Arizona’s Water-Energy Union On the Ropes
On May 24, a House Natural Resources subcommittee held a hearing on the fate of one of the largest power plants in the West. The Environmental Protection Agency is considering air pollution regulations for Arizona’s Navajo Generating Station, a power plant that provides nearly all of the electricity to pump the state’s share of the Colorado River through the 336-mile Central Arizona Project. Sales of excess power from Navajo GS also help to pay for Indian water rights settlements. If the most stringent controls are mandated, the plant’s owners would likely close the plant by 2019 when lease contracts begin to expire. The hearing was requested by two representatives from Arizona. Most witnesses spoke in favor of less strict regulations that would keep the plant operating. The EPA should issue a proposed rule this year.
More Regulations Talk
While power plant regulations were the topic du jour in the Longworth office building, across the street in the Rayburn building, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee considered regulations that burden oil and natural gas drilling. Asked about the effects of the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, drilling technique on water supplies, Lisa Jackson, the administrator of the EPA, testified that: “There is evidence that it can certainly affect them. I am not aware of any proven case where the fracking process itself affected water, though there are investigations ongoing.”
But Fewer Regulations on the Horizon
In January President Obama signed an executive order requiring federal agencies, among other things, to review their rules and modify or eliminate any that are redundant, outdated or unduly onerous. Last week, thirty agencies submitted plans.
The EPA broke down its recommendations into two categories. This year the agency will re-evaluate its pollution discharge permitting system. Longer-term projects for the EPA include reassessing:
- the frequency of water quality reports
- the standards for lead and copper in drinking water
- the effectiveness of water quality trading programs
- the approach for regulating contaminants under the Safe Drinking Water Act
The agency’s entire proposal can be found here.
Pipeline Study on Hiatus
For the last few years the Army Corps of Engineers has been preparing an environmental impact study for a proposed pipeline that would pump water from the Colorado River Basin over the Continental Divide to cities and farms in eastern Colorado. Now, it seems, the study is on hold at the request of the project developer. BusinessWeek reports that entrepreneur Aaron Million asked the Corps last month for a temporary suspension while he considers the electrical generating capacity of the 560-mile pipeline. He could ask the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to be the lead agency. If Million does not respond within 60 days, the Corps might cancel the review.
Deadline for the Decider
The House Energy and Commerce Committee is getting impatient with the president. The committee held a hearing in support of a bill called the North American-Made Energy Security Act, a piece of legislation that would require President Obama to make a decision on a proposed tar sands pipeline by November 1 of this year. The Keystone XL pipeline, which would cross important aquifers in Nebraksa, is strongly opposed by people in that state.
The University of Arizona has announced a partnership with Sandia National Laboratories, a government-funded research and development center. The primary focus for the collaboration will be the connections between water, energy, climate and sustainability in the U.S. Southwest.
Brett writes about agriculture, energy, infrastructure, and the politics and economics of water in the United States. He also writes the Federal Water Tap, Circle of Blue’s weekly digest of U.S. government water news. He is the winner of two Society of Environmental Journalists reporting awards, one of the top honors in American environmental journalism: first place for explanatory reporting for a series on septic system pollution in the United States(2016) and third place for beat reporting in a small market (2014). He received the Sierra Club’s Distinguished Service Award in 2018. Brett lives in Seattle, where he hikes the mountains and bakes pies. Contact Brett Walton