Biden’s EPA Backs Trump Rule to Let Utah’s Coal Plants Pollute National Parks

Conservation Groups Pursue Lawsuit to Defend Clean Air Act’s Regional Haze Program

SALT LAKE CITY, UT — The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has notified HEAL Utah, National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), Sierra Club, and Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment that it will defend the Trump administration’s decision to let Utah’s massive coal plants pollute 11 national parks and 14 wilderness areas in violation of the Regional Haze Rule, established by the Clean Air Act.

The four groups sued the EPA at the end of the Trump administration, and now intend to continue that lawsuit against the Biden administration to defend the Regional Haze Rule. The Regional Haze Rule is designed to protect our national parks and wilderness areas from fossil fuel pollution that causes haze clouds in our country’s most iconic parks, and to return those wild places to natural visibility by 2064.

The coal-fired Hunter and Huntington power plants, located in central Utah and operated by a subsidiary of PacifiCorp, are two of the biggest polluters in the country and are among the top sources of haze pollution in our national parks, including “The Mighty Five” in Utah — Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion — and many other national parks and wilderness areas beyond Utah’s borders, including the Grand Canyon.

Huntington Power Plant, Emery County, UT

During the Obama presidency, the EPA issued a Federal Implementation Plan (FIP) that included cost-effective pollution reduction measures to cut haze-causing nitrogen oxide emissions by 76 percent from Utah’s coal plants. The Trump administration superseded the 2016 FIP with one that required no controls on Hunter or Huntington. The Biden administration could have easily rejected Trump’s rule and simply reverted to the prior Obama rule.

Since the Trump administration rejected coal pollution controls in Utah, more than 100,000 people submitted comments to state and federal agencies asking for stronger nitrogen oxide pollution controls on Utah’s Hunter and Huntington coal plants to clear up haze in the region’s national parks.

We are beyond disappointed that the Biden administration’s EPA is defending a Trump era decision that allows the views of southern Utah’s iconic scenery to be blurred by air pollution,” said Alex Veilleux, Policy Associate at the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah. “Communities and advocates fought hard for the original plan to improve the visibility in these locations. Is the bar really so low that we can’t even expect Rocky Mountain Power to modify its coal plant smokestacks to clean up the air in our national parks?”

“The medical research on air pollution is well established–there is no safe level of air pollution exposure. Even levels far below the EPA’s national standards precipitate a long list of human diseases, acceleration of the aging process and premature death. The do-nothing rule left over from the Trump Administration is unacceptable. The pollution from Hunter and Huntington not only creates regional haze but the burning of the coal represents a health hazard to people throughout Southern Utah and beyond,” said Jonny Vasic, Executive Director for Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.

“It’s outrageous that the Biden administration is rejecting the best opportunity to slash pollution from these enormous coal plants that have been damaging Utah’s people and parks for decades,” said Cory MacNulty, associate southwest director of the National Parks Conservation Association. “The awe-inspiring views at places such as Arches, Canyonlands and Zion are obscured by the pollution from two of the biggest park polluters in the country, and allowing these places to continue to pollute the air unabated is a huge disappointment.”

“The decision to side with Trump on an issue that has such great consequences for clean air in the West is indefensible, and is a failure of the Biden administration to match action in Utah with its rhetoric on cutting fossil fuel pollution,” said Holly Bender, Sierra Club’s Senior Director of Energy Campaigns. “Restoring strong clean air protections for Utah should have been one of the Biden administration’s easiest decisions; instead Biden’s EPA has sided with Trump and the coal industry in Utah, allowing more harmful pollution for decades to come.