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The Utah Division of Air Quality (DAQ) has released a draft permit for Rocky Mountain Power's Hunter coal-fired power plant just weeks after the Sierra Club filed a legal complaint alleging the state had allowed the plant to operate without a proper permit for more than a decade.
Federal law requires major air polluters to renew their permits every five years. Though the DAQ has opened the Hunter plant's permit for updates and public review during that period, the permit has not been officially renewed since 1999.
Bryce Bird, DAQ director, said a technical dispute with the EPA prevented the renewal from moving forward for nine years.
Bird said the EPA and the DAQ disagreed about how best to reference Rocky Mountain Power's company operating procedures in the language of the permit. But it wasn't exactly a pressing issue, he said, and so the EPA and the DAQ put their discussions about the permit on the back burner.
"I can't say for sure whether we had discussed it two or three times in nine years," Bird said. "It was not one of our higher priorities, because the facility is covered by the existing permit and the permit continued to be updated."
Once the DAQ received notice of the pending lawsuit, Bird said, "we looked into it and decided we could go ahead and issue the permit."
The permit draft is available for public review at http://www.airquality.utah.gov/Permits/index.htm. The DAQ will accept public comment on the permit through Oct.15.
Bird said little has been changed since the Hunter plant's operating permit was last opened for public comment in April 2015.
"It is basically the same permit," he said.
The ongoing review of the old permit meant that the proper protections were always in place at the Hunter plant, which is located in Emery County, despite the allegations made by the Sierra Club, Bird said.
David Eskelsen, a spokesman for Rocky Mountain Power, would not comment specifically on the complaint because it involves the Sierra Club and the DAQ, but did say that the Hunter plant "complies with the existing, applicable Title V permit and all other current environmental regulations."
Bill Arthur, associate director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, called the draft permit "an important acknowledgment that Utahns deserve better than a piecemeal approach to [ensuring] that the state is doing all it can to protect Utah's families and communities from dirty coal pollution."
The Sierra Club is still in the process of reviewing the conditions of the proposed permit, said Shane Levy, deputy press secretary for the Sierra Club. However, he said, if the permit is finalized and the Sierra Club determines it meets the requirements of the Clean Air Act, the environmental group would likely drop its legal action against the state.
Public Comment Period
The public can provide input on through Oct. 15
Email comments to email@example.com or send by mail to:
Utah Division of Air Quality
195 N 1950 W
P.O. Box 144820
Salt Lake City, UT 84114-4820
Comments should reference permit number 1500101002.