The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is charged with keeping our air and water clean. Clean air and water are tied directly to public health and long-term well-being of our citiznes, so you'd think everyone would be on board with these goals.
Not so much.
Keeping air and water clean costs money. Capitalist polluters prefer low costs and high profits, and consequently, they fight EPA regulations at every level (particularly in the halls of Congress) or try to get someone else (like taxpayers) to clean up their subsequent messes.
Arizona has multiple coal-fired power plants. The EPA recently reviewed the Apache Generating Station operated by Arizona Electric Power Cooperative (AEPCO) in Cochise, Arizona and recommended extensive upgrades– like $160-200 million worth– to reduce emissions and minimize haze in Southern Arizona. AEPCO wants to make less extensive upgrades– like $21 million worth– and threatens to raise rates on consumers 20% if the EPA insists on continuing their quest for reduced emissions and haze in the valley near the Cochise Stronghold.
In a raucus public hearing, the people of Cochise County, said, "Hell, no!" to the EPA back in August. Environmental activists at this meeting were woefully outnumbered, and some were even booed when they spoke in favor of the EPA recommendation to the crowd of 250-300 people. Is it surprising that Bensonites prefer haze over the Chiricahuas? NO. What is Congressman Ron Barber's position? Keep reading after the jump.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I worked in AEPCO's PR department in the early 1980s. I had been in Arizona for only a year when I landed that job. Previously, I had worked for an upscale graphic and product design firm in Worthington, Ohio, a wealthy suburb of Columbus. Richardson/Smith was the kind of place with offices in a Tudor carriage house, with a corporate jet that took us to New York City or Chicago with less than 24 hours notice, with fresh Maine lobster flown in for corporate parties, with clients like Exxon, Bank One, and Texas Instruments.
Going to work at AEPCO– which was run by Mormons, cowboys, and retired military in 1982– was a huge culture shock for me. AEPCO was the kind of place where they did a time/motion study to see if they should switch from rotary telephones to push button phones– and decided not to spend the money!
When I was at AEPCO, the EPA was the devil. There was constant whining about the clean air controls that the EPA required AEPCO to put on its then relatively new stacks (Units 2 and 3 in this report). When distribution co-ops like Sulphur Springs Valley Electric Co-op in Wilcox or their customers complained about AEPCO's rates (which were much higher than Tucson Electric Power's [TEP] dirty power plant rates), AEPCO's management blamed the EPA. Those were tough times for AEPCO because they were not terribly competitive. Instead of looking at poor management by the Michelob for Lunch Bunch (yup, that's what we called them, and you can guess why), the EPA was scapegoated. Eventually, the Michelob for Lunch Bunch was ousted, the Board of Directors temporarily took over, and the AEPCO turned around. Given the strong opposition to the EPA's recommendations, Cochise County residents haven't forgotten the 1970s-80s.
In a letter to the EPA, dated November 21 (below), Barber asked the EPA to back down and consider AEPCO's cheaper proposal. This is a politically expedient move for Barber, since his recent Congressional opponent Marth McSally took Cochise County.
But is this a smart move in the long term? Yes, the EPA's recommendation is very expensive, but if all coal-fired power plants were required to clean up, there would be a level playing field in pricing. I can see why Cochise County residents don't want to go back to the 1980s– when they were paying more than TEP customers, when they had excess capacity that they couldn't sell because of the price, when "dirty" electricity was cheap and "clean" electricity was expensive. Shouldn't it be the other way around? Shouldn't "dirty" energy be more expensive? When will Congress factor in the public health costs of pollution when they make decisions– instead of just looking at business costs and who's voting for whom?