CASPER, Wyo. — Wyoming’s largest power provider says a newly re-proposed federal rule could close many of its coal-fired power plants early.
Rocky Mountain Power said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s recently re-proposed rule for cleaning regional haze will have a dire effect on its plans.
“Many of the company’s coal-fueled generating plants in Wyoming may face early shut-down as a result of this rule,” company spokesman Dave Eskelsen wrote in an email to the Star-Tribune. The company owns four coal-fired plants in Wyoming — Jim Bridger, Dave Johnston, Wyodak and Naughton.
Eskelsen declined to say which plants or units may be in particular trouble, but did say the company is studying potential effects on a unit-by-unit basis.
The company’s comments are in response to a recent re-release of the EPA’s plan to control regional haze, which is produced mainly from pollutants such as nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter.
The federal agency first proposed a rule that would force upgrades at several plants last summer. Several state representatives and others around Wyoming opposed the rule, saying Wyoming should be able to govern its own air. The state’s Department of Environmental Quality was in the midst of implementing its own haze reduction plan when the EPA first announced its rule.
The EPA’s revised rule, signed by Regional Director Shaun McGrath on May 23 but still not officially published, cooperates with Wyoming’s plan in some ways but includes even tougher restrictions on some plants.
Included among them are stronger nitrous oxide control restrictions on three of Rocky Mountain Power’s units and three owned by Basin Electric. Most requirements would need to be in place within a decade of the rule’s implementation, which would likely happen later this year.
A spokeswoman for Basin Electric said her company still supports Wyoming’s plan.
“Basin Electric supports that plan, which includes a requirement for the Laramie River Station to reduce significantly its emissions of pollutants such as nitrogen oxides,” Mary Miller wrote in an email. “That plan ... adequately protects visibility, and we believe it is inappropriate for EPA to reject the state’s plan and substitute its own.”
Rocky Mountain Power, a division of PacifiCorp, also issued a statement supportive of Wyoming.
“EPA’s proposal, if finalized, would require more extensive emission controls than the state of Wyoming proposed in its own regional haze State Implementation Plan,” Eskelsen wrote. “The state plan was workable, appropriate and one PacifiCorp supported.”
Wyoming’s congressional delegation and Gov. Matt Mead each also criticized the EPA’s proposal Wednesday.
“Adding overreaching EPA regulations on top of Wyoming’s regional haze plan is not the right answer,” Sen. John Barrasso said in a prepared statement. “The EPA should reverse this new rule and allow the state of Wyoming to regulate regional haze without additional federal interference.”
Sen. Mike Enzi called Wyoming’s state plan “effective” in a statement.
“State officials are better equipped to address the issue locally and can do so without increasing energy rates for Wyoming’s citizens in the process,” he said.
Rep. Cynthia Lummis called the policy a “shot directly at our Wyoming coal miners,” and she questioned whether the rule would have the desired effect.
“It is indefensible to impose a federal standard on visibility that if implemented fully will not be discernible to the naked eye,” she said. “Wyoming’s experts have this issue completely in hand, and once again, the EPA has inserted itself where it doesn’t belong.”
Mead also backed state primacy and questioned whether the EPA’s prior proposal would have been effective. He added that he felt the EPA’s policy is more about slowing coal than reducing viewshed pollution.
“It is also troubling that the EPA seems to have given undue weight to comments by environmental groups and little consideration to Wyoming’s comments,” he said.
The policy wasn’t universally criticized. The Wyoming-based Powder River Basin Resource Council issued a statement supportive of the EPA’s efforts.
“In Wyoming, improving air quality and improving our economy are not mutually exclusive actions,” council organizer Shannon Anderson said. “EPA’s plan to reduce haze-causing pollution at coal power plants ensures Wyoming’s important tourism industry, rooted in our treasured national parks and wilderness areas, will have a place in our state’s economy well into the future.”
The proposal is far from final. The agency said in a statement that it expects to work with Wyoming officials to create the best plan possible.
“As it has done with states across the country, EPA has worked, and will continue to work, with Wyoming to put in place a plan that relies on proven, cost-effective technologies to cut harmful pollution that reduces visibility,” spokesman Richard Mylott wrote in an email.
The EPA will take comments on its plan for 60 days once it’s published and is planning a late June hearing on the rule.
Representatives of Rocky Mountain Power and the Powder River Basin Resource Council each said they’re likely to file comments or participate in the hearing.
RMP’s Eskelsen said his company has already spent $900 million in Wyoming since 2005 in order to upgrade air pollution controls, and those costs were largely responsible for recent requests to increase rates. Under the proposed rules, the company would only have to make further investments.
“This is a very capital intensive industry,” he said. “When you introduce rules that require this kind of significant capital impact, it has an effect on prices customers pay.”