EPA issues proposed emissions rule for tribal power plants

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. - On Oct. 29, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a proposed rule for tribes under the Clean Power Plan, which is aimed at reducing carbon emissions on tribal lands.

The proposed supplemental rule sets tribal-specific goals for reducing carbon dioxide emissions and provides guidance for tribes to achieve those goals. It also allows the Navajo Nation to develop its own tribal carbon reduction plan if it chooses to do so.

Tribes also have the opportunity to participate in multi-jurisdictional plans with the states in order to meet their reduction goals. The proposed supplemental rule will not require the existing power plants on the Navajo Nation to make further carbon emissions reductions.

The proposed rule recognizes the reduction in carbon emissions from the early retirement of three units at Four Corners Power Plan (FCPP) and the one unit closure at Navajo Generating Station (NGS), which stemmed from the EPA's Best Available Retrofit Technology (BART) decisions for both plants to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions to improve visibility in Class I areas within the region.

The "Carbon Pollution Emission Guidelines for Existing Stationary Sources" is a proposed supplement rule to the EPA's June 18 proposed carbon rule (Clean Power Plan), which requires states to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from existing fossil fuel-fired power plants.

The Clean Power Plan targets meaningful progress toward carbon emission reductions by 2020 and reduced carbon emission levels by 2030. It sets state-specific goals for reducing carbon dioxide emissions and provides guidance for state plans to meet those goals.

Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly led the Nation's Carbon Team in its Sept. 15 consultation with the EPA. In that consultation, Shelly discussed the Navajo Nation's concerns with the pending supplemental rule, including the importance of keeping the power plants operating and the retention of carbon credits or allowances.

He asked the EPA to "think outside the box" when developing the supplemental rule for the Navajo Nation. Although the EPA did consider future carbon reductions resulting from the BART determinations, they also incorporated the four building blocks used to develop the state emission rates set under the Clean Power Plan.

Shelly said he is concerned that such an approach is not appropriate for the Navajo Nation because of its unique situation compared to the states, including extremely high levels of poverty and unemployment.

Shelly also said he believes the EPA did incorporate some the Nation's concerns into the supplemental rule, but that there is still room for improvement.

"It is clear from reading the supplemental rule that [the] EPA did listen to the Navajo Nation and reflect on what we had to say," Shelly said. "But we know this is an ongoing discussion with them and that there is still room for improvement. I believe we can meet the goals of the Clean Power Plan and also develop a plan that creates a better future for the Navajo people. I look forward to those discussions."

Shelly added that the Navajo Nation will continue working in partnership with federal agencies and other stakeholders in addressing climate change, particularly measures directed at reducing carbon emissions, ensuring the continued economic viability of the Navajo, and protecting health and environment on the Navajo Nation.

"Under this proposed scenario, we have an opportunity to optimize our energy resources, including development and management of natural gas resources and other zero-carbon emitting or low-carbon emitting resources," Shelly said. "The Navajo Nation Energy Policy of 2013 highlights the importance of future development of cleaner renewable energy for the Nation."

Stephen Etsitty, executive director for Navajo EPA, was pleased the EPA adopted an emissions reduction plan for the Navajo Nation as a whole, not a plan only focused on NGS and FCPP.

Etsitty noted that such a plan would provide the framework the Navajo Nation needs to retain and manage carbon credits and potentially participate in a carbon-trading program with other jurisdictions. Participation in such a trading program could provide an economic boost to the Navajo Nation economy.

The Navajo Nation Carbon Team is the Navajo Nation, Navajo EPA, Division of Natural Resources, Navajo Tribal Utility Authority, Navajo Transitional Energy Corporation and Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Company. Etsitty and Navajo Nation Attorney General Harrison Tsosie are co-chairs of the Navajo Nation Carbon Team. The purpose of the Navajo Nation Carbon Team is to take the lead in determining the course of action that will be best from an environmental, economic and cultural perspective in response to U.S. EPA's Clean Power Plan.

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