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Western haze triggers battle over new pollution controls

Published August 19, 2013 4:39 pm

Environment • Two sides offer different views on EPA proposal.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

An environmental group is squaring off online with Rocky Mountain Power over plans to clean up emissions from a Wyoming Power plant.

HEAL Utah says the electric company is trying to dodge pollution controls the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to clean up the air and dawdling on improvements to its renewable-energy portfolio. The group has set up a Web page encouraging Utahns to voice their support for the EPA proposal by next Monday and has developed a video, The Dirty Truth, to make its case.

"Instead of doing the serious work of mapping out a clean energy future, Rocky Mountain Power is using its considerable resources to fight the Clean Air Act and to fight environmental protection," said HEAL's Christopher Thomas. "It's time Utahns learned the truth about this company."

Last month Rocky Mountain Power joined with other Wyoming electric providers in a Web campaign to encourage ratepayers to weigh in against the EPA plan. The controls EPA favors would cost around $1 billion and would do only a little more than Wyoming's alternate proposal, the page says.

"Rocky Mountain Power has invested $1.5 billion to comply with environmental rules at our power plants," said company spokesman David Eskelsen. "We support the Wyoming state plan for regional haze and believe EPA's proposal is extreme and costly for little benefit. What's more, the company is a national leader in owning wind power plants."

The company and its sister electric provider, Pacific Power, serves more than 1.7 million people in Utah and five other states.

The EPA has been working with states for more than a decade to clean up the haze that's obscuring vistas in areas that are supposed to have the cleanest air, the landscapes at the national parks. Part of that strategy has included cleaning up emissions from coal-fired power plants that dot the West.

In May, the EPA announced plans to direct Rocky Mountain Power to install state-of-the-art pollution controls at eight of its Wyoming units that use coal. To cut nitrous oxide emissions, the plants would be forced to install what is considered the best technology available and already in use at more than 200 coal plants nationwide, Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR).

"We want Rocky Mountain Power to get the message, literally," said Thomas, "that power customers care about the impact their dirty power system has on our Western way of life, even if utility executives do not."

An EPA fact sheet says the distance people can see in the West, called the visual range, has decreased on average from 140 miles to between 35 and 90 miles.

fahys@sltrib.com

Twitter: @judyfutah