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EPA plan would require Utah, Wyoming, Nevada and California to curb harmful air emissions drifting to Colorado – Loveland Reporter-Herald

The Environmental Protection Agency is for the first time proposing a measure that would require four Western states to cut harmful emissions because of the impact they have on air quality in neighboring states, including Colorado.

If approved, Utah, Wyoming and Nevada would be required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and industrial manufacturing sites, while California would have to reduce emissions from certain industries.

National modeling shows emissions from those states blowing across the West and into metro Denver, adding to already bad ground-level ozone pollution.

The move would help Colorado, as the EPA recently announced plans to downgrade Denver and the northern Front Range for “serious” violations of federal ozone standards, which would mean stricter emission limits for industries and higher gasoline prices for motorists.

The EPA unveiled its plan earlier this month to include 26 states in an update to the agency’s Interstate Air Pollution Rule, also known as the “Air Pollution Rule.” good neighbours’ because these states are failing to reduce harmful downwind emissions on their own.

The federal agency estimates that forcing these states to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions from power plants and industrial sites would, by 2026, improve the health of more than one million Americans with asthma, including children who miss school due to smog-related asthma attacks. , according to an overview of the proposal on the EPA’s website.

California, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming are four of the 26 states included in the new proposal and, before this plan was released, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas were also far west. that the rule of good neighborliness had never been implemented.

EPA is accepting public comments and will then consider them before finalizing the plan. The aim is to bring it into force by 2026.

Environmental groups support the proposal, saying it will reduce smog, improve people’s health, promote plant life and slow the impact of climate change.

“There’s a lot to love about this proposal,” said Kathleen Riley, associate attorney for EarthJustice. “This is a positive step to reduce interstate ozone and ozone pollution.”

But there is resistance within the states on the list.

Shortly after the EPA announced its intentions, Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon accused the EPA of targeting energy-producing states.

“This proposed rule specifically targets Western energy-producing states and is not a complete solution,” Gordon said in a statement provided to the Denver Post. “Instead, it will hurt states like Wyoming that meet ozone standards and benefit more populous states that use our energy but don’t meet their own ozone standards.”

Ashley Sumner, spokeswoman for the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, said her agency is reviewing the proposed rule and will submit comments to the EPA. She did not specify the position the department will take.

Western expansion

The Good Neighbor Rule is part of the federal clean air law and allows the EPA to get involved when states fail to consider the impact of their bad air emissions on their downwind neighbors. .

For years, the federal agency has enforced the rule on the east coast, where states are closer together and it has been easier to measure the flow of greenhouse gases, said director Carl Daly. Acting Air and Radiation Division for EPA Region 8 in Denver.

But the EPA expanded its National Air Model modeling to track how nitrogen oxide emissions move and impact downwind states, and that modeling showed that emissions blowing from California, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming worsened Colorado’s air quality, Daly said.

The four states contributed more than 1% of ground-level ozone pollution in Colorado, which has reached the threshold for adopting the Good Neighbor Rule.

The EPA requires states to submit plans that show how they will meet Clean Air Act requirements, and this includes developing plans to reduce emissions that affect other states.

“At this time, the plans we have from Utah and Wyoming have no controls being considered to help Denver,” said Daly, who as Region 8 administrator will be directly involved in the plans. of these states.

Once the EPA finalizes the expansion of the interstate pollution rule westward, the agency can step in and impose emission reductions if states fail to do so on their own. Wyoming and Utah fall under agency Region 8 along with Colorado, and the region’s new administrator is KC Becker, former Speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives.

Colorado, like all states, must also submit a plan to show how it’s eliminating harmful air emissions, but modeling — at least for now — doesn’t show Colorado’s emissions affecting other states above the acceptable threshold, Daly said.

Still, cutting emissions from other states wouldn’t eliminate the dirty air that hangs over Denver and the northern Front Range. That means Colorado has its work cut out to meet EPA cleanup demands. The EPA has classified the metro area and part of northern Colorado as a “non-compliance” area for years because ground-level ozone pollution exceeds specified standards.

“It’s pretty clear that it’s not going to be enough to make Denver successful,” Daly said.

Increased attention to bad air

Improving Colorado’s air quality is becoming increasingly urgent, especially as wildfires become a year-round threat due to climate change.

This year, Governor Jared Polis asked the Legislature to approve a $47 million budget request to nearly double the staff of the state’s Air Pollution Control Division and improve its air pollution monitoring technology. the air. The Legislature is also considering two bills totaling more than $125 million to buy electric school buses, provide free public transit during the worst summer ozone days and replace the oldest diesel trucks in the state fleet. by newer, more fuel-efficient models.

Cars and trucks are the main contributors to nitrogen oxide, one of the contaminants that create ozone at ground level. And the EPA has asked the state to reconsider air permit provisions for the Suncor Energy oil refinery in Commerce City, another major contributor to air pollution.

Leah Schleifer, spokeswoman for the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division, said the agency was following the EPA’s policy proposal, but not taking a position on it.

“Regardless of what happens with the Interstate Air Pollution Rule, Colorado will continue its strategies to reduce local sources of ozone precursor emissions,” Schleifer said in an email to the Post.

While other states, including Utah, blame pollution from China for their bad air, Polis refused to use Chinese pollution as an excuse for the state’s smog and asked the EPA to give in Colorado paused by declaring its serious ozone problem.

Industries in other states that would be affected by the ruling include coal and gas-fired power plants as well as facilities that use fossil fuels to power their operations, such as cement kilns, steel mill boilers, glassware. and boilers in pulp and paper mills. The rule would also allow pipelines to further reduce emissions.

An EPA analysis of the rule’s financial impact estimated that it would cost more than $1.1 billion to achieve reductions in all 26 states. The analysis indicates that these expenditures would only increase overall electricity generation costs by just over 1%.

But the EPA said the financial benefits of improving air quality would far outweigh the expenses, according to the analysis.

Debate over who is responsible

Grier Bailey, executive director of the Colorado Wyoming Petroleum Marketers Association and Convenience Store Association, which represents oil and gas sellers, said it’s not fair to blame Wyoming, which ranked eighth nationally for oil and gas production in 2020, for Colorado’s poor air quality. .

He said California and China cause more air pollution in Colorado than in Wyoming and Wyoming growers shouldn’t pay the price.

“The Wyoming government and the Wyoming legislature should be responsible for the air emissions produced by the people of Wyoming, just as the people of Colorado should be responsible for the emissions produced by the people who live there,” he said.

At a public hearing on Thursday, however, some residents of other states said they should take responsibility for improving air quality in the West.

Lindsay Beebe, a representative of the Salt Lake City-based Sierra Club, testified in support of the proposal, saying Utah does not regulate two large coal-fired power plants that emit more than 31 million pounds of nitrous oxide per year and that evil is visible in stagnant ozone. the smog that blankets the Wasatch Range on hot summer days.

“For our own good and that of our neighbors in Colorado and other downwind states, Utah must seize every opportunity to reduce pollution,” Beebe said. “We cannot afford to leave options on the table, especially when proven pollution control technology is readily available.”

Mary Cashion

The author Mary Cashion