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L.A.'s Dirty Coal Addiction Is Killing Arizona

A large percentage of the power Angelenos depend on comes from coal plants, which spew their filth hundreds of miles away, across state lines in Indian country.

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"My community is heavily impacted by Salt River Project's coal and water extraction activities. SRP has extensive ties to Peabody Energy's massive mining operations and the Navajo Generating Station," says Louise Benally of nearby Black Mesa. "Coal mining has destroyed thousands of archeological sites and our only water source has been seriously compromised. Their operations are causing widespread respiratory problems, lung diseases, and other health impacts on humans, the environment, and all living things."  

Native American activist Ofelia Rivas, of the O'odham people, was also on hand to criticize SRP, claiming the company continues to divert water from O'odham lands for profit, devastating the agricultural way of life of the O'odham. LADWP owns a 22 percent stake in SRP's Navajo coal-fired power plant.  

This is not to say that all in LA, including Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, are okay with LADWP's investment in coal. The agency's 2010 Integrated Resource Plan, a 20 year strategic vision, cited a need for major investments in renewable energies, as well as a call for ending purchases of power from both the Intermountain Power Station and the Navajo plant. It was a bold proclamation, but one that is likely not going to happen in the proposed 20-year timeframe. In fact, by December 2010 the plan's renewable energy goals were in peril with the objectives set forth in the plan already requiring revision.  

California, compared to most states, has taken important measures toward weaning the state off dirty fossil fuels. One such initiative, SB 1368, prohibits public utilities from building new coal plants or entering into new long-term arrangements with plants that emit more than 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour. Because no commercially available technology can meet that standard, SB 1368 has stopped new coal plants both inside and outside the state.   

These are all good measures, but they don't go far enough in cracking down on SRP's activities in Arizona, contend activists intent on shutting the plant down. Currently SRP is debating whether or not to invest in the Navajo Station to install scrubbers to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions, which contributes to acid rain and is regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The costs of these upgrades could reach $600,000 million to $1 billion to install.  

SRP says this could add about $13 million a year to the plant's operating budget and those expenses would be passed on to customers. The EPA has proposed a scrubbing system which uses ammonia to reduce SO2. The ammonia would be injected into the system after the coal is burned to leach out SO2. To reach the plant, the ammonia would be delivered to Flagstaff by railroad and then trucked over to Page where the only service is a direct rail line from the Kayenta coal mine that produces coal for the plant. This whole ordeal has caused LADWP to consider whether or not it wants to support the retrofit or walk away from the plant altogether.  

These sorts of tussles did not stop the international development company Sithe Global Power from proposing the so-called Desert Rock power plant on Navajo land. The plant would have been the third power plant within a 15-mile vicinity of two other plants. Diné CARE, among other groups, opposed the plant on the grounds that it would have disproportionately impacted the Navajo people. Diné CARE in 2006 brought substantial attention to the plant by blockading the road that lead to the proposed site. Protesters were arrested, but the fight continued, with the Sierra Club announcing in March 2011 that Sithe Global had finally abandoned its plans for the plant.  

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