LAS VEGAS (AP) – California utility regulators are considering the fate of a southern Nevada power plant that Indian tribes in Arizona say provides jobs but drains their water, and environmental groups say contributes to haze over the Grand Canyon.
Hearings began Monday at the California Public Utilities Commission in San Francisco, with the Hopi Tribe, the Navajo Nation and Peabody Western Coal Co.
seeking conditional permission for continued operation of the Mohave Generating Station.
Peabody operates a strip coal mine on land jointly controlled by the two Indian groups.
About 300 workers are employed at the mine, and 350 people work at the Mohave plant in Laughlin, a Colorado River town 100 miles south of Las Vegas.
Jobs would be lost if the power plant is shut down, said James Ham, an attorney for the Hopi Tribe.
The Hopi Indians also get 30 percent of their operating revenue from coal royalties.
Southern California Edison is the majority owner and operator of the 1,580-megawatt coal-fired power plant.
It generates enough energy for 1.5 million homes in Southern California, Nevada and Arizona.
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Las Vegas-based Nevada Power Co.
and the Phoenix-based Salt River Project also are shareholders.
The plant is fueled by coal from the Hopi and Navajo reservations in the northeast corner of Arizona, mixed with water and transported by a 273-mile pipeline to the plant.
The tribes say they don't want their underground drinking water reserves depleted for the slurry line.
They want the plant to use water from another underground source.
Edison witnesses said in written testimony to the commission that an alternate source for slurry water was being studied, but was uncertain.
The company also cited challenges to the validity of the coal leases and the $1.08 billion estimated cost of pollution reduction equipment and other improvements at the plant.
Ham rejected those arguments, saying Edison was "hiding behind details."
The plant will provide huge savings, he said, given any reasonable price for water and coal.
The plant owners have agreed to a federal court decree requiring the plant to shut down by the end of 2005 if pollution-control equipment isn't installed.
The Sierra Club and Grand Canyon Trust environmental groups accuse the plant of contributing to haze over the Grand Canyon, about 75 miles to the northeast.
Ham said the plaintiffs who obtained the court order could negotiate a delay in installation of the pollution controls if California regulators grant a conditional permit for the plant.
"We believe that the environmental plaintiffs will not inflict massive economic harm on the tribes," he said.
"There are a lot of technical and legal issues that need to be negotiated, and the parties are negotiating."