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Six Coal-fired Power Plants and Coal Mine Skirting Clean Air Act
Wyoming—Citing risks to public health and the environment, WildEarth Guardians today called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to overturn illegal air pollution permits for six coal-fired power plants and a coal mine in the Powder River Basin Wyoming.
“Coal-fired power plants are the largest of air pollution in this country and the dirtiest form of energy,” said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program Director. “All we’re doing is calling on the EPA to either fix these illegal permits or stop these plants from polluting.”
The power plants and coal mine are concentrated east of Gillette, Wyoming at a site called the “Neil Simpson Energy Complex.” This complex consists of six coal-fired power plants—Neil Simpson I, Neil Simpson II, Wygen I, Wygen II, Wygen III, and Wyodak—that collectively have the capacity of 742 megawatts. These plants are fed by the nearby Wyodak coal mine, a large strip mine in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming, the nation’s largest coal producing region.
Together, the coal-fired power plants and coal mine annually release more than 9,635 tons of nitrogen oxide emissions—as much as 504,000 passenger vehicles—and more than 1,700 tons of microscopic particulate matter and soot.
In a petition filed with EPA Administrator, Lisa Jackson, WildEarth Guardians cited the fact that air pollution permits issued by the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality failed to comply with the federal Clean Air Act. The petition called on the EPA to order the State of Wyoming to fix the permits or face revocation.
At issue is that the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality has allowed the coal-fired power plants and the coal mine to collectively skirt the safeguards of the Clean Air Act. Rather than regulating the Neil Simpson Energy complex as a single source of air pollution, the State has instead regulated each coal-fired power plant and the coal mine separately.
The Clean Air Act requires sources of air pollution that are adjacent to be regulated together as a single source of air pollution. Far from a trivial requirement of the Clean Air Act, because the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality has refused to regulate the Neil Simpson Energy Complex as a single source of air pollution, the coal-fired power plants and the coal mine have avoided more stringent Clean Air Act safeguards.
Notably, although the Clean Air Act requires that older sources of air pollution make air pollution control upgrades once they are modified, several of the coal-fired power plants, as well as the coal mine, at the Neil Simpson Energy Complex have not been required to make upgrades, even as new coal-fired power plants have been built.
“This petition promises greater transparency, greater control of air pollution, and exactly the kind of oversight that has been sorely lacking,” said Nichols. “Clean air has to come before dirty energy here in the West if we have any chance of safeguarding our lands, our communities, and our climate.”
WildEarth Guardians has called on the EPA Administrator to respond to the petition within 60 days.