|MOHAVE GENERATING STATION: Pollution feud unresolved
|Plant in Laughlin faces Dec. 31 closure for failing to install $1 billion in controls
By JOHN G. EDWARDS
Laughlin and American Indian leaders are expressing frustration that three environmental groups refuse to consider extending the Dec. 31 deadline for eliminating pollution from the 34-year-old, coal-fired Mohave Generating Station at Laughlin.
Under a 1999 court order, the owners of Mohave, which include Southern California Edison and Nevada Power Co., agreed to install pollution control equipment by Dec. 31 or close the plant.
Utility executives and environmental groups now say it is unlikely the plant will stay open beyond the deadline, because it would be impossible at this point to install more than $1 billion in pollution control equipment by then.
Temporarily or permanently closing the plant appear to be the only options, because the Sierra Club and two other environmental groups refuse to consider a possible extension on court-ordered deadline despite reports of progress on problems affecting the plant and a mine that supplies coal to the power plant.
Closing the power plant would eliminate 340 jobs at the Mohave plant in Laughlin and about 240 jobs for mostly Navajo workers who mine coal.
The coal is shipped from the mine in northeastern Arizona to Mohave by a so-called "slurry line" of water and crushed coal.
Both the town and two Indian tribes also are concerned about the effect on their fragile economies.
"Now, 300 people are going to be out of a job," said JoElle Hurns, executive director of the Laughlin Chamber of Commerce. "That's heartless. We're all for protecting the environment, but let's be reasonable."
Roger Clark of the Grand Canyon Trust, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said: "We are not anxious to see economic hardship on anyone."
However, in a previously confidential letter dated May 25, the Grand Canyon Trust, Sierra Club and National Parks Conservation Association ruled out the possibility of extending the deadline. They said power plant owners have already had six years to install pollution control equipment at the plant, and area residents are complaining about air pollution, including sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury.
American Indian leaders say they are close to reaching long-term agreements for coal and water that Mohave must have before owners will spend $1 billion on pollution control equipment.
"We have heard that they have been close to (agreements) for six years," said Rob Smith, southwest regional director for the Sierra Club. "In six years, as far as we've seen, nothing has changed."
The Sierra Club, the trust and the parks' group sued the owners of Mohave over pollution and won an agreed judgment in 1999 that called for closing the plant or installation of pollution equipment by Dec. 31.
The environmental groups explained their position in the letter to Navajo and Hopi leaders.
"The Mohave owners, having made no effort to reduce emissions during the full six-year period, have obviously elected to comply with the decree by ending operations at the plant at the end of this year," the letter said. "We are unwilling to excuse further violations of law and threats to public health and clean air of the Colorado Plateau by allowing any further extensions."
It is doubly devastating for Laughlin, because tourism, the other key economic driver in the 8,300 population community, is soft, Hurns said.
"We've been very frustrated by this," Hurns said. "We've been asking for five years for the stakeholders to convene and start a conversation (on solutions). It's too late now."
Jackie Brady, Laughlin town manager, said the loss of power-plant jobs will affect merchants and businesses throughout the area, which includes Bullhead City, Ariz.; Needles, Calif.; and the Mohave Valley. Brady also fears loss of the plant would cause electric rates to increase, hurting area senior citizens who live on fixed incomes.
Nevada Power is entitled to 14 percent of the output, or a maximum of about 196 megawatts. That's about 6 percent of Nevada Power's total electrical consumption. Coal is less expensive than natural gas, the other fuel used at Nevada Power generation plants, but the company said it is difficult to estimate how the loss of Mohave would affect rates, given the "many unknown variables."
American Indian leaders also expressed dismay.
"We would hope environmental groups throughout the nation do not stand in opposition to the efforts of Indian tribes to build a viable homeland and achieve the economic self-reliance necessary to overcome generations of poverty and despair," Hopi Chairman Wayne Taylor Jr. said in a statement. Three of 12 Hopi villages do not have running water and electricity, a Hopi spokesman said.
Spokesmen for the tribes said unemployment is already about 50 percent on their reservations.
The mine closing "will force Navajo families to leave their homeland, where many of them grew up. They love speaking their language. They love their cultural life ways," said George Hardeen, a spokesman for the Navajo Nation. The miners would need to move off the reservation to find jobs, and "that sets up the loss of culture for future generations."
In addition, the Navajos would lose $16.8 million in annual royalties if the power plant is closed.
"It's going to be real serious if the Navajo National government has to do without that royalty funding," Hardeen said. The Hopi tribe would lose about $6.6 million in yearly royalties for coal and may have to eliminate tribal government jobs as a result.
Beth Sutton, a spokeswoman for Peabody Energy's Arizona operations, agreed with the tribes. "We have been working with the Mohave stakeholders for a period of years with the objective of avoiding minimizing closure of Mohave Station," she said. "We believe that temporary suspension is a tragedy that need not happen. Those that suffer the most will be the tribes."
Navajo and Hopi leaders hope the environmental groups will renegotiate the Dec. 31 deadline. Others are not.
"Given the circumstances, I don't believe that there is any possibility at the present that this facility will remain open past the end of the year on a temporary basis," said Roberto Denis, corporate senior vice president for generation and energy supply at Nevada Power parent, Sierra Pacific Resources.
Denis doubted the Laughlin power plant would reopen if it is closed temporarily: "Anything is possible. It's difficult to predict the future."
But he said that the tribes, Peabody Energy and Mohave plant owners have been negotiating without success.
Southern California Edison, the plant operator and 56 percent owner, took a similar position.
"Although water and coal negotiations are still continuing, these
issues remain unresolved and it appears probably that Mohave will shut
down, at least temporarily, at the end of 2005," spokeswoman Gloria
Quinn said in a statement. "If the coal and water issues are addressed,
the most plausible scenario is to install the pollution control equipment
and then return the plant to operation."
originally found in the Las Vegas Review Journal 10 July 2005
Reprinted under the Fair Use doctrine of international copyright