oxide from being released into the air and causing regional haze and visibility issues at 18 national parks and wilderness areas. Environmentalists had praised the proposal. Thursday marks the deadline for the agency to announce its decision. The state and the plants' operators have said that the EPA's proposal issued earlier this year would cost hundreds of millions of dollars with negligible improvement to air quality. "We're in favor of making sure our plant has state-of-the-art equipment," said Damon Gross, a spokesman for Arizona Public Service, which operates the 1,027-megawatt Cholla Power Plant near St. Johns. "The question becomes, what is the benefit you're getting versus the cost of what customers are going to assume because of that." EPA's proposal would mean a $436 million investment among Cholla's owners, which Gross said would be passed on to ratepayers. The bill for residential users would go up nearly $19 a year, while small business customers would pay almost $32 more annually, he said. The Salt River Project, which owns and operates the Coronado Generating Station near Holbrook, said it would be on the hook for another $119 million under the EPA's proposal. Kelly Barr, the senior director of environmental management policy and compliance for SRP, said that would be on top of a $500 million investment that partly came out of a previous consent decree with the EPA for upgrades.
"We felt like we had met a very high standard of compliance," she said. "We felt like we would be done at that facility for a while."Geoff Oldfather, a spokesman for Arizona Electric Power Cooperative, would say only that the EPA's proposal "would be expensive." The company runs the Apache Generating Station near Cochise. The state Department of Environmental Quality and Gov. Jan Brewer have urged the EPA to withdraw its proposal and called it "not only unreasonable but unnecessary," given the EPA's previous inaction on the state's plan. The EPA said it had proposed rejecting Arizona's plan for nitrogen oxide emissions because it did not fully address the issues raised by the agency and federal land managers when it came to cost analyses, the best available technology for controlling emissions and visibility benefits. Pollution from power plants, wildfires or controlled burns and other sources worsen the air at the Grand Canyon 90 percent of the time, the agency has said. "Yet for many visitors, the spectacular views are veiled in haze, dulling the natural beauty," the EPA said.