This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Clean-air activists delivered tens of thousands of petitions to Rocky Mountain Power's doorstep Tuesday morning in an attempt to dissuade the utility company from fighting federally mandated pollution controls at Utah power plants.
About a dozen demonstrators walked 44,000 petitions to Rocky Mountain Power's Salt Lake City offices while calling for the company to stand down and comply with the Environmental Protection Agency's decision to require the pollution controls, rather than file its planned lawsuit against the federal government.
"We call on Rocky Mountain Power to do the right thing for public health and for the public good," said Park Willis, a member of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, "rather than for short-term profits."
Willis, a cardiologist from North Carolina, said he joined the group last spring. He said he's long traveled to Utah to enjoy outdoor recreational opportunities, and some family recently moved to the state. But he said he didn't realize the full extent of Utah's air pollution troubles until this February, when he endured one of Utah's infamous inversions for the first time.
"It's striking, the difference between the perception of Utah and the pollution that is here," he said.
The EPA announced earlier this summer that after years of delay, it had decided to override a state-drafted plan for regional haze management and require two coal-fired power plants in Emery County to install additional pollution controls in order to improve visibility at nearby national parks.
The EPA believes those pollution controls known as selective catalytic reduction, or SCR will reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide, one of the chemicals that contributes to the formation of haze, by nearly 10,000 tons per year.
Utah officials, and Rocky Mountain Power, continue to stand by the state's plan, which would have credited the utility for emissions reductions that resulted from the April 2015 closing of another of the company's coal-fired power plants, in Carbon. That plan, they argued, complied with EPA requirements and put Utah on track with the federal time line for restoring "natural" air conditions in 156 national parks and wilderness areas by 2064.
Paul Murphy, a spokesman for Rocky Mountain Power, said the company still plans appeal the EPA's decision on or before the Sept. 6 deadline.
"The company shut down the Carbon plant and spent more than $500 million on burners, scrubber upgrades and baghouses at the Huntington and Hunter plants," Murphy said. "Those controls are accomplishing much more than what could be achieved with SCR controls and at a significantly lower cost."
Murphy said installing more pollution controls would not affect the company's profits, but would cost customers $700 million while resulting in only incremental improvements in regional visibility.
Murphy also stressed that the plan and pollution controls are related to visibility, not to health standards, though Willis argued that those same pollutants that reduce visibility also cause or exacerbate diseases of the heart, lungs and brain.
According to the EPA, the federal plan will improve visibility by more than three deciviews at Canyonlands National Park, the area most affected by pollution from the Hunter and Huntington plants. A deciview is equal to an incremental change in visibility as perceived by the human eye, according to the EPA. Pollution from the two plants is also believed to affect visibility in Mesa Verde, Grand Canyon, Black Canyon, Arches, Zion, Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef national parks.
Barring legal action, Rocky Mountain Power and the state of Utah have five years to comply with the EPA's mandate.
The petitions were circulated and collected online by the Sierra Club, but other local clean air organizations, including HEAL Utah and Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, took part in the delivery.