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More lawsuits trickle in, including Wyoming’s third, aimed at the EPA’s new coal plant rules

 A coal plant belches out steam on a snowy day.
Caitlin Tan
Wyoming Public Media
The Naughton coal plant outside of Kemmerer.

The Environmental Protection Agency continues to be sued over its new set of rules for power plants, and it’s coming from all sides.

Wyoming announced May 30 that it’s joining 21 other states challenging the EPA. This is Wyoming’s third lawsuit in recent weeks over the new rules that target pollutants from power plants, many of which are the backbone for the coal industry.

The latest lawsuit focuses on reducing wastewater pollutants. In technical terms, this part of the EPA’s rule is called “Effluent Limitations Guidelines and Standards for the Steam Electric Power Generating Category.” In layman's terms, it means that coal-fired power plants will have stricter guidelines for how much toxic metals and pollutants can be dumped into water bodies. If followed as written, the EPA estimates up to 672 million pounds less toxins will be discharged. As for health risks, the federal agency claims some of these toxins can cause things like cancer in humans, and deformities and reproductive issues in fish and wildlife.

But Wyoming, and the other states involved, argue the stricter regulations are beyond what the federal government can require.

“Petitioners will show that the final rule exceeds the agency’s statutory

authority and otherwise is arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and

not in accordance with law,” according to the Petition for Review paperwork.

Gov. Mark Gordon said in a press release that implementing the technology is not only “costly and infeasible,” but is an effort to shut down the coal industry masked as “protecting human health and the environment.”

Funding Wyoming’s endeavor is the coal-fired facility closures litigation account, which was created in 2021 by House Bill 207. Monies can be used toward any lawsuit aimed at protecting Wyoming’s coal industry.

Meanwhile, The Center for Biological Diversity also sued – but for much different reasons. The conservation group said the rules aren’t stringent enough. That’s because if power plants are retiring by 2034, they don’t have to follow the updated water pollutant standards. The group said that means millions of pounds of toxins will go into rivers, hurting aquatic life.

“Dozens of threatened and endangered wildlife species, including sturgeon, hellbender salamanders, sea turtles, fish and freshwater mussels will be harmed by these continued levels of pollution,” according to the group’s press release.

Lawsuits aside, many agree the EPA power plant rules as a whole will hasten the decline of the already struggling coal industry.

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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