Federal Court Ruling Again Lets Utah’s Worst Polluters off the Hook From Cleaning Up Emissions

Decision will harm human health and ruin views in national parks


Amy Dominguez, Sierra Club, (801) 928-9157 amy.dominguez@sierraclub.org

Perry Wheeler, Earthjustice, (202) 792-6211 pwheeler@earthjustice.org

Lam Ho, National Parks Conservation Association, (404) 694-2357, lho@npca.org

Meisei Gonzalez, HEAL Utah, (801) 355-5055, meisei@healutah.org

Today the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals denied a petition for review that would bring some of Utah’s worst polluting coal plants into compliance with the Clean Air Act’s visibility-protection provisions, instead enabling the Hunter and Huntington plants to continue polluting at the same damaging levels they have for more than a decade. The decision allows polluters to continue threatening air quality for Utah’s communities and muddies views at treasured national parks. The state’s stunning national parks — the Mighty 5 — stretch across southern and central Utah and contain some of the most iconic geological formations in the nation, including world-famous Zion and Arches National Parks. The conservation organizations are represented by Earthjustice and attorney John Barth.

The disappointing ruling comes after several years of long-standing, robust engagement and advocacy from community members who have submitted over 100,000 public comments, signed petitions, and made appeals to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to request stronger pollution controls at the Hunter and Huntington plants.

In 2020, EPA approved a haze plan that does not require new emissions reductions from the plants. The plan eliminated protective standards that EPA had previously required in a 2016 Federal Implementation Plan (FIP). These 2016 standards required modern pollution reduction technology that would scrub more than 75% of toxic pollutants from the Hunter and Huntington plants. Those pollution control measures, called selective catalytic reduction or ‘SCR,’ would protect air quality and visibility at all of Utah’s beloved national parks, as well as numerous other national parks and wilderness areas beyond Utah’s borders. The 2020 plan that was approved had previously been proposed and rejected by the EPA in 2016.

While the court did not require immediate installation of modern pollution controls, EPA will once again consider such a requirement for the Hunter and Huntington plants as it reviews a legally-required update for Round 2 to Utah’s plan to address the next ten years of visibility impairing pollution in the state.

“This decision lets polluters off the hook at a time when greater emissions reductions from coal plants are desperately needed,” said Jenny Harbine, managing attorney for Earthjustice’s Northern Rockies Office. “As the EPA looks to the future, it should require the Hunter and Huntington plants to implement modern pollution controls that improve visibility in Utah’s beloved parks and air quality for the state’s most impacted communities.”

“The Tenth Circuit Court’s ruling is a blow to the community members and advocates who have tirelessly called for the EPA to hold the Hunter and Huntington coal plants accountable to clean up their act, and require pollution controls that would bring them into compliance with the national standard,” said Lindsay Beebe, senior campaign representative for Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “This decision will embolden utilities to continue to write their own rules with complete disregard for what the public calls for, and little concern for clean air standards.”

“The medical research on air pollution is well established — there is no safe level of air pollution exposure. Even levels far below the EPA’s national standards precipitate a long list of human diseases. The Tenth Circuit Court’s ruling is disappointing and the pollution from Hunter and Huntington will continue to represent a health hazard to people throughout Southern Utah and beyond,” said Jonny Vasic, executive director for Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.

“This risky decision exposes residents to ongoing health impacts and impairs park views throughout Utah’s unforgettable national parks, which these plants have done for far too long without consequence,” said Cory MacNulty, campaign director of the National Parks Conservation Association’s Southwest Region. “Residents and visitors alike deserve to appreciate the majestic views in Zion and world-famous rock formations in Bryce Canyon without air pollution affecting their health and once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Though this federal ruling is a baffling move which puts profit over people, we will continue our fight against needless haze pollution affecting communities, as well as the parks they love and cherish.”

“It’s disappointing to see authorities continue to neglect the critical issue of Regional Haze,” said Alex Veilleux, policy associate with the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah. “Their inaction not only harms local economies but also gives a free pass to preventable air pollution and the impacts it has on our lives in this state. HEAL Utah remains committed to collaborating with partners and communities to prioritize the health and wellness of Utah residents, despite this setback.”

Bryce Canyon National Park.
Bryce Canyon National Park. (Shutterstock)

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