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Carbon standards for reservation plants delayed

Published on NewsOK Modified: June 3, 2014 at 4:53 pm •  Published: June 3, 2014

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — Two of the Southwest's largest coal-fired power plants straddle the San Juan River in northwestern New Mexico, one within clear view of the other.

But one of them didn't factor into the Obama administration's plans to reduce carbon dioxide emissions across the nation because it is on an American Indian reservation.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it will hold off on emissions standards for four power plants on reservations to talk further with tribes and give them an opportunity to create cleanup plans of their own. If the tribes decline, the federal government will craft plans for them.

"There's a different federal-tribal relationship than there are with states, so we wanted to take that into account," EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia said.

Two of the power plants on the Navajo Nation — the Navajo Generating Station in Page and the Four Corners Power Plant near Farmington, New Mexico — are among the country's top emitters of carbon dioxide, releasing 17.8 million short tons and 12.9 million short tons in 2013, respectively. Both have plans to shutter some of the generating units, which will cut down on carbon dioxide emissions that are blamed for heating the planet.

The other two are the natural gas-powered South Point Energy Center on the Fort Mohave Indian Reservation in western Arizona and the coal-fired Bonanza Power Plant on Ute lands in northeastern Utah.

The administration on Monday unveiled its plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from U.S. power plants by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

The EPA said it will publish a supplemental proposal covering the four reservation plants after it gives the public a chance to weigh in on what approaches it could take with the tribes, including multijurisdictional plans with states.

Making a distinction between states and tribes when it comes to the Clean Air Act isn't anything new. The EPA said the approach recognizes tribal sovereignty. But it has drawn criticism because pollution controls could end up being delayed for reservation power plants. Tribes often have fewer resources to develop and implement regulations.

"Once again, it's sort of this gray area jurisdictionally with the emphasis being on state plans yet these facilities are on tribal land, maybe being given a separate category for compliance," said Mike Eisenfeld, of the San Juan Citizens Alliance, an environmental advocacy group. "The bottom line is, they need to be on the same timeline."

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