Groups want action to curb air pollution at Grand Canyon

Wisconsin Gazette

Air pollution from Navajo Generating Station has plagued the Grand Canyon for decades — the national landmark is 12 miles from the coal-fired power plant.

A complaint from a coalition of environmental groups wants the U.S. Department of Interior to “promptly declare impairment of the Grand Canyon by air pollution,” an action that would trigger stringent and timely pollutant reduction requirements for NGS.

“DOI has a unique obligation to protect national parks,” said Stephanie Kodish, clean air program director for the National Parks Conservation Association. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell “faces a pivotal decision — will she exercise her right and responsibility under the Clean Air Act to protect the Grand Canyon, its sister parks and neighboring communities or will she continue to wait for others to act, which could prolong NGS’s pollution of the Grand Canyon for decades to come?”

Sandy Bahr of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter added, “On a clear day, there is no more spectacular view than the one at Grand Canyon. But unfortunately, Navajo Generating Station, one of the most polluting coal plants in the country, continues to foul the skies over this world-renowned national park. Interior, due to its stake in the plant, and its responsibility to protect Grand Canyon must step up and take action and do so in a timely way.”

The coalition, which includes NPCA, Dine’ CARE, To Nizhoni Ani, the Grand Canyon Trust, the San Juan Citizens Alliance and Sierra Club, want Jewell to certify that nitrogen oxide (NOx) and particulate matter emissions from NGS impair air quality at Grand Canyon National Park.

“Anyone who looks can plainly see Navajo Generating Station’s pollution plume after the cool, clear air from the north settles into Grand Canyon for the night,” said Roger Clark with the Grand Canyon Trust. “Its mustard-brown smear from oxides of nitrogen and white vale of fine particles taint the sunrise and steal away sharp edges throughout the day.”

This is the second time that the Interior Department has been asked to take this action. Previously in 2009 the department demurred from this responsibility awaiting a decision from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on standards it might issue for NGS. But now, five years later, there is still no enforceable plan to reduce NGS’s NOx and particulate matter emissions.

The timing is especially vital for the Interior Department to make this certification, as the EPA is currently considering its final rule for the clean-up of NGS. It is feared that if the department continues to stay silent on action needed to restore air quality at Grand Canyon, NGS may be left to continue causing hazy views and preventable respiratory illnesses at and around Grand Canyon National Park and the neighboring communities for many years to come.

“The Department of the Interior has been irresponsive to communities suffering from vast coal plant pollution in the U.S. Southwest, including marginalizing our National Parks,” said Mike Eisenfeld with the San Juan Citizens Alliance. “While we understand the challenges our region faces (including drought, water, cost of electricity) we expect DOI to take their responsibilities seriously and engage.”