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A coalition of conservation and environmental groups may sue the EPA over regional haze rules

jim bridger power plant
WidEarth Guardians
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The Jim Bridger Power Plant has come under fire from conservation and environmental groups for the haze pollution it creates. The State of Wyoming and the plant's majority owner, PacifiCorp, recently came to an agreement that keeps unit two operational beyond a previous Apr. 30 closure date.

A coalition of conservation and environmental groups notified the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) earlier this month that they intend to file a lawsuit against the agency in what they claim is an effort to enforce the latest round of regional haze rules.

This comes after PacifiCorp, the owner of Rocky Mountain Power and the majority owner of the Jim Bridger Power Plant, was supposed to install selective catalytic reduction pollution controls by the end of 2021. A 2014 agreement between PacifiCorp and the EPA stated that PacifiCorp had to reduce the amount of pollution coming from the Jim Bridger facility and comply with a regional haze plan. According to a PacifiCorp filing, one reason PacifiCorp didn’t install pollution-reducing controls is that the costs of installing them was too much in regard to the expected lifespan of the Jim Bridger facility.

In late Dec., Gov. Mark Gordon signed a Temporary Emergency Suspension Order that allowed unit two of the Jim Bridger Power Plant to continue operations until the end of April to avoid a shutdown on Jan. 1. Last week, Gordon announced that an agreement had been reached between the State of Wyoming and PacifiCorp to allow unit two to continue operating past the previous Apr. 30 deadline.

“We appreciate the Wyoming Governor’s Office for its efforts in working with the EPA to find a solution that ensures PacifiCorp’s compliance with requirements in the Clean Air Act, while allowing the Jim Bridger units to operate under reduced emissions until they are converted to natural gas,” read a statement emailed to Wyoming Public Media from Rocky Mountain Power.

In response to this, a coalition of conservation and environmental groups have stated their intention to take legal action against the EPA, giving the agency a 60-day notice to either enforce the current haze rules or be sued in federal court.

“The EPA has to start enforcing clean air rules because Wyoming and PacifiCorp clearly don’t prioritize clean air on their own,” said Rob Joyce, Energy Organizer for Wyoming’s Sierra Club Chapter. “Wyoming and PacifiCorp know they’re violating clean air rules, especially at the Jim Bridger Power Plant, and that pollution is continuing to damage our national parks, our health and safety, and our climate.”

According to the National Park Conservation Association, the Jim Bridger Power Plant is Wyoming’s largest source of haze pollution as well as the third-largest source of haze in national parks.

PacifiCorp plans on converting units one and two to natural gas by 2024, and the conversion process could take approximately two years to complete. The company has also filed requests to install carbon capture technology on the remaining two units.

Even with these conversion plans, PacifiCorp, which wants to continue to burn coal for units one and two until the conversion is complete, will have to comply with the EPA’s requirements to install pollution control units unless the agency modifies the requirements. In Jan., the EPA reversed course from a decision it made in 2020 to reject Wyoming’s revised implementation plans, saying they would weaken existing requirements.

“[The] EPA looks forward to reviewing the materials submitted by Wyoming DEQ as part of its comment on [the] EPA’s proposed disapproval of Wyoming’s pending State Implementation Plan revision,” read a statement from the EPA emailed to Wyoming Public Media. “We are encouraged by this development and Wyoming’s and PacifiCorp’s agreement to include these commitments in a revised SIP [state implementation plan]. Administrator [Michael] Regan appreciates the State’s efforts and the constructive dialogue with Governor Gordon.”

However, the EPA didn’t elaborate on the potential lawsuit.

“Because this is potential litigation, [the] EPA has no further comment,” said an EPA spokesperson in a statement emailed to Wyoming Public Media.

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.
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