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WildEarth Guardians Targets Tri-State Dirty Energy Deal

Suit Filed Challenging Company to Power Past Coal to Clean Energy in Colorado

Denver—WildEarth Guardians today filed suit to overturn a political deal that lets Tri-State Generation and Transmission’s Craig coal-fired power plant put Colorado’s communities and its mountains at risk from air pollution.

“This dirty energy deal not only puts people and parks at risk, it violates the Clean Air Act,” said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program Director.  “It’s time stop giving breaks to dirty energy and start holding Tri-State accountable to clean energy.”

The suit, filed with the 10th Circuit Federal Appeals Court in Denver, challenges the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) approval of a Colorado plan to curb haze pollution.  That plan, which also approved the retirement of Xcel Energy’s Front Range coal-fired power plants as part of the Colorado Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act, adopted a deal allowing Tri-State to forego meeting stringent clean air standards at its Craig plant.  This deal was not a part of the Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act.

The Craig coal-fired power plant, a 1,340-megawatt plant that consists of three boilers, or units, located in Moffat County, is the State’s second largest power plant and the largest emitter of smog and haze forming nitrogen oxide emissions.

Every year, the plant releases more than 13,500 tons of nitrogen oxides, as much as 1.4 million passenger vehicles (according to the EPA, an average passenger vehicle releases 18.2 pounds of nitrogen oxides annually).  According to the Clean Air Task Force, every year the plant’s air pollution contributes to 24 premature deaths, 440 asthma attacks, and 22 asthma-related emergency room visits, all at a cost of more than $170,000,000.

The plant’s pollution also blights vistas in nearby wilderness areas and National Parks.  According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the plant contributes to unnatural haze pollution in Rocky Mountain National Park (which sees more than 3 million visitors annually) on more than 200 days a year.

Under the Clean Air Act, Colorado was required to develop a plan to curtail haze pollution from the state’s largest and dirtiest sources of air pollution using the “best available retrofit technology.”  As part of this requirement, two of the three units at the Craig plant were required to be retrofitted with updated pollution air pollution controls, the “best available retrofits,” primarily to curtail nitrogen oxide emissions.

Unfortunately, Colorado cut a deal with Tri-State that allowed the company to install updated pollution controls on only one unit at the Craig plant.  The deal allowed the company to install up to date nitrogen oxide emission controls, called “selective catalytic reduction,” while allowing the other unit to forego installing these controls entirely, even though both units are identical.  Despite recognizing that selective catalytic reduction was both cost-effective and represented the “best available retrofit technology,” the State rejected its use on both units.

In comments on the plan, even the National Park Service criticized Colorado’s approach for being inconsistent with the Clean Air Act.  If Colorado would have required state of the art controls on both units subject to retrofits under the Clean Air Act, nitrogen oxide emissions would have been reduced by an additional 3,100 tons annually.

“Unbelievably, while Colorado and Xcel Energy were able to power past coal along the Front Range, at the Craig power plant in Western Colorado, Tri-State was let off the hook,” said Nichols.  “This dirty energy deal stands in disappointingly stark contrast to the progress that’s been made in the rest of Colorado to advance clean energy.”

The EPA ultimately approved Colorado’s approach, calling it “novel” and a “balance” (see EPA’s final rule at page 16).

“Plain and simple, Colorado put politics ahead of our clean air and the law and sadly, EPA went along for the ride,” said Nichols.  “Fundamentally though, this is about holding Tri-State accountable to the same standards that other utilities have been held to.”

WildEarth Guardians’ lawsuit today amounts to a one page filing with the 10th Circuit.  In an opening brief that will likely be filed in 60 days, WildEarth Guardians will challenge in detail EPA’s approval of Colorado’s deal over the Craig station.  WildEarth Guardians does not intend to challenge the portions of the haze plan incorporating the Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act.


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