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After years of foot-dragging, the Environmental Protection Agency is poised to require new pollution controls on a coal-fired power plant in Uintah County.
But critics including the Ute Indian Tribe say the feds are not going far or fast enough to curb the coal-fired plant's dirty output.
Last week, EPA issued a Title V operating permit for the 500-megawatt Bonanza Power Plant, built 30 years ago within the boundaries of Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation.
At the same time, federal environmental regulators also released for public comment a draft "corrected" permit under the federal program known as Prevention of Significant Deterioration of Air Quality, or PSD. The corrected permit will require more stringent pollution controls on the plant, but not the best available technology.
"This permit is more than 20 years overdue and was only issued after we sued EPA," said Jeremy Nichols, energy policy director for WildEarth Guardians. "This is a positive step forward and stands to reduce nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions by nearly 50 percent, but it's a mixed bag overall."
The plant's critics are unhappy EPA is not ordering selective catalytic reduction or SCR, the current gold standard for cutting power plant emissions.
The permits also don't fully address other critical pollutants, including particulate matter and sulfur dioxide, nor do they mandate maximum nitrogen oxide reductions using the best technology available today, Nichols said.
As a result, he said, the plant could continue emitting far more pollution than most of the West's other coal-fired plants.
South Jordan-based Deseret Electric Power Cooperative owns the Bonanza plant south of Dinosaur National Monument. The plant, which went online in 1985, is the state's fourth largest, supplying six rural power systems in Wyoming, Nevada and Utah.
Bonanza is connected via a 35-mile electric rail line to the Deserado coal mine, operated by a Deseret subsidiary near Rangely, Colo.
According to the company's web site, the plant "consistently ranked in the top environmentally clean coal fired plants in the U.S."
Deseret general counsel David Crabtree declined to discuss the new permits Thursday.
"We are going to analyze the permit and won't comment until we file comments with the EPA," Crabtree said.
EPA regulators settled for pollution controls that were considered the "best available" in 2000 back when Deseret upgraded the plant, Nichols said.
The company installed a so-called "ruggedized turbine rotor" and other equipment, enabling it to boost power output along with its capacity to burn coal and discharge pollution into the air, according to EPA filings.
The Ute tribe argued the upgrades should have triggered requirements for better pollution controls, but regulators were slow to act.
Deseret, however, contends in comments to the EPA that the 2000 upgrades did not increase the plant's emissions because they included the installation of low-NOx burners. Any increase in emissions, company managers argue, came from increasing demand for the plant's power.
The company also challenged EPA's authority in the matter.
There is legal ambiguity about whether the plant is located in "Indian Country," which triggers federal jurisdiction.
Bonanza owners say the agency should not retroactively impose costly upgrades long after the new turbine and related equipment were installed under permits issued by Utah regulators.
In its own comments, the Ute tribe criticized Bonanza for having free reign to pollute.
Tribal leaders accused EPA of "failed regulatory oversight" by allowing thousands of Clean Air Act violations, including repeated exceeding of limits on NOx and opacity, another measurement of visible pollution. The tribe's comments said the emissions disproportionately affect its members and insisted on retrofits to capture mercury emissions and other airborne toxins.
The EPA Region 8 office in Denver did not respond to questions submitted by e-mail.
Bonanza's draft PSD permit will require the plant to slash its nitrogen oxide emissions within 18 months. The plant must keep emissions at or below .28 pounds per million BTUs (or British thermal units).
By contrast, Utah's Huntington power plant outside Price releases just half that amount, according to Nichols, who contends the EPA is letting Bonanza off too easy.
"We could achieve 90 percent or greater reduction. EPA can do better. The plant can do better," Nichols said. "We aren't in the year 2000. Why should we rely on outdated controls when we have cost-effective technologies that are much, much better?"