Southern California Edison coal power is in legal trouble as pressure mounts for the utility to abandon its share of a 2,040 MW generating plant in New Mexico. Two litigious fronts on the coal plant are pressing in on the utility both before the California Public Utilities Commission and U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. In California, the CPUC is backpedaling on a proposed decision in late summer to allow the utility to spend $179 million on maintenance and upgrades at the coal-fired Four Corners Power Plant in northwest New Mexico. A substantial portion of the money would be spent on pollution controls. In an October 23 ruling, commission administrative law judge Amy Yip-Kikugawa called the proposed decision into doubt by entering into the record a copy of the utility\u2019s partnership agreements on the plant. Those partnership documents show what Yip-Kikugawa characterized as \u201cseveral discrepancies\u201d regarding Edison\u2019s claim that it is legally obligated to spend the money on the plant. Instead, she wrote, they show the utility potentially could withhold the investment. Consequently, the administrative law judge is seeking comment on whether the commission should change its proposed decision to allow the investment. Her latest ruling came amid pressure from independent generators to deny the utility\u2019s investment request. The issue turns on how to apply a 2006 state law, SB 1368. The measure seeks to prevent California utilities from maintaining any long-term interest in out-of-state coal power plants unless their greenhouse gas emissions are effectively captured and sequestered. The law does this in two ways. First, it prevents utilities from renewing their ownership and or power purchase agreements in such plants once they expire unless carbon emissions are drastically cut. Second, it prevents utilities from making any long-term financial commitment in such plants unless carbon emissions are controlled. Following enactment of the law, the CPUC ruled it would not allow any investments that would extend the life of coal plants longer than five years. Meanwhile, a Navajo Indian organization and environmental groups are awaiting a decision from the federal appeals court in Denver in their suit seeking tighter air pollution controls in northwest New Mexico. It could require the federal Environmental Protection Agency to crack down on pollution from the plant, a major contributor to violations of the federal health standard for ozone on the Navajo Reservation and New Mexico city of Farmington, said Matt Kenna, Western Environmental Law Center attorney. If the court rules in favor of the groups, EPA would have to force cleanup of the Four Corners plant because, at 42,000 tons a year, it emits more nitrogen oxides into the air than any single power plant in the nation. The nitrogen oxides contribute both to ground level ozone and fine particulate in the air, both of which cause respiratory illness. People on the reservation have an unusually high asthma rate, said Kenna, and limited access to health care due both to the distances they must travel to reach clinics and their limited income. Edison has a 48 percent interest in two of the plant\u2019s five units, entitling it to 720 MW of baseload generating capacity. Other utilities hold the remaining interest in the plant, which is operated by Arizona Public Service. In its request to the CPUC to fund improvements at the plant, Edison said the $179 million is needed over the next several years to maintain the reliability of the two units it co-owns and meet environmental responsibility. Edison said it is planning a major overhaul of one unit. It must be done every six years and is due in 2010, with a minor overhaul, performed every three years, of the other unit in 2011. Edison said the plant also requires several upgrades to meet pollution control requirements for particulate and sulfur dioxide emissions, as well as to monitor mercury emissions. In its request for the money, Edison further told the CPUC \u201cit appears highly probable that some level of nitrogen oxide reductions will be required before 2011.\u201d The utility\u2019s interest in the two units runs through 2016. Kenna said that if the federal EPA cracks down on the plant it could become uneconomical to keep it running. Until then, however, he said California should allow investment in pollution controls. \u201cIf the plant\u2019s going to run, it ought to be run as cleanly as possible,\u201d said Rob Smith, Sierra Club Southwest staff director. Ultimately, though, he said Sierra Club favors replacing coal power with renewable energy and energy efficiency measures. The two environmental representatives pointed out that the situation with the Four Corners plant is reminiscent of the Mohave coal-fired plant, which shut down in 2006 in the face of massive pollution control requirements that could not be economically justified. Edison did not respond to a request to comment on the matter. The CPUC is seeking comments until November 24 on whether it should reverse its proposed decision to allow Edison to spend the money.