Settlement Brings Hope for Clean Air and a Safe Climate in the West

Agreement Will Cleanup, Repower, or Retire 18 Coal-fired Power Plants in Four States

Denver—WildEarth Guardians today announced the filing of a milestone settlement agreement in federal court committing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to curbing thousands of tons of air pollution in Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming. 

“This is great news for the West’s most cherished wildlands, for public health, and for our clean energy future,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director for WildEarth Guardians.  “With this agreement, we’re getting the certainty we need to continue to power past coal here in the West.”

The agreement specifically commits the EPA to ensure the oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants in Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming are cleaned up to comply with the Clean Air Act.  All told, the settlement puts at least 18 coal-fired power plants totaling more than 16,000 megawatts on the path to be cleaned up, repowered, or retired altogether.

Under a Clean Air Act program aimed at reducing regional haze pollution, states are required to adopt comprehensive clean air plans that must be approved by the EPA.  These regional haze plans required states to retrofit their oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants with up-to-date air pollution controls, otherwise called “best available retrofit technology, and to cut air pollution from other sources, including cement kilns, oil and gas drilling operations, and newer coal-fired power plants to progress toward clearing the air. 

Unfortunately, states have been too slow to meet the Clean Air Act.  In January of 2009, the EPA found that virtually every state in the country had failed to submit regional haze plans.  This finding triggered a two-year clock during which the EPA was required to develop federal regional haze plans if states failed to have their own plans approved by the EPA.

In early 2011, WildEarth Guardians filed suit over the EPA’s failure to develop federal regional haze plans for Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and North Dakota, as required by the Clean Air Act.

The settlement, which was filed last week in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado and awaits approval from a federal judge, commits the EPA to ensure regional haze plans are finally adopted in Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming.  Under the agreement, the EPA will finalize either a federal regional haze plan or approve a state regional haze plan under the following schedule:

State

Proposed approval of state or federal plan

Final approval of state or federal plan

Colorado

March 8, 2012

September 6, 2012

Montana

January 20, 2012

June 29, 2012

North Dakota

July 21, 2011

January 26, 2012

Wyoming

April 15, 2012

October 15, 2012

Once finalized, these plans will finally spur widespread cuts in air pollution, with the most immediate benefits occurring as a result of the installation of best available retrofit technology on coal-fired power plants.  All told, these retrofits will target 18 coal-fired power plants, which collectively release more than 200,000 tons of sulfur dioxide, 150,000 tons of nitrogen oxides, and 120 million tons of carbon dioxide. 

The settlement ensures that some of the West’s oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants are cleaned up, repowered, or retired altogether.  In Colorado for example, today’s settlement ensures that the EPA will approve a recently adopted state plan to retire or repower five coal-fired power plants in the state as part of the Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act.

“While we support cleaning up our coal-fired power plants, the fact is that we have cleaner, more affordable ways of creating energy,” said Nichols.  “Instead of spending millions to make coal less damaging, we could invest in renewable energy that’s naturally clean.  Today’s settlement ensures that clean energy solutions are given full consideration as states and the EPA plan to protect the air we breathe and depend on here in the West.”

Today’s settlement will be subject to public notice and an opportunity to comment before being signed off on by a judge.  A notice was published in the Federal Register on June 15, beginning a 30-day public comment period. It is anticipated that the agreement will become final in mid-July 2011.


 

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