Federal Court Ruling Favors Wyoming Coal Plants, Threatening Communities and Parks

Ruling a setback for human health and national park scenic views, including Yellowstone, Grand Teton and Badlands 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

This week the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with polluters in a case that would have reduced air pollution in Wyoming’s national parks and public lands across the region. National Parks Conservation Association, Sierra Club, and the Powder River Basin Resource Council have argued in court since 2014 to bring some of the state’s most noxious coal plants — Wyodak and Naughton 1 and 2 — into compliance with the visibility-protection provisions of the Clean Air Act. Because of this ruling, Wyoming’s natural landscapes and protected areas, including Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, will continue to face excessive air pollution from the Wyodak and Naughton coal plants.

The disappointing ruling follows several years of robust engagement and advocacy from local leaders, park advocates, and communities who expressed concerns about coal pollution throughout Wyoming through public comments, signed petitions, and appeals to the Environmental Protection Agency to request stronger pollution controls. Since 2011, the public has awaited pollution reductions from Wyoming’s coal plants to improve air quality and meet legal requirements.

The court’s ruling does not negate the need for swift action by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to require Wyodak and Naughton, along with other coal plants, to improve air quality with readily available pollution controls. The federal agency has the authority to require Naughton to install these new controls or secure near-term, enforceable retirement.

The court recognized that the primary Class I areas harmed by Wyodak are Badlands and Wind Cave National Parks, while the primary areas affected by Naughton are Bridger, Fitzpatrick, North Absaroka, Washakie and Teton Wilderness Areas, and Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks — yet moved forward with a decision which puts these irreplaceable and treasured places under continued threat of hazy skies and compromised air quality.

The conservation organizations are represented by Earthjustice and attorney John Barth.

“The court’s decision to allow Wyoming’s coal plants to continue polluting our national parks is deeply disappointing. Haze from these plants harms people and public lands from Grand Teton National Park and the Bridger Wilderness in Wyoming to Wind Cave and Badlands National Parks in South Dakota,” said Ulla Reeves, clean air campaigns director for the National Parks Conservation Association. “These facilities have exposed residents to dangerous emissions and muddied park skies for far too long without consequence and must be cleaned up. Now it’s up to the EPA to hold the state accountable for reining in the pollution that drives hazy skies and unhealthy air across the region.”

“This disappointing decision is yet another example of the ways in which corporate polluters evade accountability and are instead enabled to avoid cleaning up their act,” said Rob Joyce, Sierra Club energy organizer. “Since the state has abdicated its duty by allowing utilities to continue recklessly polluting from fossil fuel plants, it’s now up to the EPA to restore clear skies and protect the health of our communities.”

“Excessive pollution from Wyoming coal plants is both harmful to the air we breathe and unnecessary in light of modern technology currently in use at other plants across the country,” said Jenny Harbine, managing attorney for Earthjustice’s Northern Rockies Office. “The court’s decision is a temporary setback in our fight to clean up the skies, but now EPA must act urgently to ensure PacifiCorp takes the necessary steps to reduce harmful emissions from the Wyodak and Naughton plants.”

The Grand Teton mountain range in dramatic light.
The Grand Teton mountain range. (Ed Freeman / Getty Images)

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