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The Biden administration's EPA pollution proposal affects Wyoming energy

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U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

The Biden administration recently announced its proposal for the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR), which enforces the part of the Clean Air Act that addresses air pollution created in one state that crosses state lines and affects air quality in others. The proposal affects the Wyoming energy sector as several coal-fired power plants throughout the state will have to reduce their emissions, which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found to impact other states' air quality.

The EPA finalized the previous rule in July 2011, revising and updating it in 2016 and 2021. In 2015, the agency set a new quality standard for ozone, at 70 parts per billion (ppb).

"When a new national ambient air quality standard is set, states are supposed to come up with plans and submit to those [to the] EPA explaining how they're going to attain and maintain the standards," said Zachary Fabish, senior attorney with the Sierra Club’s Environmental Law Program. "So how it is they're going to actually get air quality that is as good as or better than the air quality standard that EPA has promulgated."

Fabish also said that under the Clean Air Act, states are not only supposed to attain and maintain air quality within their borders but also not cause problems for neighboring states.

"With this new rule, we applaud [the] EPA's intent to level the playing field and make sure states are not exporting their pollution to neighboring skies. But we need to simultaneously ensure that polluters are not let off the hook for existing obligations," said Rob Joyce, Wyoming Sierra Club Organizing Representative. "PacifiCorp is one of the largest corporate polluters in the West. For eight years, the utility refused to install federally required pollution controls on the Jim Bridger coal plant, the second-largest source of haze pollution in the entire country. As [the] EPA moves to implement this new rule, the agency should not neglect to enforce substantial near-term pollution cuts available through the Regional Haze Rule," he said.

Wyoming, in addition to Delaware, Nevada and Utah, was recently added to the list of states under the CSAPR. This is due to the level of pollution coming from Wyoming power plants. Fabish said several power plants throughout the state don't have selective catalytic reduction pollution controls that the EPA suggests. These include the Dave Johnston Power Plant near Glenrock, the Laramie River Station near Wheatland, the Naughton plant near Kemmerer, and Wyodak near Gillette. Fabish said that because they lack these pollution controls, they're emitting at a rate probably about four to five times higher than those with SCR controls.

"If your state contributes a significant amount of the air quality standard, which [the] EPA has said is one percent of the standard [70 ppb], the significance threshold is .7 ppb. If your state contributes .7 ppb or more to a downwind monitor in a state that is having trouble maintaining or achieving good air quality, then you're in the system in the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule," Fabish said.

Fabish also claims that Wyoming, as well as other states, hasn’t done the greatest job of meeting air quality standards. If EPA standards aren't met, the agency then conducts an analysis of the cost needed to reduce emissions as well as looks at what pollution controls are available. The agency also looks at what historical emission amounts are for the power sector and comes up with a statewide allowance for nitrogen oxide emissions. These allowances are then given to the power plants in that state. With certain restrictions, trading allowances are allowed among the power generators, which allow less polluting facilities to sell certain allocations to their more polluting counterparts.

"When a state fails to either submit a state plan to implement an air quality standard or fails to do an adequate job of submitting a state plan, [the] EPA is on the hook to come up with a federal plan," Fabish said. "Generally, states have done a very inadequate job."

States are responsible for submitting plans to the EPA that detail how they're going to meet air quality standards. Fabish said sometimes states submit plans that claim that they aren't responsible for much air pollution, which can contrast with the EPA's findings. The agency has air quality monitors nationwide to check and create models to find out where pollution is originating, where it's going, and where it's forming ozone.

"It's kind of a programmatic attempt to address this air transport problem of air pollutants from both the power sector and from a lot of large industrial sources," Fabish said. "This pollution causes downwind ozone to form."

Fabish added that wind patterns have generally trended north and east, in addition to the topography of the land, affecting the Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast more significantly than other regions of the country oftentimes from pollution that comes from states in the Midwest. But air pollution is a problem that communities across the country are faced with.

Wyoming's most recent proposal to curb air pollution under the Regional Haze Rule was recently rejected by the EPA as inadequate and asks that the state complies with existing haze rules. This affects the Jim Bridger Power Plant, which is Wyoming's largest cause of haze pollution and the third-largest source of haze in national parks.

"The state is included in the proposed Federal Plan because we have identified emissions from Wyoming that must be eliminated under the Good Neighbor provision of the Clean Air Act," reads a statement from the EPA emailed to Wyoming Public Media. "[The] EPA is committed to working with Wyoming to resolve interstate transport obligations in a manner that complies with the Clean Air Act, safeguards public health and air quality and protects Wyoming's workers and communities."

According to EPA projections and statistics also emailed to Wyoming Public Media, the EPA's modeling projects that in 2023 and 2026 Wyoming would contribute at least 0.7 ppb (or 1% of the 2015 ozone National Quality Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) to downwind monitors in Douglas County, Colorado. This includes part of the Denver Metro area for the 2015 ozone NAAQS.

Additionally, the EPA stated that Wyoming is also one of five states that don't have any programs that address smog-forming emissions that cross state lines and impair quality downwind. The other states are Delaware, Minnesota, Nevada, and Utah.

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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