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Northern Arizona power plant among nation’s biggest greenhouse-gas producers

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WASHINGTON – Arizona was the 18th-biggest producer of greenhouse gases among states, and one of its power plants was 13th for greenhouse-gas emissions of more than 6,700 facilities in the country, according to a new government database.

The 2010 greenhouse gas database, launched Wednesday by the Environmental Protection Agency, showed the Navajo Generating Station in northern Arizona put out almost 16.3 million metric tons of greenhouse gases in 2010, equivalent to the carbon dioxide output of 3.2 million vehicles.

“The Navajo Generating Station is … one of the most polluting and dirtiest coal-powered power plants in the entire country, which also causes a regional haze around the Grand Canyon as well as global warming,” said Bret Fanshaw of the advocacy organization Environment Arizona.

The power plant, in Page, produced 6 million metric tons more greenhouse gas than the state’s second-highest producer, the Springerville Generating Station. The state as a whole produced about 61 million metric tons of greenhouses gases in 2010 from fixed facilities, according to the EPA.

Arizona ranked 12th in the nation for the greenhouse gases from facilities in the minerals sector and 14th for power plants. Power generation dwarfed other sources, accounting for 91 percent of greenhouse gases in the state and more than 72 percent nationwide.

But operators defended the Navajo Generating Station, saying it produces an amount of emissions equivalent to the power it produces for use in Arizona, California and Nevada.

“We’re not surprised NGS is one of the largest contributors of carbon dioxide,” said Scott Harelson, a Salt River Project spokesman. “NGS provides electricity to millions of people in the Southwest.”

He said the plant employs more than 500 people, 80 percent of whom come from the Navajo nation.

Arizona Investment Council President Gary Yaquinto, whose organization advocates on behalf of utility investors, said one of the Navajo Generating Station’s largest customers is the Central Arizona Project, which uses the power to pump water to people in Phoenix, Tucson and other Arizona communities.

“Navajo is still an important piece of our power resources to this state,” he said.

But David Doniger, climate policy director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said that while emissions are not hazardous to people living near a plant, they do contribute to climate change.

“You can’t really say people right next to the Navajo station are in greater danger than people on the other side of the state,” he said. “What happens is it’s contributing to the higher temperatures, to raising the temperature.”

The EPA database includes only facilities emitting more than 25,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases a year, which are required to report the information under the 2008 Consolidated Appropriations Act. This week, for the first time, the agency released the data in a website that makes it easy for people to find and visualize how much greenhouse gas local facilities are putting out.

“This right-to-know information is a very powerful tool for people,” Doniger said. “Anybody – high school students, teachers, a mom around a kitchen table, local reporters – it’s a very powerful tool for them to find out who are the biggest carbon dioxide polluters in their backyard.”

The tool lets users present the information using maps, spreadsheets and charts at the national, state and county levels.

“Our hope is that people outside EPA, outside the federal government will use this data as a powerful resource for better decision making,” said Gina McCarthy, assistant administrative officer for the EPA Office of Air and Radiation.

“What we can bank on is that better information will always lead to a better-informed public, which will lead to better environmental protection,” she said at a Wednesday news conference to unveil the tool.

The EPA plans to continue refining the database and will release 2011 results next January with information from 12 more source categories. McCarthy said the “publicly available data enriches and empowers all of us.”