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EPA Extends Its Reach To Regulate Coal Plants To Indian Lands, US Territories

Native Americans and people living in U.S. territories who rely on coal-fired power are now going to fall under the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

EPA’s air office chief Janet McCabe told reporters on a phone call the agency was putting out a supplemental proposal to include power plants on tribal lands and in the U.S. territories of Guam and Puerto Rico in the “Clean Power Plan.” The CPP aims to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants 30 percent by 2030.

McCabe said the proposal would affect coal-fired power plants on lands belonging to three different tribes — Navajo Nation, the Ute Tribe and the Fort Mojave Tribe. The proposal would also impact coal plants in Puerto Rico and Guam.

One of the plants now falling under EPA’s CO2 rules is the Navajo Generating Station, the largest coal-fired power plant in the western U.S. The plant is already slated to shut down in the coming decades because of EPA haze rules, but imposing carbon dioxide rules could hasten the plant’s demise.

The EPA says that the closing of NGS is actually enough for the tribe to meet federal carbon rules. The EPA says these “units represented approximately 30 percent of total EGU CO2 emissions in Navajo territory in 2012. The EPA expects that the CO2 reductions resulting from these shutdowns will be sufficient to meet the proposed goal for the Navajo territory without further action if the goal is converted to a mass-based goal.”

EPA regional haze rules are already set to close the plant because it is requiring costly emissions control upgrades to be installed to stop haze over the Grand Canyon — though it’s disputed whether or not NGS actually causes haze in that area. The costs to the plant have been estimated to be as high as $1 billion.

The coal plant has also faced trouble from some of its owners who want to ditch coal power in the coming years. For example, the city of Los Angeles last year said it was going to sell its stake in NGS by the end of 2015 and use more green energy.

The power plant is owned by several partners, including the federal government, and is located on Indian lands. It employs more than 500 employees, most of whom are Navajo tribesmen. The nearby Kayenta coal mine that supplies NGS, employs more than 400 people — mostly Navajo and Hopi tribesmen.

The costs? EPA says “we do not expect additional emission reductions, costs, or benefits associated with this subset of options for these EGUs.” This is because coal power is already slated to close because of other EPA rules.

On the other hand, the EPA says its Clean Power Plan could cost Puerto Rico and Guam up more than $240 million to implement by 2030. But the agency says the monetized benefits of shutting down coal plants and using alternate fuels would be $520 million.

The EPA’s carbon rule has attracted lots of criticism from Republican lawmakers and coal state Democrats. The rule is already expected to accelerate coal plant retirements in U.S. states which some fear could harm the reliability of the electrical grid and raise electricity prices.

“Make no mistake, the administration’s proposed rule is nothing more than a national energy tax that will be yet another sucker punch to middle-class families struggling to get by in the Obama economy,” said South Dakota Republican Sen. John Thune.

“These regulations, which will increase electricity costs, will especially hurt low-income families and seniors who live on fixed incomes and already devote a large share of their income to electricity bills,” Thune said.

Environmentalists and the Obama administration, however, have defended the rule, saying it will protect public health and help fight global warming.

“Climate change, fueled by carbon pollution, supercharges risks to our health, our economy, and our way of life. EPA is delivering on a vital piece of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan by proposing a Clean Power Plan that will cut harmful carbon pollution from our largest source–power plants,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

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