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Grand Canyon and Colorado Plateau conservation advocates : Grand Canyon Trust

Home » Plateau-Wide » Air Quality » Issues » Air Pollution

A threat to the Colorado Plateau’s spectacular views and fragile ecosystems...

Air pollution is obscuring the vistas of the Colorado Plateau, damaging ecosystems, depositing mercury on the land and water, and potentially impairing people’s health. In addition, the Plateau is particularly vulnerable to climate change caused by burning fossil fuels. Many species survive under marginal conditions across the region’s harsh deserts, canyons, and mountaintops. Consequently, radical swings in temperature and precipitation may decimate entire communities of life.

Sources of visibility-reducing haze

Seventeen coal-fired power plants, on or near the Plateau, dump 132 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere each year. They also produce more than 200,000 tons of sulfur dioxide (SO2), a major contributor to visibility-reducing haze, and 270,000 tons of nitrogen oxides (NOX), equivalent to the tailpipe emissions of more than 14 million cars in 1 year. Large urban areas — Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Salt Lake City — also contribute to the problem. The National Park Service estimates that pollution sources in California contribute about 33 percent of measured sulfur at Grand Canyon, while southern Arizona accounts for 14 percent. Wildfires and prescribed burning also provide an episodic source of haze.

Effects on Navajo and Hopi tribes

Energy development in the Colorado Plateau region has often come at the expense of indigenous people. For example, the Mohave Generating Station returned billions of dollars in subsidized electricity and shareholder profits for more than three decades. The cost of electricity from Mohave was kept artificially low by, among other things, dumping millions of tons of pollution in violation of the Clean Air Act, purchasing coal from tribes at prices well below market rates, and mining groundwater for a coal slurry line that depleted springs, streams, and wells on the Hopi and Navajo reservations. The plant closed on December 31, 2005, but the damage to springs and devastating effects to the land and people continues.

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