Settlement agreement paves way to power past coal in the American West
On June 14th, 2011 WildEarth Guardians filed a milestone settlement
agreement in federal court that commits the
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to curb thousands of tons of toxic air
pollution in Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming.
That’s good news for the West’s most cherished wildlands,
for public health, and for our clean energy future.
Critically, the agreement commits the EPA to ensure these
states’ oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants are cleaned up, opening the
door to retire or transition them to cleaner energy.
All told, the settlement puts at least 18 coal-fired power plants
totaling more than 16,000 megawatts in the West on the path to clean up.
It also presents an opportunity to confront more than 120 million tons
of carbon dioxide emissions.
The settlement comes on the heels of Guardians’ prior
settlements, which have already committed the EPA to take similar steps to
slash air pollution in California, Idaho, New Mexico, Oregon, Oklahoma, and
Utah. It also comes as we are working
together with several other partner groups to secure EPA commitments to do the
same in Arizona, Nevada, South Dakota, and many other states.
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Find Out More
Our press release "Settlement Brings Hope for Clean Air and a
Safe Climate in the West"
BusinessWeek "Deal would speed cuts in western coal pollution"
Washington Post "EPA deal calls for haze-reduction at western coal plants"
A moose migrates in the shadows of North Dakota's Coal Creek coal-fired power plant, the largest in the state.
Hope for Clean Air and the Climate
Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado is increasingly threatened by air pollution.
What's the Deal?
Air pollution is on the rise in the American West and the
impacts are often all too clear: increasingly hazy skies in some of our most pristine landscapes, rising
smog levels even in rural communities, and an infusion of toxic compounds into
Take Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the crown
jewel of the Rockies, which not only has smog levels comparable to big cities,
but haze levels that are more than twice natural background.
Among the major contributors to this air pollution? The region’s fleet of coal-fired power
The Clean Air Act requires states to clean up their oldest
and dirtiest coal-fired power plants. Under a program aimed at reducing regional haze pollution, states are
required to ensure these plants are retrofitted with the best available air
pollution controls. This is often
called “best available retrofit technology,” or BART.
The regional haze program also requires states to cut air
pollution from other sources, including cement kilns, refineries, chemical
plants, oil and gas development, and even newer coal-fired power plants in
order to ensure progress in cleaning the air.
Unfortunately, states have been too slow to adopt plans to
meet the Clean Air Act’s regional haze program. In 2009, the EPA found that virtually every state in the
country had failed to submit regional haze plans. The EPA informed those states that if they didn’t submit the
required plans, they agency would develop federal plans instead.
WildEarth Guardians’ settlement, which was filed in the U.S.
District Court for the District of Colorado, commits the EPA to ensure that
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:
These regional haze plans will spur widespread reductions in
harmful air pollution, but the most significant benefits will occur as a result
of the Clean Air Act’s best available retrofit technology requirements.
These retrofits will help pave the way to clean up, retire,
or repower 18 coal-fired power plants, which collectively release more than
200,000 tons of sulfur dioxide, 150,000 tons of nitrogen oxides, or NOx, and
120 million tons of carbon dioxide.
Take Colorado, which has proposed to retire or repower five
coal-fired power plants in the State as part of the Clean Air-Clean Jobs
Act. Today’s settlement ensures
that the EPA will approve that plan.
It’s the latest success in WildEarth Guardians’ efforts to
ensure that the true cost of burning coal is exposed throughout the American
West. All told, our efforts are
keeping EPA on track to ensure the clean up of coal-fired power plants in every
single western state .
But the real success is what’s to happen on the ground. Cherished wildlands like Grand Canyon
National Park in Arizona, Mesa Verde National Park of Colorado, Yellowstone
National Park, and Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, as well as
wilderness areas like the Weminuche in southwestern Colorado, the Bridger of
Wyoming, and the Bob Marshall of Montana—stand a chance of cleaner air. All told, our settlement will increase
the protection afforded to more than 50 National Parks and Wilderness areas in
Western communities stand to benefit tremendously from
increased public health protections. And ultimately, tackling 120 million tons of carbon dioxide promises
meaningful progress in the fight against global warming.
We’ve still got work to do to power past coal in the West,
but this settlement is the latest sign of progress. WildEarth Guardians remains committed to ensuring that the
true cost of coal is exposed and that we continue to fully transition to
cleaner energy sources.
Photo credits: Moose and North Dakota Coal Creek Plant: Dennis Kost; Great Sand Dune: National Parks Service