Utah lawmakers pledge $2 million to fight ozone with EPA

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Utah is preparing to fight the Environmental Protection Agency over a proposed rule that would require Utah’s coal-fired power plants to install emission control systems or to retire early.

Legislators plan to allocate $2 million to a legal campaign being led by Rocky Mountain Power and the state of Wyoming this term, challenging the EPA’s move to incorporate the states of Beehive and Cowboy into the Cross State Air Pollution Rule or CSAPR, also known as, to incorporate the Clean Air Act’s “Good Neighbor Provision.”

This rule has been applied to eastern states to reduce ozone-forming emissions leaving power plants and crossing state lines. A proposed expansion of the rule would target some western states and would be condemned by Utah’s largest utility and lawmakers, who claim the rule’s passage could affect Utah residents’ access to electricity.

“The federal government’s recent regulation on ozone transport will force the early closure of power plants in Utah, significantly jeopardizing reliable, affordable and shippable energy for years to come,” Rep. Carl Albrecht, R-Richfield, said last week while doing so presented $2 million proposal to Appropriations Subcommittee.

“We will also work with other states around us. But if we don’t win this battle with the EPA, we will shut down our coal plants in the next two or three years,” he said. “None of us will have the strength we need to go about our daily lives.”

This is patently absurd, environmental activists responded. If anyone is to blame for this situation, it’s Rocky Mountain Power for refusing to invest in selective catalytic reduction (SCR), a proven method of reducing nitrogen oxide or NOx emissions, said Lindsay Beebe, a Utah-based representative of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal campaign.

“I’m disappointed in the state of Utah jumping to support an polluting industry,” Beebe said. “The industry that is portraying itself as a victim is really disingenuous because [Utah] The Hunter and Huntington coal plants are among the most polluting coal plants in the country and have been for some time. There are numerous regulations targeting these coal plants that have been trying to clean them up for literally decades.”

The Sierra Club, HEAL Utah, and other groups have been urging Utah regulators to require Rocky Mountain Power (RMP) to install SCR in its facilities under the “Regional Haze” rule for years without success. Then, last year, the EPA weighed in with its proposed expansion of the “good neighbors” provision to include Utah, Wyoming and Nevada. If this rule is adopted, power plants in these states would need to have SCR by 2026.

Environmentalists welcomed the move, which is expected to be completed later this year.

“It is high time that all major power plants installed and operated this highly effective environmental protection technology. We also strongly support the EPA’s proposal to require reductions in NOx emissions from other highly polluting stationary sources alongside power plants,” read joint comments submitted to the EPA by the Sierra Club and several other groups across the country. “Beyond what the EPA has proposed, even greater pollution reductions are needed to ensure that no one is forced to breathe unsafe air, in part due to interstate ozone transport. Actual data on ozone levels and trends shows ozone pollution is worse than the EPA projected.”

RMP operates the Hunter and Huntington plants in Emery County and the Jim Bridger and Naughton plants in Wyoming. Also affected by the proposed rule would be the Bonanza Power Plant in Uintah County, but not the Intermountain Power Plant, which is scheduled to transition from coal to natural gas and hydrogen in 2025.

The EPA has determined that NOx is blowing east from these facilities and potentially forming ozone in Colorado, where the Denver metropolitan area does not meet federal ozone standards. NOx and other pollutants react with sunlight by rearranging their molecular structure and becoming ozone, a highly reactive triatomic oxygen molecule that damages lung tissue.

The cost benefits of the proposed rule, expected to amount to at least $9 billion a year in improved public health, far outweigh its costs, according to an EPA fact sheet. It is expected to prevent 1,000 premature deaths nationwide in 2026, the first year of implementation, as well as 2,400 visits to hospitals and emergency rooms, 1.3 million cases of asthma symptoms and 470,000 days absent from school.

“EPA expects the emission reductions projected in the proposal would deliver a number of unquantified benefits, including improving visibility in national and state parks and increasing the protection of sensitive ecosystems, coastal waters and estuaries, and forests,” the paper said .

But for Utah, the agency’s proposed workaround isn’t realistic and jeopardizes grid reliability, Thom Carter, director of government affairs at RMP, told lawmakers last week.

“There are real technical and procedural issues with the rule, and if implemented as written, there is a real risk to system reliability and a negative impact on customers in impacted communities,” said Carter, who until recently headed the Office of Energy Development in Utah directed. “We, Rocky Mountain Power, plan to sue this rule in full. We are pooling all our resources to lead the fight, but we need the state to take the lead and be the loudest voice in the fight.”

Installing SCR is prohibitively expensive, costing between $100 million and $200 million per unit, according to Jeff Peterson, general counsel of Deseret Power, the operator of the Bonanza plant. So the impact of EPA’s application of the Good Neighbor Rule would likely result in the closure of coal plants in Utah and Wyoming.

“It is very impractical to meet the deadlines they are proposing, both in terms of trying to install SCR by 2026 and trying to get a new generation online. This rule is very problematic,” Peterson told lawmakers. “We’re struggling because we don’t have enough available energy during these times when demand for electricity is at its highest. And that rule would result in shutting down some of the available energy that we have in Utah and would only exacerbate this problem.”

RMP relies heavily on coal to generate electricity for its tri-state service area, but is in the process of transitioning to zero-emission renewables and nuclear power. Still, according to Carter, parent company Berkshire Hathaway intends to spare no expense in fighting the EPA.

“We have a very large legal department and work with external lawyers. We are evaluating every possible legal opportunity within our spending limits,” Carter said. “The best way to put it is that we have a lawyer. We leverage our resources and work with states to create common interest agreements. I don’t have a specific dollar amount that we’re going to spend on litigation, but we’re going to fight litigation.”

HEAL Utah’s Alex Vielleux derided the lawsuit as a “frivolous” lawsuit that would eat up public funds that would be best spent elsewhere.

“We should listen to the EPA,” said Villelux. “The EPA has the best science available. All ozone crosses national borders and pollutes other places. If these facilities need to be shut down by the EPA, we will take their word for it. Instead of spending $2 million on a lawsuit, maybe they should spend $2 million thinking about where those jobs will be when the coal plants shut down. For what purpose do we only light money?”

https://www.sltrib.com/news/environment/2023/01/24/utah-leg-pledge-2-million-ozone/ Utah lawmakers pledge $2 million to fight ozone with EPA

Justin Scaccy

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