Citizens Work to Protect Clean Air in Wyoming
Pollution from the Jim Bridger Power Plant can be reduced
by Tom Bell, Wyoming Outdoor Council (Letter to the Editor)
March 10, 2007
The Jim Bridger Power Plant, viewed from a small plane over the desert, is pretty imposing. The four towering smokestacks and accompanying electricity generating units make it one of the largest industrial sites in Wyoming. And, unfortunately, it has been found to be one of the worst air polluters in the West. In late February the Wyoming Outdoor Council and the Sierra Club filed a federal lawsuit to stop violations of air pollution limits in Jim Bridger’s air quality permit.
Jim Bridger is owned by PacifiCorp and Idaho Power. The plant is located about 25 miles east of Rock Springs, north of Interstate 80.
According to PacifiCorp’s own monitoring data submitted to the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), emissions from Jim Bridger exceeded permit limits for opacity thousands of times in the last five years. Opacity is a measure of the density of pollution being released and is an indication of the amount of breathable particles, colored gases, and other light-reflecting and absorbing chemicals in the plant’s emissions. These pollutants can cause serious human health problems, can be harmful to wildlife, and can contribute to local and regional haze.
A recent study by the Environmental Integrity Project accords the Jim Bridger Plant the dubious distinction of being one of the most polluting power plants in the United States. PacifiCorp’s 2005 operating permit says that the four units released 41,000 tons of nitrogen oxides, 27,000 tons of sulfur dioxide, and 14,000 tons of breathable particulate matter. That same year, PacifiCorp reported to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that Jim Bridger emitted over 16,000,000 tons of carbon dioxide into southern Wyoming skies, making it the 20th largest source of carbon dioxide emissions from U.S. power plants.
In 2004 PacifiCorp reported to the EPA that Jim Bridger annually emitted over 140 tons of hazardous air pollutants, including 60 tons of hydrogen fluoride, 50 tons of sulfuric acid, and 34 tons of hydrochloric acid. Additionally, the plant emitted 440 pounds of mercury, which can be toxic to the respiratory, nervous, and reproductive systems in humans, and can especially harm fetuses and children.
The federal Clean Air Act requires major sources of air pollution like Jim Bridger to obtain an operating permit from the DEQ. The operating permit spells out unambiguous emission limits and monitoring requirements. Emission monitoring information is available to the public and under the “citizen suit” provision of the Clean Air Act, citizens may take legal action to stop violations of air pollution limits shown by the emission monitoring data, including opacity limits. It is against this backdrop that this lawsuit was brought by the Wyoming Outdoor Council and the Sierra Club.
The Wyoming Outdoor Council first submitted comments to the DEQ in February 1998 that pointed out the absence of opacity monitors at three Jim Bridger units was in violation of the Clean Air Act. In response to our concerns, in November 2000 the EPA required opacity monitors at the three Jim Bridger units. Opacity monitors were installed in 2001 and they immediately began showing violations. Over the past five years, thousands of violations have been recorded by Jim Bridger’s opacity monitors.
PacifiCorp Energy President Bill Fehrman claimed in a press release on February 21 that the Wyoming Outdoor Council/Sierra Club lawsuit “has no merit and does not involve a risk to the health and welfare of the citizens of Wyoming.” This statement is not only cavalier but untrue in light of established environmental law and health science. The opacity violations reported to DEQ are shown by PacifiCorp’s own monitors, and opacity is regulated to protect public health.
PacifiCorp’s news release also claimed it has plans to spend millions of dollars to upgrade pollution control equipment at Jim Bridger. While we applaud these efforts, we also believe they won’t fix the opacity violations.
What’s a possible solution? Baghouses have been retrofitted on many western power plants and have been shown to be an excellent method for minimizing the opacity of emissions, thereby achieving compliance with the Clean Air Act, protecting the health of citizens, and reducing pollution haze in the air. It’s interesting to note that PacifiCorp has proposed baghouses for its Hunter and Huntington Power Plants in Utah, yet so far has not proposed the same upgrade at Jim Bridger.
The Wyoming Outdoor Council and the Sierra Club entered into the lawsuit only after good-faith negotiations with PacifiCorp broke down in February. The two groups are seeking full and prompt compliance with the current opacity provisions in the Jim Bridger operating permit, and penalties payable to the federal government for past opacity violations. It’s that simple. Wyoming citizens deserve the best air quality protections available.
Tom Bell founded the Wyoming Outdoor Council and High Country News. He is a member of the Wyoming Outdoor Council and the Sierra Club. In 2006 he was inducted into the Wyoming Outdoor Hall of Fame.
PacifiCorp critical of litigation by Greenie groups by PacifiCorp (Pinedale Online, February 21, 2007)