PHOENIX -- The federal government is a bull that has found yet another china shop, this time in Arizona. It seems determined to inflict, for angelic motives and progressive goals, economic damage on this state. And economic and social damage on Native Americans, who over the years have experienced quite enough of that at Washington's hands.
The gain from this pain? The most frequently cited study says "research to date ... is inconclusive as to whether" there would be "any perceptible improvement in visibility at the Grand Canyon and other areas of concern." The Environmental Protection Agency says the Navajo Generating Station is "near" 11 national parks, several of which are 175 miles distant.
The NGS on Navajo land in northern Arizona burns coal from the Kayenta Mine, which is co-owned by the Navajo and Hopi nations. The EPA is pondering whether all three units of the NGS should be required to install the "best available" emission control technologies, perhaps costing more than $1.1 billion. More than 80 percent of the power plant's employees are Navajo, many of whom speak Navajo to help preserve the nation's culture. In 2007, the percentage of the Navajo Nation's population living in poverty was 36.7.
But the Navajos, the plant and the mine that powers it may be sacrificed to this dubious environmental crusade. The new technology would reduce nitrate aerosols. They, however, are responsible for just 4 percent of what is called "light extinction" over the Grand Canyon.
Water falls unbidden from the sky but must be pumped to Arizonans -- Tucson is 2,500 feet above sea level. The NGS provides 95 percent of the power for the pumps of the Central Arizona Project (CAP), which made Phoenix and most of modern Arizona possible. A study sponsored by the Interior Department estimates that the EPA's mandate might increase the cost of water by as much as 32 percent, hitting agriculture users especially hard. They might be driven back to using scarce ground water -- which was supposed to be protected by the CAP. That is why many environmentalists supported the CAP, one of the largest reclamation projects in U.S. history.
An Arizona State University study estimates that between now and 2044, the NGS and the mine will contribute $20 billion to the state's economy and provide 3,000 jobs each year. If there is an NGS. Its site lease expires in 2019. If the EPA mandates the most expensive technologies, each of the NGS owners would have to weigh whether it is sensible to make large capital investments in a plant that might not operate after that. Furthermore, one of the six owners of the NGS is the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which may be prohibited by California law -- the state may be destitute but it is determined to fix the climate -- from making investments that will extend the life of coal-fired plants.
Testifying to Congress last February, an EPA official uttered the six-word incantation that summarizes Obama administration policies and progressivism generally: "We do not have to choose." It is, the official said quoting President Obama, a "false debate" that we have to choose between the "public health benefits from reducing air pollution from power plants" and "growing this economy in a robust way."
But benefits usually have costs. And in reality -- which is the region contiguous to Washington -- two pertinent questions usually are: How much government do you want, and how much are you willing to pay for it in diminished economic growth? The Obama administration consistently favors more government and, believing that "we do not have to choose," is mystified by stubbornly sluggish growth.
In 1990, Congress passed the Clean Air Act Amendments, which high-mindedly mandated restoration of visibility in parks and wilderness areas to natural conditions. "Natural" meaning what? Before humanity? Anyway, the EPA is empowered to make this happen, so it empowers its professional writers of regulations -- sometimes 26-year-olds fresh from law school -- to maximize regulations to that end. These are regulations that others must live with while minimizing the damage the regulations cause.
The Navajo have been here before. EPA regulations caused the closure of the Mohave Generating Station near Laughlin, Nev., which was the sole buyer of coal from the Black Mesa Mine, leading it to cease operations. The mine's land is co-owned by the Navajo and Hopi nations.
This story has become as American as "The Great Gatsby," wherein Tom and Daisy Buchanan "smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness ... and let other people clean up the mess they had made."
George Will's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2012, Washington Post Writers Group