By Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily
A collection of environmental advocacy groups including the Sierra Club is targeting Wyoming for a perceived lack of enforcement of federal Clean Air Act rules as they pertain to a Sweetwater County power plant.
If the lawsuit prevails, it could lead to a quicker scale down or even closure of Wyoming’s largest coal-fired power plant, the Jim Bridger Plant owned by Rocky Mountain Power.
The lawsuit, which mentions Wyoming and 33 other states, was filed against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in federal court in California in mid-April. It targets the EPA’s enforcement of Regional Haze Rules, commitments made by state and federal agencies to improve visibility in national parks and wilderness areas throughout the nation.
Under former President Donald Trump’s Administration, the EPA changed the Regional Haze Rule in 2017, giving states four years, until July of 2021, to complete their plans. Thirty-five states including Wyoming missed the deadline.
PacifiCorp, the owner of Rocky Mountain Power and the majority owner of the Jim Bridger Power Plant located east of Rock Springs, was supposed to install controls that would reduce pollution at the facility by the end of 2021. This came from a 2014 agreement between PacifiCorp and the EPA that stated PacifiCorp had to initiate pollution-controlling measures and comply with a regional haze plan.
Since that agreement was made, only two of the plant’s four units have been updated with pollution controls.
In January, the EPA opposed the revised regional haze State Implementation Plan that was submitted by the state for the Jim Bridger Plant, which employs more than 500 people.
“The Biden EPA’s decision here is needlessly hurting Wyoming’s energy workers and threatening America’s energy independence as well,” U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis said at the time. “It is blatantly political, and I will continue to block President Biden’s EPA nominees over this issue.”
The next month, Gov. Mark Gordon announced a new agreement had been reached between the State of Wyoming and PacifiCorp to allow unit two of the Jim Bridger plant to continue operating with reduced emissions past the previous Apr. 30 deadline. The EPA has not released any formal opposition to this agreement despite a revised Regional Haze Plan not yet being submitted.
PacifiCorp plans to convert units one and two at the Jim Bridger Plant to natural gas by 2024, but wants to continue burning coal until that work is complete.
According to the National Park Conservation Association, the plant is Wyoming’s largest source of haze pollution as well as the third-largest source of haze in national parks, with Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks also occupying the western part of the state.
The lawsuit demands the EPA set firm retirement dates for coal-fired power plants and require other producers to limit emissions.