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Wyoming ‘wins’ in court against the EPA regarding haze from coal plants

National Park Service

Wyoming’s plan for managing pollution from some of its coal plants is okay for now, due to a recent court ruling. While the state sees this as a win, environmental groups are concerned.

Back in 2011, Wyoming created a plan to limit emissions from units at two coal plants run by the utility PacifiCorp – Wyodak near Gillette and Naughton near Kemmerer. The plan was a direct result of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Air Act that requires states to reduce haze in national parks – like Yellowstone and Grand Teton.

In 2014, the EPA did not approve all of Wyoming’s plan, saying the state could further limit emissions, particularly at the Wyodak plant. But, Wyoming pushed back in the courts, saying the EPA’s plan is costly and not that effective.

Just last week, a panel of three judges for the 10th Circuit Federal Court upheld Wyoming’s original plan, saying the EPA didn’t have the right to intervene. In the ruling, the judges wrote that the EPA’s haze plan, “guidelines are helpful while not binding…The EPA’s final rule confirms that the agency treated the guidelines as binding for Wyodak and disregarded the state’s broad discretion under the Clean Air Act.” This means, the EPA will have to reconsider its ruling on Wyoming’s haze plan.

Travis Deti, executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association, said the ruling was a longtime coming.

“We've been running these plants in Wyoming for decades, and the air quality in Jackson, the air quality around Devil's Tower, the air quality in Grand Teton, it's fine,” he said.

But, environmental groups say the air quality and visibility isn’t fine.

Jenny Harbine, an Earth Justice lawyer who helped argue the case against Wyoming’s haze plan, said the state isn’t doing enough to reduce emissions from the plants. Harbine added that doing so is important.

“Cleaning up this pollution not only clears the skies and exposes the views that we all love in this region, but also makes the area healthier for Wyoming communities,” she said.

Harbine said it is up to the EPA to reevaluate Wyoming’s plan and to once again place rules on the state.

“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,” she said.

If the EPA doesn’t act, there’s a chance environmental groups like Harbine’s will turn to the courts.

Wyoming’s Governor Mark Gordon issued a press release saying this ruling is a win for state’s rights.

Notably, the Naughton coal plant will stop burning coal by 2026 and the Wyodak plant is set to retire by 2039, per PacifiCorp’s Integrated Resource Plan filed earlier this year.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.
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