Conservation Groups Challenge EPA’s Reversal on Utah Regional Haze Plan

Lawsuit seeks to reinstate heightened requirements for pollution controls on twin coal-fired plants. Groups will also ask Biden administration to reconsider


Jenny Harbine, Earthjustice, (406) 223-7781

Liam Kelly, National Parks Conservation Association, (213) 814-8666

Jonny Vasic, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, (385) 707-3677

Today, a coalition of conservation groups filed a petition for review in the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s rollback of pollution-control requirements under Utah’s regional haze plan. Also this week, the groups plan to submit a petition to reconsider this change to the incoming Biden administration.

In 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found Utah’s haze reduction plan was inadequate because it did not require the level of emissions reductions achievable through the best available retrofit technology (BART) for PacificCorp’s Hunter and Huntington power plants in Emery County. These neighboring plants in central Utah are two of the largest sources of pollution in the country and are responsible for haze pollution in all of Utah’s iconic national parks, including Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Zion, and Capitol Reef, as well as numerous national parks and wilderness areas beyond Utah’s borders.

In addition to haze-causing nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide pollution, the Hunter and Huntington plants are significant sources of climate pollution, together emitting nearly 15 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2019 — equivalent to the average annual emissions of approximately 3 million passenger vehicles. With its 2016 decision, the EPA required modern pollution control upgrades for the two plants that would have reduced nearly 10,000 tons of nitrogen oxide pollution. 

Last October, the EPA reversed itself and accepted a revised plan that gave Utah credit for the earlier retirement of a different, 60-year old coal plant and other prior emission reductions improvements, negating — on paper — the need for upgrades at Hunter and Huntington.

“EPA’s about-face approval of Utah’s ‘alternative’ to BART controls does nothing to reduce harmful pollution from the Hunter and Huntington plants,” said Earthjustice attorney Jenny Harbine. “We’re asking EPA to restore requirements for PacifiCorp to do its part to reduce Utah’s air pollution problems, and we are prepared to argue our case in court if EPA does not properly address these two massively polluting coal plants.”

The petition to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals notes that EPA’s decision will allow these plants to continue pollution at current levels indefinitely — despite congressional mandates to reduce pollution “as expeditiously as practicable” at such outdated plants.

Earthjustice and attorney John Barth represent National Parks Conservation Association, Sierra Club, HEAL Utah, and Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.

“EPA regulators have a clear choice: They can regulate for the benefit of the people who live in Utah, who breathe here, who pay taxes here, who raise their families here, and plan for a future for their grandchildren here, or they can allow Rocky Mountain Power to benefit at the cost to the rest of us,” said Dr. Brian Moench, President & Founder Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. “We ask the EPA — which will it be?”

“These rollbacks mean preventable air pollution will now continue to plague our state and make its way into national parks, affecting visitors and obscuring the views of Utah’s famous landscapes.” said Cory MacNulty, southwest associate director for the National Parks Conservation Association. “The Trump administration has given Utah’s biggest polluters the green light to continue to contaminate the air we breathe. We urge the Biden administration to act swiftly and reconsider this irrational plan.”

“Rolling back pollution-protection measures ignores science and props up industry while sacrificing public health and the airsheds of our national parks,” said Carly Ferro, Director at the Sierra Club’s Utah Chapter. “To protect public health and the environment, the EPA must safeguard our air quality, which impacts communities’ quality of life. For too long, PacifiCorp’s Hunter and Huntington coal plants have been allowed to operate and harm our state and planet; it is time they do their part to act on climate because we all call Earth our home.”

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