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State Compliance with EPA’s Regional Haze Rule

Regional Haze Overview

In 1999 the Environmental Protection Agency issued a major rule that requires the regulation of pollutants that cause regional haze in federal “Class I” areas, which include most national parks and many wilderness areas. Wyoming has seven Class I areas that the regional haze rule seeks to protect: Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and the North Absoraka, Washakie, Teton, Fitzpatrick, and Bridger Wilderness Areas.

Regional haze is the reduction in visual clarity and the “fuzziness” created by large amounts of diffuse pollutants that cannot be attributed specifically to one or a few sources. It can be thought of as the “white out” that sometimes obscures the 100-mile views we love so much in Wyoming. The purpose of the regional haze rule is to move toward meeting the Clean Air Act's goal of preventing any future impairment--and remedying any existing impairment--of visibility in Class I areas.

As part of the rule, the state must require companies that own and operate pollution sources to install what is known as best available retrofit technology (BART) if the source is shown to cause significant impairment of visibility in Class I areas. The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality identified eight sources of air pollution in Wyoming that are “BART-eligible.” These include the FMC Granger and Westvaco trona plants, General Chemicals trona plant, and the following coal-fired power plants: Laramie River, Dave Johnston, Jim Bridger, Naughton, and Wyodak. Of these, all but the Granger plant were determined to be "subject to BART."

The EPA’s regional haze rule also requires the state to submit a revision of its State Implementation Plan to the EPA for approval. The revision must meet requirements under the regional haze rule to assure “reasonable progress” toward “natural visibility conditions” in Class I areas. The SIP revision must ensure a rate of progress that will allow attainment of natural visibility conditions by 2064.

You can view the regional haze rule and learn more about this issue here. A more detailed background and overview is also available below.

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Deadlines for Compliance with the Regional Haze Rule

On January 15, 2009 the EPA found that 37 states, including Wyoming, had failed to submit required regional haze rule state implementation plan (SIP) revisions for the EPA's review and approval, and by that notice it informed the states that if a SIP was not in place within two years--by January 15, 2011--the EPA would be required to instead put in place a federal implementation plan (FIP) for each tardy state to ensure compliance with the rule.

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Urging Effective Action from the EPA

In an effort to ensure protection of visibility in Class I areas, the Wyoming Outdoor Council, in collaboration with a number of other groups, submitted two letters to the EPA in 2010, urging the agency to meet its prescribed deadlines for compliance with the regional haze rule.

You can read a copy of the first letter, which was sent to the EPA in May of 2010, and signed by 19 public interest organizations, here.

The second letter, sent in July 2010 by the Wyoming Outdoor Council on behalf of four conservation organizations, is available here.

The first letter, submitted to EPA Assistant Administrator Gina McCarthy on May 20, 2010, asked that EPA only approve SIPs or FIPs that fully protect Class I areas--and we made seven specific recommendations for how this could be accomplished, including, for example, by presumptively favoring selective catalytic reduction (SCR) as a technology for controlling nitrogen oxide emissions from coal-fired power plants as part of the Best Available Retrofit Technology (BART) component of the regional haze rule.

We also asked the EPA to provide us with information showing that it would comply with the January 15, 2011 deadline.

The second letter was submitted to EPA Regional Administrator James Martin on June 11, 2010. In this letter we reiterated the seven recommendations for effectively implementing the regional haze rule, illustrating those needs with Wyoming-based information and examples that demonstrated the importance of these seven recommendations. In that letter we also noted that it was unlikely the State of Wyoming will be able to submit a draft SIP sufficiently in advance of the January 15, 2011 deadline to allow for EPA review, and accordingly we urged the EPA to begin development of a FIP for Wyoming.

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Background on the Rule

As noted above, regional haze is the pervasive degradation of visibility caused by air pollutants emitted by a large and diverse array of sources over a large geographic area.

Regional haze is caused by major and minor sources of air pollution, including mobile sources (cars and trucks), and “area sources” (generally small sources of air pollution in a specific area such as dry cleaners, gas stations, and auto body paint shops). Regional haze is responsible for the pervasive “fuzziness” that sometimes obscures the crystal clear views we love so much in Wyoming.

Of particular concern are the effects of regional haze in specially protected areas, particularly our National Parks and Wilderness Areas. Under the Clean Air Act, “Congress hereby declares as a national goal the prevention of any future, and the remedying of any existing, impairment of visibility in mandatory class I Federal areas which impairment results from manmade air pollution.” Class I areas are generally defined by the Clean Air Act as most National Parks and Wilderness Areas, if they were created prior to August 7, 1977.

In addition, the Clean Air Act declares that in order to protect visibility in clean air areas such as Wyoming it is the purpose of the Clean Air Act to “preserve, protect, and enhance the air quality in national parks, national wilderness areas” and other areas of special value.

In Wyoming we have seven Class I areas. These are Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, and the North Absoraka, Washakie, Teton, Bridger, and Fitzpatrick Wilderness Areas. These are obviously iconic areas with magnificent views that are valued by Wyoming residents, as well as by people nationally and even internationally. Under the provisions of the Clean Air Act these areas are entitled to special protection from air pollution to protect visibility. We should be able to see the Grand Tetons clearly when we climb Wyoming’s highest mountain, Gannett Peak, in the Wind River Range's Bridger Wilderness Area. We should be able to see the Bighorn Mountains 100 miles away on the other side of the Bighorn Basin when we are hiking in the North Absoraka or Washakie Wilderness Areas.

It is recognized that regional haze can threaten visibility in our priceless Class I areas. Visibility in these areas is generally seen as being threatened by two forms of air pollution. The first is “reasonably attributable” air pollution from a specific stationary source, such as the plume from a power plant or other industrial facility, or a small group of such sources. The other form of pollution that threatens Class I areas is visibility impairment caused by regional haze.

Given the significant impacts that regional haze can have on visibility in Class I areas, in 1999 the EPA adopted regulations intended to control air pollution contributing to regional haze. The aim of the regional haze rule, as it is known, is to improve visibility in the nation’s 156 Class I areas. The goal is to ensure natural visibility conditions in these areas by 2064.

The rule requires the states to develop long term plans and strategies that will make “reasonable progress” towards the goal of having natural visibility conditions by 2064. More specifically, the SIPs must establish reasonable progress goals that provide for an improvement in visibility conditions in Class I areas on the 20 percent most impaired days, and no degradation in visibility on the 20 percent least impaired days.

In addition to the “reasonable progress goals,” one of the most important requirements of the regional haze rule is for the installation of BART on certain old pollution sources that cause or contribute to visibility impairment in Class I areas. The requirement to install BART applies to plants that were built between 1962 and 1977 that have the potential to emit 250 tons per year or more of certain air pollutants, and which are in one of 26 specified categories of air pollution, if they may reasonably be anticipated to cause or contribute to impairment of visibility in a Class I area.

The three air pollutants that the regional haze rule primarily addresses are control of particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide. BART requirements are a primary means to regulate these pollutants, but other programs and provisions in a SIP (or FIP) can also apply, including in Wyoming a regional sulfur dioxide milestone and backstop emissions trading program.

If the regional haze rule were fully implemented as planned on the required deadlines, it is likely Wyoming’s seven Class I areas would enjoy natural visibility conditions by 2064. However, to date, the DEQ has shown a minimalist approach to complying with the regional haze rule.

If you want more information on the regional haze rule you can visit the DEQ websitehere and here, or the EPA website here.

And as noted, in addition to the regional haze rule provisions, both the EPA and the DEQ have in place regulations that address “plume impairment” (or “reasonably attributable”) visibility degradation in Class I areas.

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