WildEarth Guardians challenges haze plan for Craig coal plant

WildEarth Guardians said Feb. 25 that it filed suit to overturn a “political deal” that lets Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association’s Craig coal-fired power plant put Colorado’s communities and its mountains “at risk” from air pollution.

“This dirty energy deal not only puts people and parks at risk, it violates the Clean Air Act,” said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program Director. “It’s time stop giving breaks to dirty energy and start holding Tri-State accountable to clean energy.”

Tri-State spokesman Lee Boughey said Feb. 26 this lawsuit is typical of WildEarth Guardians. He said this group is usually “outside the mainstream” of environmental groups and did not participate with state and federal regulators – and several environmental groups – in a negotation that led to the deal the group is now contesting in court. He noted that Tri-State is currently in the planning and engineering phase for the selective catalytic reduction (SCR) system for Craig Unit 2 that was covered under the deal that WildEarth is now contesting.

The lawsuit, filed with the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, challenges the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) approval of a Colorado plan to curb haze pollution. That plan, published in the Dec. 31, 2012, Federal Register, which also approved the retirement of some of Xcel Energy’s (NYSE: XEL) Front Range coal-fired power plants as part of the Colorado Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act, adopted a deal allowing Tri-State to forego meeting stringent clean air standards at its Craig plant, said the environmental group, adding that this deal was not a part of the Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act. Boughey pointed out that Craig was never part of that Act, which only applied to investor-owned utilities.

Craig is a coal-fired facility with a total net capacity of 1,264 MW, consisting of three units. Only Units 1-2 are BART-eligible, with each rated at a net capacity of 428 MW. Much of the coal for the plant comes from the Colowyo strip mine in Colorado, which Tri-State bought in 2011.

Under the federal Clean Air Act, Colorado was required to develop a plan to curtail haze pollution from the state’s largest and dirtiest sources of air pollution using the “best available retrofit technology.” As part of this requirement, two of the three units at Craig were required to be retrofitted with updated pollution air pollution controls, primarily to curtail NOx emissions, WildEarth Guardians said. Boughey noted that the BART program only sets emissions limits based on various factors and doesn’t require any emissions controls outright.

“Unfortunately, Colorado cut a deal with Tri-State that allowed the company to install updated pollution controls on only one unit at the Craig plant,” the group added. “The deal allowed the company to install up to date nitrogen oxide emission controls, called ‘selective catalytic reduction,’ while allowing the other unit to forego installing these controls entirely, even though both units are identical. Despite recognizing that selective catalytic reduction was both cost-effective and represented the ‘best available retrofit technology,’ the State rejected its use on both units.”

EPA said this novel approach meets clean-air goals

The EPA ultimately approved Colorado’s approach. Said EPA’s approval notice about the Craig plan: “EPA acknowledges that Colorado’s approach appears to be a novel and comprehensive strategy for addressing regional haze requirements and other air quality goals. In 2010, the Colorado General Assembly adopted legislation authorizing the Air Quality Control Commission and the Public Utilities Commission to develop a comprehensive plan for coal-fired electric generating units in the state that would address not only regional haze but also potential new ozone standards and mercury standards, as well as other requirements that, in the State’s view, could apply to coal-fired electric generation units in the foreseeable future. The State desired to address these issues in a coordinated way in order to achieve the most cost-effective strategy that accounted for not only current, but other imminent regulatory requirements.

EPA continued: “This approach appears to be unique and, as noted below, will yield significant emissions reductions not only of pollutants that affect visibility in Class I areas, but also significant reductions in pollutants that contribute to ozone formation, nitrogen deposition, and mercury emissions and deposition. The State spent considerable time and conducted sequential and extended hearings to develop a plan which seeks to balance a number of variables beyond those that would be involved in a simpler and narrower regional haze determination.”

EPA added that Colorado’s BART requirements for the Craig units reflect a balance struck by Tri-State and several environmental groups before the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission during an extensive and formal proceeding. At the conclusion of the proceeding, the commission adopted the agreement as part of Colorado’s regional haze plan. As a result, the plan requires installation of SCR at one of the two Craig BART-eligible units even though the commission previously had concluded that installation of SCR was not warranted at either unit.

“In addition, we note that Colorado has imposed SCR as BART on two other EGUs in western Colorado – Hayden Units 1 and 2 – and at the Pawnee plant in eastern Colorado,” EPA wrote. “Moreover, Colorado has exceeded the minimum requirements for BART and reasonable progress for sources included in the [Public Service Co. of Colorado] BART Alternative, and has imposed substantial and meaningful controls, that go beyond what EPA’s regulations otherwise might have required, to address reasonable progress sources for the initial planning period.”

WildEarth Guardians’ lawsuit amounts to a one-page filing with the 10th Circuit. In an opening brief that will likely be filed in 60 days, it will challenge in detail EPA’s approval of Colorado’s deal over the Craig station. WildEarth Guardians said it does not intend to challenge the portions of the haze plan incorporating the Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.