About Big Sky air, EPA told to get regional haze plan right

Missouri_River_breaks[1]When you think of Montana – Big Sky country, you don’t associate the state with polluted air – not normally, anyway. Yet, Montana, with its rugged beauty, wide open spaces and scenic vistas has an air pollution problem.

This is brought to bear by Earthjustice in its Jun. 9, 2015 press release: “EPA Receives Second Chance to Protect Montana’s Air Quality: Court rules that regional haze plan must be redone.”

So, what is all this about?

Earthjustice relates: “The Ninth Circuit Court ruled today that U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) needs to go back to the drawing board and improve its regional haze plan for Montana. EPA now has an opportunity to create cleaner air for Montana families, and some of our nation’s most iconic National Parks, by eliminating human-caused haze from one of the West’s dirtiest power plants by requiring the installation of modern pollution controls.” The power plant identified in this case is Colstrip.

In the release, Earthjustice did not specifically state what those pollution controls were. The organization did, however, express in no uncertain terms that, “[e]ach year, Colstrip creates more haze pollution from sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide than all other in-state sources combined. The two chemicals are dangerous to human health: High concentrations of SO2 can create lung problems, worsen asthma attacks and exacerbate heart disease in vulnerable populations. In 2014, Colstrip emitted 15,588 tons of nitrogen dioxide—3,000 tons more than the entirety of what Montana’s other regulated sources emitted. Colstrip also polluted the air with 10,000 tons of sulfur dioxide, while other in-state sources emitted just 9,000 tons combined.” It was further pointed out that across the nation power plants, numbering in the hundreds, including in Montana, have modernized pollution controls.

Earthjustice then went on to specifically explain that, “[w]ithout requiring Colstrip’s owners to reduce its haze pollution, the draft Montana Regional Haze Implementation Plan made it virtually impossible for Montana to protect visibility at national parks as required by the Clean Air Act. The National Parks Conservation Association, Montana Information Center and the Sierra Club, represented by Earthjustice, challenged the plan in 2012 and asked that EPA require Colstrip’s owners to reduce its sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide pollution.” In essence, via the court ruling, pollutant emissions discharged from Colstrip’s Units 1 and 2 will be cleaner.

In an historical context, the power plant in question put out nearly double the haze-causing pollution compared to the nine next largest in-state air polluters, according to Sierra Club Senior Campaign Representative Doug Howell, as so-noted by Earthjustice in its release.

Coal_bituminous[1]“In the time since EPA released its Montana haze plan, additional developments show mounting pressures for Colstrip’s owners to control the plant’s outsized pollution problem,” Earthjustice wrote. “EPA recently found that several coal-fired power plants in Wyoming must do more to address haze pollution.”

Top image above: Bureau of Land Management

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