Pact promises cleaner canyon air
by James Bishop Jr.GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK - As thunder rumbled in the distance and a hawk wheeled overhead, Grand Canyon Park Superintendent Rob Arnberger stood on the canyon's rim and stared into a bank of television cameras.
He said what a year ago he doubted he would ever get to tell the world: "Today we are saying "no more." Today marks the first step in a long journey to put those words into practice. The eyes of the world are not upon us, but on what we are here to protect."
The occasion was the June 10 announcement, by a Western commission of governors, Indian tribes and their advisors, of a strategy to restore clean air over the 16 national parks and wilderness areas of the Colorado Plateau.
Many here, including utility executives, conservationists and county commissioners, called the promise "historic."
"I was not always sure this would succeed," admitted Felicia Marcus, senior EPA official. "This is a new way." She was not alone in her doubts, which began five years ago when Congress created a regional air quality commission of Westerners and told it to find a solution to the manmade pollution that sullied the air. But on this day she was full of hope.
Highlights of the proposed air-quality cleanup blueprint include:
* An agreement by 17 electric power companies on the Colorado Plateau to slash sulfur stack emissions by 50 to 70 percent by 2040. If they do not cut these emissions 13 percent by the year 2000, mandatory caps will be enforced, although companies can buy and sell pollution credits to bring themselves into compliance;
* Accelerated studies will begin at Southern California Edison's coal-fired Mojave Power Plant, 50 miles upwind of Grand Canyon, to determine whether emission "scrubbers' similar to those being installed at the Navajo Generating Station should be installed;
* Incentives, similar to those offered in the 1980s, will be reinstated to builders of energy-efficient buildings;
* Renewable energy sources for power production will be supported;
* Low-emission vehicle standards, starting in 2001, will be supported on a nationwide basis.
* Clean-fuel demonstration zones will be established;
* Standards for heavy-duty vehicles will be developed;
* Engine-emission regulations for new off-road vehicles will be supported.
Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt said the pact "shows that we in the West can develop solutions without prescriptive dictates from Washington. What we have is a balance of Western interests working on a Western problem."
Yet Rob Smith, the Sierra Club's representative in the Southwest, said the agreement was remarkable for demonstrating the willingness of some Westerners to set up and follow regulations, in this case by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The commission's strong stance toward reducing air pollution would not have been predicted last fall. What seemed to move members in the final days of intense deliberation were the hundreds of oral and written comments from private citizens, businesses and local governments, said Bill Auberle, chairman of the commission's Public Advisory Committee.
After reading letters from the public, he said, "We revised several sections of the report, including proposals for preventing pollution and reducing emissions at large industrial facilities."
Ambitious as the plan is, some Westerners are disappointed that there was no directive to the huge coal-fired power plant owned by Southern California Edison in Laughlin, Nev., one of the largest polluters upwind of Grand Canyon. The problem of major smelters in Mexico was also not addressed.
Recommendations of the Grand Canyon Visibility Transport Commission now go to the EPA, which has 18 months to write regulations. The recommendations are available from the Western Governors' Association. Call 800/659-5858 for a copy.
* James Bishop Jr.
James Bishop writes in Sedona, Arizona. © High Country News