Catalina Ross is the Southern Arizona Energy Program Coordinator for the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club.
As stipulated in the Clean Air Act, once every ten years each state must assess airshed pollution in the national parks and wilderness areas and then update its Regional Haze State Implementation Plan to control these pollutants and their effects and submit it to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Specifically, they are to analyze the impact on people, nature and visibility reduced by haze from industrial emissions and forest fire smoke.
In Arizona, these emissions include nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide and particulate matter, which affect the health of all Arizona residents, but most notably and worst of all those in close proximity to polluting facilities, often low-income and marginalized communities.
As one of the worst sources of fog-causing toxins and greenhouse gas pollution in the country, these plans seek to regulate and hold coal and gas burning plants accountable.
In Arizona’s design plan, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality examined Tucson Electric Power’s units at the coal-fired Springerville Generating Station and its gas-fired Sundt Generating Station, and the Rillito Cement Manufacturing Facility. ADEQ is tasked with regulating harmful emissions in the SIP, which can contribute to a just and equitable transition of our energy systems away from fossil fuels.
Unfortunately, following public input and technical feedback during the drafting process, the final plan presented by ADEQ in August did not include all of the state’s relevant facilities (omitting some of Arizona’s worst polluters), nor did it require major improvements to those included locations.
Now, the EPA will decide whether to approve or revise the plan and whether to address clean air’s critical role in ecosystems and visibility in our valued public spaces, the health effects of breathing toxic air, due process and environmental injustice.
ADEQ also just held a public hearing for a proposed Air Quality Permit Revision in Springerville that would presume pre-SIP emission limits contrary to the Clean Air Act — it’s unclear why.
Are they intentionally bypassing the proper SIP process and allowing more emissions into the air?
This regional haze planning process is a rare and vital opportunity to clean the air for Arizona residents while reducing our state’s emissions that exacerbate climate change.
Our communities want to see the emergency-scale emission reductions that our rapidly warming climate demands. By making lax requirements for coal-fired power plants and not adequately considering the impact on our parks and wildlife areas, ADEQ shirks its responsibility to protect public health and the environment.
It’s time for the EPA to step in and do what ADEQ should have done — do what the Clean Air Act dictates and clear out the noxious haze for Arizona residents.