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Closure risk grows after EPA rejects pollution plan for Bridger unit 2

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Jim Bridger Power Plant

Steam rises from the cooling towers and stacks on a brisk morning in 2014 at the Jim Bridger Power Plant in Points of Rocks.

A decision has been proposed for unit 2 of the Jim Bridger Power Plant. And it’s not the news the state was hoping for.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced Wednesday that it would propose disapproving Wyoming’s alternative pollution control plan for the unit, which has been out of compliance with federal regulations since Dec. 31 and is operating under a four-month emergency suspension signed by Gov. Mark Gordon. The suspension will end April 30.

“While not completely unexpected, EPA’s decision to disapprove the revised State Implementation Plan is a disappointing reflection of a federal agency acting in bad faith,” Gordon said in a statement Wednesday. He expressed similar criticisms in a letter sent to the agency in November, in which he threatened to sue if Wyoming’s plan was not approved.

The EPA’s proposed disapproval is expected to be published in the Federal Register next week. Publication will be followed by a 30-day comment period, and the EPA will review that feedback before finalizing the decision. Negotiations between the state and EPA are expected to continue during that time.

"EPA has been and remains open to finalizing a new plan, consistent with the Clean Air Act, that addresses current circumstances while protecting Wyoming’s environment, its workers, and its communities," the agency said in a statement accompanying the announcement.

The state wasn't satisfied.

“EPA’s backtracking and subsequent refusal to adopt an agreement previously approved by the regional office and EPA headquarters could impact the loyal workforce of the Jim Bridger Power Plant and coal mine,” Gordon said Wednesday.

He emphasized that the state would keep looking for ways to prevent the unit from shutting down.

University of Wyoming School of Energy Resources and Basin Electric Power Cooperative holds a Wyoming CarbonSAFE Media Day on Jan. 5, 2022, in Gillette to show off their tests to reduce carbon emissions from coal by putting the carbon dioxide back into the ground. In this video they are drilling over 2 miles into the earth to better understand further about the ground and how carbon could impact it.

Jim Bridger units 1 and 2 are currently scheduled to be converted to natural gas peaking facilities in 2024. According to operating utility Rocky Mountain Power, it would’ve been uneconomical to install costly pollution control measures for harmful nitrogen oxides, or NOx — a plan developed by the state and approved by the EPA in 2014 — for the final years of the units’ operation. The utility installed the pollution controls at units 3 and 4.

The compliance deadline for unit 1 is Dec. 31.

In 2019, Rocky Mountain Power proposed an alternative plan for units 1 and 2: It would cap electricity production below maximum capacity to reduce NOx emissions to acceptable levels, without installing pollution controls. The Trump EPA seemed satisfied with the change, but failed to finalize it before the Biden administration took over, reevaluated the proposal and informed Wyoming in June that it would neither approve nor deny the alternative plan.

The EPA ultimately concluded that Wyoming had failed to demonstrate that the pollution controls would be excessively costly to install, according to Tuesday’s pre-publication, though the finding will not be final until after the public comment period.

“The State previously determined that the costs of those control requirements were reasonable and that they are necessary to satisfy the statutory requirements, and has not provided any new information that would support a revised determination that the requirements are now unreasonable,” the document read.

Randall Luthi, Gordon’s chief energy advisor, told the Star-Tribune in late December that if the EPA rejected the plan, the accompanying explanation could help the state amend its proposal before the unit’s four extra months ran out.

“Then we at least have some information with which to talk to them about,” he said at the time. “So I hope that opens up the door wider to negotiation.”

Editor's note: This article was updated to clarify incomplete information about the finality of the EPA decision. The agency will not finalize a decision until after the public comment period.

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