EPA Disapproves Wyoming Coal Plant Plan Despite Signaling Support Under Trump

Disapproval comes after months of allegedly Illegal Inaction; could cost hundreds of jobs and millions in revenue

After more than a year of inaction, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced Jan. 12 that it proposes to disapprove the State of Wyoming’s changes to its regional haze plan for PacifiCorp’s Jim Bridger coal power plant, potentially closing down Unit 2 of the facility for a year or more.

Yet in an exclusive interview with The Epoch Times, a Trump EPA official verified that he greenlit those changes in November 2020.

Greg Sopkin, former Region 8 administrator of the EPA, said that “to the best of [his] recollection,” he approved Wyoming’s revised submission “on or around November 20, 2020.” Sopkin added that he ceased working for the EPA in November 2020.

In a statement, the EPA told The Epoch Times that the action did not take effect because it had not yet appeared in the Federal Register, leaving it subject to the White House’s Jan. 20 Regulatory Freeze Pending Review Memorandum.

EPA’s proposed rule comes just weeks after the Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon issued an emergency suspension order to keep the unit open. That order came after Gordon and PacifiCorp notified EPA of their intent to sue over its inaction on the proposal Nov. 14, 2021, based on its alleged violation of a non-discretionary duty under the Clean Air Act.

In Gordon’s Dec. 27 order, he wrote that installation of a selective catalytic reduction (SCR) system on Unit 2 by Dec. 31, 2021, as required by the existing plan, would not be feasible “at this late hour.” That plan also mandates installation of an SCR system on Unit 1 of the plant by Dec. 31., 2022.

The State of Wyoming instead wants to implement visibility enhancing emissions limits on nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) as proposed by PacifiCorp in 2019.

Gordon’s letter ended with a State of Wyoming-sponsored analysis from Timothy Considine, a professor of energy economics at the University of Wyoming.

Considine calculated that the closing Unit 2 could decrease value added to the State of Wyoming by $148.6 million while also reducing annual tax revenues by $33.2 million and employee compensation by $34.9 million.

In addition, he estimated that the closure would cost 404 Wyoming jobs, including those directly and indirectly supported by the plant as well as jobs induced by it. Most of those projected job losses would occur in Sweetwater County, the site of the plant as well as coal mines that support it.

Mayor Tim Kaumo of Rock Springs, the most populous city in Sweetwater County, did not respond to a request for comment from The Epoch Times. (Kaumo was cc’d on Gordon’s Dec. 27 emergency suspension).

The Epoch Times also reached out to the Sweetwater Economic Development Coalition, a partnership between the county and local cities to aid businesses in the area.

The State of Wyoming submitted its proposed revision to EPA in May 2020. Gordon’s emergency suspension order noted the Trump administration’s EPA had completed its review of the revision in Nov. 2020.

“Wyoming was notified on November 23, 2020 that the former Region 8 administrator, Gregory Sopkin, had signed the proposed action on November 20, 2020, and that Wyoming would be informed when the action would be published in the Federal Register. But that did not happen,” Gordon’s letter states. Sopkin, as quoted above, confirmed his approval of the submission.

In its proposed rule and a related press release, EPA does not appear to address those actions.

The EPA’s proposed rule does state that SCRs on Units 1 and 2 of Bridger would “yield appreciable visibility improvement at a reasonable cost.” It argues that the State had previously agreed that costs for the SCR requirements were reasonable and that those costs as estimated by the state remained “eminently reasonable.”

In Gordons’ emergency suspension letter, he argues there were “no known disadvantages” to PacifiCorp’s proposed changes.

Notably, PacifiCorp intends to switch to natural gas from coal on Units 1 and 2 by 2024.

“In light of this intention, it will never make sense for PacifiCorp to install SCR at Unit 2 for the purpose of restarting the Unit for the limited period of time until conversion. Accordingly, if EPA forces Unit 2 to shutdown, it will remain shutdown until it can be restarted as a natural gas unit,” Gordon’s letter states.

The EPA’s press release on its proposed rule states that PacifiCorp’s slated conversion from coal should not have any bearing on the agency’s decision: “The company’s intentions are not part of Wyoming’s proposed revisions to its regional haze plan thereby precluding the planned conversion from EPA consideration and analysis.”

In an email to The Epoch Times, a spokesperson for PacifiCorp said that “it would not be unusual” for the company to combine its lawsuit with the State of Wyoming’s.

“PacifiCorp continues to seek a path that allows the units to continue operating in compliance with the Clean Air Act as we work towards the planned unit conversions to natural gas,” said the spokesperson.

Wyoming’s two senators expressed frustration with the EPA and its apparent departure from expectations established under the Trump administration

“The EPA’s decision today is a complete reversal from that of career EPA employees during the previous administration,” Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) said in a statement directed to The Epoch Times. “The Biden EPA’s decision here is needlessly hurting Wyoming’s energy workers and threatening America’s energy independence as well. It is blatantly political, and I will continue to block President Biden’s EPA nominees over this issue.”

“Wyoming has worked tirelessly to comply with federal law on its regional haze plan for the Jim Bridger Power Plant. The Biden administration’s decision to reverse course to appease environmental activists, including climate czars in the White House, will not help the people, or the environment, of Wyoming,” Lummis added.

“The proposal to disapprove the State of Wyoming’s revised regional haze plan is not driven by sound science or sensible policy. It is pure political theater that puts the future of Wyoming’s energy workers at risk,” said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) in his own statement to The Epoch Times.

Nathan Worcester

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Nathan Worcester is an environmental reporter at The Epoch Times.

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