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As the Grand Canyon Continues to be Clouded by Dirty Air, Advocates Press Interior Sec. to Protect National Landmark

February 13, 2014 Destination North America No Comments Email Email

For decades, air pollution from Navajo Generating Station (NGS) has plagued the Grand Canyon, which sits just 12 miles from the outdated coal-fired power plant, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (March 2012).

In an attempt to rectify this, a group of conservation advocates are this week urging U.S. Interior Sec. Jewell and her department to promptly declare impairment of the Grand Canyon by air pollution, an action that would trigger stringent and timely pollutant reduction requirements for NGS.

Protected Lands Near NGS. Created by Nathan Miller/NPCA

“Despite a clear mandate to do so, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and her predecessors have failed to fulfill the U.S. Department of the Interior’s (DOI) obligation to protect the Grand Canyon and other local national parks from this plant’s pollution,” said Stephanie Kodish, clean air program director for the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA). “Sec. 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?”

“On a clear day, there is no more spectacular view than the one at Grand Canyon,” said Sandy Bahr, chapter director for Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter. “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 Department of the Interior is abdicating it’s trust responsibility of protecting the economic and environmental interest of the Navajo and Hopi people by continued uncontrolled pollution by NGS impacting tribal people’s health,” said Lori Goodman with the Navajo group Diné CARE.

The clean air proponents, which include NPCA, Dine’ CARE, To Nizhoni Ani, the Grand Canyon Trust, the San Juan Citizens Alliance and Sierra Club, have asked Sec. Jewell to certify that nitrogen oxide (NOx) and particulate matter emissions from NGS impair air quality at Grand Canyon National Park – impairment that has been overwhelmingly observed by some of the Grand Canyon’s 4.4 million annual visitors and validated by expert analysis.

“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.”

“The national parks impacted by NGS’s pollution, and the people who are forced to breathe it, deserve better,” NPCA’s Kodish added. ” And they deserve better now.”

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