Two coal-fired power plants in Utah will have to install new pollution-controlling equipment under a decision from the Environmental Protection agency that supporters hope will lead to clearer skies in the Grand Canyon and other nearby national parks.
Under the terms of the agency’s “Clean Parks Plan,” the Hunter and Huntington Plants will retrofit their systems with equipment to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions. In addition, the agency approved a plan by the state to decrease particulates released at the plants.
The plants will have five years to comply with the ruling.
Owned by Oregon-based PacifiCorp, the plants are among Utah’s five largest generators. During the summer of 2014, Hunter and Huntington generated 31 percent of Utah’s electricity utilities, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. They also reportedly contributed 40 percent of Utah’s nitrogen oxide pollution from the electricity sector. The Clean Air Task Force, a non-profit that advocates for stronger pollution controls, estimates that emissions from the plants contribute to 11 premature deaths and 233 asthma attacks annually.
That power comes at a steep environmental cost too. The National Park Service estimated that haze masks landscapes at Arches and Canyonlands National Parks 83 percent of the time, and pollution is a major contributor.
“[The parks] will return to the national parks they once were,” Chris Steinkamp, executive director of global climate-advocacy organization Protect Our Winters, said. “These are iconic places in the west, and they shouldn’t be shrouded in haze.”
The pollution controls also protect wilderness beyond Utah’s borders. Haze from the plants has floated as far away as the Arizona and western Colorado, reaching areas as far away as Mesa Verde.
Utah, Arizona, and Colorado make up $36 billion, or 6 percent, of the United States’ outdoor-recreation economy.
“Clean air is the basis for outdoor recreation,” Steinkamp said. “You can’t have a vibrant outdoor recreation economy if you don’t have clean air.”
More than 250 outdoor recreation businesses and outdoor leaders in the tri-state region urged the EPA to move forward with the action. The agency received over 85,000 comments and petitions in favor of the Clean Parks Plan.
Kim Miller, CEO of footwear manufacturer SCARPA North America, was one of many business leaders who advocated in favor of tougher regulations.
“[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.”