After operating for many years without sufficient smokestack pollution controls for soot- and smog-producing nitrogen oxides, the Jim Bridger, Laramie River, and Wyodak coal-fired power plants will be required to update with modern pollution-cutting technology under a decision finalized by the Environmental Protection Agency.
“It’s a very different era today than when these coal plants were built in the ‘60s and ‘70s when it comes to knowledge and concern about the pollution dangers,” said Kevin Link with Sheridan-based Powder River Basin Research Council. “With coal pollution costs now starting to be part of the balance sheet, and more pollution-cutting needs still to come including carbon, it’s key now that plant owners like PacifiCorp thoroughly assess all the options for producing energy more cleanly in the best interests of Wyoming residents and ratepayers.”
Conservation organizations support EPA’s action to curtail more than 20,000 tons a year of nitrogen oxide pollution from the Bridger, Laramie River, and Wyodak coal plants through requirements for Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) controls, which curb nitrogen oxide emissions by up to 90 percent. However, the groups sharply criticized the agency for letting pollution from some of those units continue unabated for too many more years, as well as for green-lighting continued pollution at the Naughton and Dave Johnston coal plants and from oil and gas development.
"The Environmental Protection Agency today missed a golden opportunity to clean up Wyoming's air and protect the health of its citizens by requiring stringent clean up of the state's aging coal plants," said Gloria D. Smith, managing attorney with the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign. "The rules announced today are a significant step backward from protections the EPA itself proposed just last year."
Bruce Pendery of the Wyoming Outdoor Council noted that there are effective solutions to the growing air pollution problem from oil and gas development. ”These technologies could easily be required in Wyoming, especially for drilling that occurs near our communities and right next to treasured wilderness areas,” he said.
“EPA’s legal obligation is to require all of Wyoming’s coal plants, as well as the oil and gas industry, to do their part to reduce harmful pollution,” said Earthjustice attorney Jenny Harbine. “EPA’s decision instead allows many Wyoming sources to continue polluting at current, high levels.”
Low levels of exposure to nitrogen oxides from coal plant smokestacks can irritate the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs, and cause shortness of breath; high levels of exposure can cause serious respiratory system damage. Nitrogen oxide is chemically converted in the atmosphere to form ozone and fine particulate pollution, one of the deadliest air pollutants because it can penetrate deep into the lungs. Particulate matter exposure can cause heart attacks, strokes, asthma attacks, and lung cancer.