U.S. Rep. Ron Barber today urged the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider proposed emissions requirements and timelines that would eliminate jobs in Southern Arizona and lead to higher rates for customers in rural Cochise County.

In his letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Barber said he supports efforts to reduce emissions from a Benson power plant, but contends that an EPA proposal “significantly threatens the future energy production, employees and ratepayers.”

“These negative impacts are not in the best interests of my constituents,” Barber wrote. “I am requesting that EPA reconsider this plan and the short timeline imposed on this facility to install new technology and emission controls. I believe that every effort should be made to allow the facility to act to improve visibility over a period of time that will ensure that it can remain viable well into the future.”

The EPA has proposed an emission limit that will require the installation of additional, more expensive technology at the Apache Generating Station in Benson. The EPA says the goal is to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions that cause haze which the agency says is affecting national parks and wilderness areas in the Southwest.

Barber stressed that he supports that goal, but questioned the cost of the technology. The Arizona Power Electric Cooperative, owner of the plant, said the technology would cost more than $160 million, forcing it to increase rates – possibly by 20 percent – and lay off employees.

The Apache plant supports 260 jobs and serves 150,000 customers in rural southeastern Arizona.

In his letter to the EPA, Barber noted that one-third of the rural users served by the Apache plant are at or below the federal poverty level. Because of that, the plant is funded by a federal program to provide vital utility services to rural Americans in underserved areas.

Instead of the technological improvements mandated by the EPA, Barber noted that Arizona Electric Power has proposed installing a different type of pollution-control equipment that would cost $21 million and “result in a significant reduction in emissions.”

That “takes into account the unique challenges of this small, rural utility and reflects the true costs of necessary replacement power and power transmission,” Barber wrote.

Barber asked the EPA to reconsider its mandated technology and the installation timelines. He also is seeking a meeting with EPA officials “to discuss these concerns and how we can best work together to protect the Apache Generating Station and its customers.”

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