The Utah Air Quality Board approved a regional haze reduction plan last week to improve visibility at national parks, despite protests from the National Park Service and conservation organizations, who say the plan doesn’t go far enough.
State regulators submitted the plan to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on June 3; the agency will ultimately determine whether it meets the requirements of the Regional Haze Rule under the federal Clean Air Act.
“The Sierra Club will be urging the EPA to hold the state to a higher standard – one that prevails everywhere else and is also more in line with the goals set by the Clean Air Act of 1970, which has been a godsend in reducing our nation’s air pollution,” Moab resident and Utah Sierra Club vice president Marc Thomas said.
The state’s plan will not require the installation of selective catalytic reduction systems at Rocky Mountain Power’s Hunter and Huntington power plants in neighboring Emery County, directly upwind of Moab.
Instead, the plan relies on the April closure of the 1950s-era coal-fired Carbon Power Plant near Helper, and previously installed low-nitrogen oxide burners at the Hunter and Huntington plants, to meet the EPA’s standards.
“Greater emission reductions were achieved at a much lower cost … than would have been achieved by requiring selective catalytic reduction systems on the Hunter and Huntington plants,” Utah Division of Air Quality environmental scientist Colleen Delaney told the Moab Sun News.
Monitoring data from the National Park Service and the Utah Division of Air Quality indicate that the Hunter and Huntington plants are significant contributors to regional haze and decreased visibility in Arches and Canyonlands national parks.
Thomas said that his organization believes the state should require the installation of selective catalytic reduction technology.
“This technology is standard usage everywhere else except Utah,” Thomas said. “Why does this state always have to be an outlier when it comes to enacting effective regulation controls on industries whose emissions impact the health and well being of its citizens?”
Selective catalytic reduction technology has been installed at over 200 coal-fired power plants nationwide, including facilities in the neighboring states of Wyoming, Colorado and Arizona.
Conservationists say the installation of the technology at Hunter and Huntington would significantly reduce regional haze pollution by cutting nitrogen oxide emissions by up to 75 percent.
The state’s approved plan is a revised version of Utah’s Regional Haze State Implementation Plan – a Clean Air Act mandate which requires states to reduce haze pollution in more than 150 Class 1 areas, including national parks, wilderness areas and wildlife refuges.
Utah has five Class 1 areas, including Bryce, Zion, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands and Arches national parks.
According to the EPA, views at national parks in the West have been reduced from 140 miles to between 35 and 90 miles, primarily due to “anthropogenic,” or human-caused haze. Long-term monitoring in Canyonlands National Park indicates that visibility at Arches and Canyonlands is impaired by anthropogenic haze 83 percent of the time.
The EPA rejected portions of the plan in 2012, because it did not require the installation of the “best available retrofit technology” to reduce nitrogen oxide and particulate matter at the Hunter and Huntington power plants.
The plan was revised in November 2014, and the State Air Quality Board held a public comment period which closed on May 1 of this year.
On April 2, superintendents of Utah’s “Mighty Five” national parks collaborated on an official letter to the DAQ and the EPA urging the state to take “strong action” in reducing regional haze, placing specific emphasis on the reduction of nitrogen oxide emissions from the Hunter and Huntington plants.
“Although truly spectacular, the scenic views that characterize these parks are degraded on many days by industrial haze that impairs visibility and dulls sensational colors and contrasts,” Associate National Park Service Regional Director Tammy Whittington said in the letter. “Under the worst conditions, anthropogenic haze can render the inspirational landscapes of our national parks and their encompassing view-sheds, to be colorless and bland.”
Rocky Mountain Power spokesperson Dave Eskelsen said that his company filed comments in support of the state’s plan.
“The plan recognizes the significant reductions in both sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide that the company has already made with its Utah power plants,” he said.
Eskelsen said that Rocky Mountain Power has installed selective catalytic reduction technology on power plants in other states, but said that it would be “substantially expensive with little or no benefit” to install it at the Hunter or Huntington plants.
“The plan the state has put forward gets better results,” he said.
Delaney said that the state’s proposal provides an alternative to best-available retrofit technology requirements for the Hunter and Huntington power plants. What’s more, she said, there is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the benefits of nitrogen oxide reduction due to the presence of ammonia.
“Ammonia levels are very low in southern Utah during the winter, and we think ammonia may be limiting the reaction,” she said. “Nitrogen oxide reductions would not provide a benefit until you reached a low enough concentration so that there was more ammonia available than nitrogen oxide – at that point, nitrogen oxide reductions would lead to a reduction in ammonium nitrate and an improvement in visibility.”
She said that the state was far more confident in the effects of sulfur dioxide reduction, which will be achieved through the recent closure of the Carbon plant, and through earlier controls placed on the Hunter and Huntington plants.
Delaney said it was important not to just focus on the current plan, but also on what has already been achieved. She cited a progress report prepared by Utah Department of Environmental Quality, which showed that over the past five years, Utah’s five national parks saw visibility improvement on 20 percent of the worst days, and 20 percent of the best air quality days.
Delaney said the state is committed to improving regional air quality, and that it will continue to study the effects of nitrogen oxide.
“DAQ intends to look into this issue in more depth during the development of the next regional haze (implementation plan) that is due in 2018,” she said. “We have been collection ammonia data at Canyonlands for the past year and we will likely use more sophisticated models for the 2018.”
Thomas said the state has been dragging its heels for over a decade in coming up with an effective haze-reduction plan.
“The fact that the Southeast Utah Group of the National Park Service, not really known for rocking the boat, finds the state plan lacking and wants to see SCR technology implemented speaks volumes about the current plans shortcomings,” Thomas said.
National Park Service and conservation groups say plan falls short
The plan recognizes the significant reductions in both sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide that the company has already made with its Utah power plants.
Why does this state always have to be an outlier when it comes to enacting effective regulation controls on industries whose emissions impact the health and well being of its citizens?