Environmental, Industry Groups Disagree on Haze Air Rule

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By Tripp Baltz

June 1 — Environmental groups urged the Environmental Protection Agency to not follow through on an April proposal that would delay submittal deadlines for state regional haze plans by three years, while power generators called the proposal an “extension” that would enable them to comply with the rule's requirements.

“The deadline for state implementation plans should remain at 2018” instead of 2021 as the EPA proposed in revisions to the regional haze rule, Bill Corcoran, western director of the Sierra Club's “Beyond Coal” Campaign, said at a public hearing on the proposed revisions June 1 in Denver. “A siren song of delaying pollution cleanup so that affected industry can supposedly address Clean Air Act regulatory obligations in unison will, inevitably, result in delays piling up on delays.”

Other environmental groups presented similar remarks on the proposed revisions, which the EPA proposed April 25 with the goals of streamlining, strengthening and clarifying aspects of the agency's program to reduce regional haze, which is visibility impairment caused primarily by emissions of particulate pollutants.

Coordinating Major Air Rules

The EPA said the proposal (RIN:2060-AS55), which was published May 4, would allow states to coordinate their regional haze planning with implementation of other major air regulations, including the Clean Power Plan for carbon dioxide reductions and the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (81 Fed. Reg. 26,942; 81 DEN A-1, 4/27/16).

The Clean Air Act established the program to improve and protect clear views in federal Class 1 areas, which include national parks and wilderness areas such as the Grand Canyon. The program requires states to incorporate measures to reduce particulate pollution into their state implementation plans. Stationary sources, vehicles, road dust, wood-burning, wildfires and other sources contribute to particulate pollution.

Delay Called Unnecessary

“EPA's proposed extension would unnecessarily delay a program that has already suffered from decades of delays,” said Earthjustice attorney Matthew Gerhart. Congress enacted the regional haze provisions in the Clean Air Act in 1977, then added new provisions with the 1990 amendments to the act “out of frustration” with the EPA's slow progress towards the program's goals, he said.

“Past experience has shown that many states will not meet any deadline EPA sets, and that EPA will have to fill in the gap by issuing a FIP [federal implementation plan],” Gerhart said. “Even today, there are four states which lack complete, final haze plans for the first planning period.”

Extending the “second planning period” submittal deadline will not change the 2028 deadline for achieving measurable reductions in emissions and improvements in visibility since the EPA left that deadline, required by the current rule, in place, said Mary Uhl, executive director of the Western States Air Resources Council, an association of 15 state air quality management agencies.

Providing states with additional time to prepare their revised regional haze plans will enable a “full accounting of planned reductions from federal controls, including the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, the 2020 sulfur dioxide standards, the 2012 fine matter particulate (PM-2.5) standards, and the 2015 ozone standards, she said.

“It has long been recognized that the better we integrate planning to take account of federal control measures, the more efficient our regulatory development processes will be,” she said.

Industry Supports Extension

Lyle Witham, manager of environmental services at Basin Electric Power Cooperative, who testified at the hearing on behalf of Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, said the association supports the extension of the next phase of the regional haze program. Tri-State is an association of non-profit generation and transmission cooperatives in Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Nebraska.

“This will allow Tri-State and other Western utilities time to complete installation of phase 1 regional haze controls and address other issues under other recent Clean Air Act rulemakings,” Witham said. “By 2021, the picture will become clearer concerning how phases 1 and other rulemaking reductions will impact Class 1 Area visibility and what other steps are needed to attain the next 10-year glide path goals.”

Before moving forward with a final rule, the EPA should consider unique differences that result in Western stakeholders being “disproportionately affected” by regional haze issues, Witham said.

“International wildfires and dust storms, especially those originating in Canada and Mexico, and anthropogenic emissions originating in Canada, Mexico and Asia have a greater impact in the Western United States than other regions,” he said.

The EPA is taking comments on the proposal until July 5.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tripp Baltz in Denver at abaltz@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

For More Information

The proposed rule is available at http://src.bna.com/fvY.