EPA orders Utah to cut haze across national parks
May 03, 2012
SALT LAKE CITY — A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency order will require two of Utah's oldest coal-fired power plants to improve control of pollution that has drastically reduced visibility across a region that includes five national parks and redrock wilderness.
Pollution controls at a pair of PacifiCorp power plants in Emery County "do not comply with our regulations," EPA Regional Administrator James Martin wrote earlier this week in the 79-page order. He signed out the 34- and 42-year-old plants for improvement, rejecting Utah's less stringent pollution controls but upholding broader efforts by the state to reduce haze across southern Utah.
PacifiCorp said it was already upgrading pollution controls at the Hunter and Huntington power plants and planned more improvements by 2014 that would bring them into compliance with the new requirements.
"Our view is that with these new controls in place, the emissions for these plants will be lower than the regional haze rule's presumptive limits," PacificCorp, spokesman David Eskelsen said Wednesday. "These are primarily bag houses, a fabric-filter process — it's a large installation — and sulfur dioxide scrubbers."
The EPA waited to approve or reject Utah's 2008 haze-reduction plan until Monday, a deadline set by a court order in a lawsuit brought by the environmental group WildEarth Guardians.
The federal order forces Utah to determine the "best available technology" for reducing smog-forming nitrogen oxides at PacifiCorp's plants, said Bryce Bird, director of the state Division of Air Quality.
Utah has until early summer to complete the analysis, EPA spokesman Richard Mylott said Wednesday.
The state has little choice but to go along with the EPA or suffer Clean Air Act sanctions, which could range from the loss of federal highway funds to tighter emissions regulations imposed by the federal government. State officials planned to comply.
The action brought applause from environmental and watchdog groups in Utah.
"PacifiCorp's old coal plants spew out tens of thousands of tons of harmful chemicals," said Christopher Thomas, executive director of Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah. "They need far better controls."
Visitors to Utah's five national parks "notice when the air isn't clear, and they're less likely to return to our parks," said Audrey Graham, a member of the Grand County Council in Moab. "So in a very real sense, air pollution can hurt us economically."
The EPA says haze has cut views across wild areas of southern Utah to about 60 miles, or about half of preindustrial levels. Power plants are considered major culprits for haze but "on the worst days, wildfires and dust storms" cause most of the problems, Bird said.
Bird said that the EPA approved other parts of Utah's haze-reduction plan Monday, including efforts to reduce wildfires that "will be harder to address."
Utah is supposed to work on reducing fuels for wildfires — dead and dry tinder.
In a separate action also announced Monday, the EPA approved Utah's 2008 plan to reduce ozone, the main ingredient in smog, Bird said.
Ground-level ozone forms from a reaction of sunlight with air containing hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides. When inhaled, the colorless gas can cause respiratory problems, congestion and for some people worsen pre-existing health problems.
Utah still owes EPA a set of comprehensive plans by Dec. 15 for reducing overall air pollution along the heavily populated Wasatch Front, from Brigham City to Provo.
Those counties — Cache, Davis, Salt Lake, Utah and Weber — don't consistently meet EPA air quality standards, especially during winter inversions, when cold air traps pollutants close to the ground for days or weeks at a time and often ranks as the nation's dirtiest air.
Utah is expected to respond with a plan to crack down on industrial emissions and require Cache County to mandate annual emissions tests for cars. Other populated counties already require the tests, which have proven good at flagging vehicles that burn fuel inefficiently.
© HEAL Utah | 824 South 400 West, Suite B-111 | Salt Lake City, UT 84101 | (801) 355-5055 | email@example.com