PAGE — The Salt River Project, operating agent of embattled Navajo Generating Station, is “encouraged” by the release of a joint statement from three federal entities on the future of NGS.

The U.S. Department of Interior, Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy announced Friday they had agreed to work together on shared goals for NGS, the coal-fired power plant just east of Page.

The federal agencies said they would work together to find “clean, affordable and reliable power, affordable and sustainable water supplies and sustainable economic development, while maintaining negative impacts on those who currently obtain significant benefits from NGS, including tribal nations.”

EPA has been expected to announce recommendations for Best Available Retrofit Technology that could cost plant owners $1.1 billion in emissions improvements. NGS, a 2,250-megawatt giant, has been blamed for 4 to 5 percent of haze over the Grand Canyon.

“SRP appreciates that the three agencies recognize the importance of NGS and is encouraged that they appear to be working together to ensure that critical decisions such as the upcoming EPA Best Available Retrofit Technology proposal do not adversely impact the many stakeholders that rely on NGS,” said Scott Harelson, a spokesman for the Valley-based utilities network.

SRP, the plant’s second-largest owner at 21.7 percent, and other owners have suggested they could close the plant if new emission controls prove too expensive. A 50-year lease with the Navajo Nation expires in 2019. The plant also provides more than 90 percent of the energy to pump Central Arizona Project water from the Colorado River southward.

“It’s at least promising,” Page Mayor Bill Diak said of the federal agencies’ announcement. But Diak, who said last year he was seeking a light at the end of the tunnel for NGS, found the release to be vague.

“I’m trying to make sense of it,” Diak said Sunday. “It says something about working together, but it doesn’t say ‘Working together doing what?’”

The plant directly employs about 540 people, more than 85 percent of them Navajo. The Kayenta Mine that supplies NGS employs more than 400 people.

Other plant owners are the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (24.3 percent), Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (21.2), Arizona Public Service Co. (14), Nevada Energy (11.3) and Tucson Electric Power (7.5).

The Sierra Club claims NGS is “Arizona’s largest single source of climate-changing pollution.” The environmental group wants the plant to transition from coal. NGS and its owners have spent $465 million to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide in the past 15 years.

A proposed ruling by EPA has been expected since summer 2011. In November, the agency did announce recommendations for three other Arizona coal-fired plants to spend $500 million on emissions controls to reduce haze over the Grand Canyon and other Class 1 federal sites.

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