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Environmental groups challenge EPA’s sulfur-dioxide emission exemptions for Southwest power plants

Fight over regional haze plans now at the federal appeals court level

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Conservation groups continue to fight for air pollution cleanup in the Southwest.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Clean Air Act loopholes in regional EPA-approved air quality plans are unacceptable, according to a coalition of environmental and community groups who last renewed their challenge to the regs in a Denver-based federal appeals court.

According to the groups, the plans allow coal-fired power plants in Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming to escape federal requirements to reduce their emissions of haze-causing pollutants. Of particular concern are exemptions for sulfur dioxide emissions, responsible for obscuring visibility and for significant human health impacts.

The exemptions are being challenged by HEAL Utah, National Parks Conservation Association, Powder River Basin Resource Council, and Sierra Club, represented by Earthjustice.

“From Bandelier National Monument to Grand Teton and Canyonlands national parks, the three states exempting major polluters are home to some of the most treasured protected areas in the nation,” said NPCA Clean Air Counsel Stephanie Kodish. “People expect these precious places to have clean air and it is the responsibility of states and EPA to require real reductions in SO2 to ensure that the air is clear for present and future generations.”

The federal regional haze program requires states to develop plans that assure reasonable progress toward meeting the national goal of restoring natural visibility conditions to national parks and wilderness areas by reducing manmade pollution, such as SO2. The eight plants identified in the three exempt states emit SO2 at rates that are, in some cases, greater than twice the rates that EPA has found necessary and achievable for other coal plants across the country.

“The Clean Air Act requires industry to clean up and improve visibility for our nation’s most iconic parks,” said Earthjustice attorney Jenny Harbine, one of the attorneys handling the case. “Industrial sources of pollution across the country are using technology to limit their emissions of haze-causing sulfur dioxide, and there is no excuse for not requiring the same technology on power plants that pollute Grand Canyon and Yellowstone national parks, and some of our other most scenic federal lands.”

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