SALT LAKE CITY — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency only partially accepted Utah's regional plan and will impose its own measures to reduce haze in national parks and wilderness areas.
EPA is issuing a federal plan that would require PacifiCorp's Hunter and Huntington power plants in Emery County to install emission control technologies and reduce nitrogen oxide from four electrical generating units. It also approved parts of the state's plan, which did not include retrofitting the plants with pollution controls, to address particulate emissions at the two plants.
"EPA is taking action to cut harmful haze pollution at some of our nation’s most treasured and popular national parks," said Shaun McGrath, EPA Region 8 administrator.
The plan, he said, will rely on proven strategies used at power plants across the country to protect public health and improve visibility for visitors to Arches, Canyonlands and other national parks in the West
The Utah Department of Environmental Quality said in a statement that it shares the goal of improved visibility in national parks and will continue to work toward that end.
"We are, however, disappointed with the decision because the Utah plan relied on sound science and common sense, improving visibility at a reasonable cost to Utah ratepayers," said Bryce Bird, state Division of Air Quality director.
The division, he said, will review the decision and meet with key stakeholders before deciding its next steps.
Hundreds of vocal coal miners and their families argued at an EPA hearing in January that the federal plan would only worsen the Wasatch Front's air pollution problem because lost jobs would force them relocate to the metropolitan area.
Carbon County officials say power plants and mineral extraction support 80 percent of the local economy, and for every power plant job that goes away, five others are jeopardized or vanquished.
At that meeting, Bird said such technology would mandate PacifiCorp install equipment costing nearly $600 million, which he said a decade of research shows would do little to improve regional haze because of the chemistry at play in the region.
According to the EPA, the controls will reduce emissions at the plants by 9,885 tons a year. The federal plan requires compliance, including the installation of emission controls, within five years.
Clean air advocacy groups such as HEAL Utah and other environmental organizations that include the Sierra Club say the technology is necessary, both from a public health and an aesthetic standpoint. They praised the EPA decision.
"We are delighted the EPA rightly chose to adopt the stronger plan," said Matt Pacenza, HEAL Utah’s executive director. "Millions of visitors who contribute mightily to our economy come to Utah from around the world to enjoy our scenic vistas. This decision will help clean up our skies and strengthen our economy and communities."
Haze-forming pollution — including nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and particles — poses health risks and contributes to respiratory conditions, such as asthma, emphysema and bronchitis, heart disease and premature death.