EPA takes stand against power plants in Utah for cleaner air

Huntington coal-fired power plant, in Emery County, Utah. Photo by Lindsay Beebe.

Huntington coal-fired power plant, in Emery County, Utah. Photo by Lindsay Beebe.

The Environmental Protection Agency adopted a plan Wednesday to protect national parks and wilderness areas in Utah, Colorado and Arizona from haze pollution from coal-fired power plants in Utah.

The plan, known by industry advocates as the “Clean Parks Plan,” requires two of Utah’s oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants to install pollution control mechanisms, which will protect communities across the region.

“Today the EPA showed that it listened to businesses and citizens across the West,” Chris Steinkamp, executive director of the global climate-advocacy organization Protect Our Winters, said in a press release Wednesday. “By requiring strong pollution reductions for Utah’s Hunter and Huntington coal-fired power plants, the EPA is defending our public lands and communities in Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and beyond.

The Hunter and Huffington power plants are reportedly accountable for 40 percent of Utah’s nitrogen oxide pollution from the electricity sector. Pollution from the plants contributes to 11 premature deaths and 233 asthma attacks annually, according to the Clean Air Task Force.

Residents and more than 250 outdoor recreation businesses and outdoor leaders from the three-state region have urged the EPA to protect the region’s public lands. The EPA received over 85,000 comments and petitions in favor of the Clean Parks Plan.

Kim Miller, CEO of Boulder-based SCARPA, was one of many business leaders who activated for cleaner air. The EPA's announcement makes him more hopeful for the future, he said.

“[The decision] is way bigger than Colorado and Colorado businesses. It’s a statement to the world, to everyone in the West and to the U.S,” Miller said. “We’re drawing the line and saying that we can’t let this happen again… That’s the biggest overarching victory.”

The plan marks significant future reductions to coal pollution and invests in the future of the outdoor-recreation economy, which is vital to the region. Utah, Arizona and Colorado make up $36 billion, or 6 percent, of the United States' outdoor-recreation economy.

Coal is a major contributor to the haze that veils views at Arches and Canyonlands National Parks 83 percent of the time, according to a letter to the EPA signed by several outdoor recreation and conservation advocacy groups based in the West.

The EPA’s plan is expected to protect iconic landscapes as far away as the Grand Canyon in Arizona and Mesa Verde in Colorado.