SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's plan to combat regional haze impacting its wilderness areas and five national parks has come under fire, the target of a lawsuit filed against the Environmental Protection Agency.
The suit, brought Wednesday by WildEarth Guardians before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, challenges the federal agency's December approval of Utah's efforts to regulate and reduce sulfur dioxide emissions.
"Just like sulfur, Utah's haze plan stinks," said Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for the group. "Far from protecting clean air, it actually allows more sulfur dioxide emissions from the state's coal-fired plants, putting Utah's most cherished landscapes and countless communities at risk."
The suit asserts the federal agency relied on inflated emissions of sulfur dioxide when it set caps on industry and other sources, and therefore any actual reductions being made are not achieved through the use of the best retrofit technology that is available.
If such technology was being used at a pair of plants operated by Rocky Mountain Power in central Utah, the group said emissions could be reduced by more than 2,600 tons below the cap, or about a one third greater reduction.
Under the plan adopted by Utah and approved by the EPA, the "milestone" or goal for emissions levels in 2011 was 200,722 tons of sulfur dioxide.
Participating states reported 117,474 tons. Adjusted emissions averaged over a three year period showed the level at 130,935 tons.
The EPA, too, has countered that it believes that the presumptive limits set in the states' plan are reasonable and appropriate for assessing regional emissions reductions. It noted that the 2010 data on emissions showed a 35 percent reduction in emissions from 2003, and the regional haze program is meant as a "backstop" as power plants and other sources work to reduce emissions by 2018 that are far superior to the plan.
Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico are participating in the EPA regional haze reduction program, while other states like Arizona are instituting their own reduction strategies.
PacifiCorp, parent company to Rocky Mountain Power, spent $1.2 billion from 2005 through 2010 with investments in improved air pollution control technology and by 2022, will spend $2.7 billion in upgrades to its fleet of power plants, said spokesman Dave Eskelsen.
Its power plant at Helper outside of Price is possibly slated for closure due to geographic constraints in the installation of the technology, he added.
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