RELEASE: Biden’s EPA Backs Trump Rule to Let Utah’s Coal Plants Pollute National Parks

Conservation Groups Pursue Lawsuit to Defend Clean Air Act’s Regional Haze ProgramWednesday, December 8, 2021Contact: 

Alex Veilleux, HEAL Utah, alex@healutah.org
Jonny Vasic, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, jvasic@uphe.org 
Liam Kelly, NPCA, lkelly@npca.org
Thomas Young, Sierra Club, thomas.young@sierraclub.org

SALT LAKE CITY, UT — The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has notified HEAL Utah, National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), Sierra Club, and Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment that it will defend the Trump administration’s decision to let Utah’s massive coal plants pollute 11 national parks and 14 wilderness areas in violation of the Regional Haze Rule✎ EditSign, established by the Clean Air Act. 

The four groups sued the EPA✎ EditSign at the end of the Trump administration, and now intend to continue that lawsuit against the Biden administration to defend the Regional Haze Rule. The Regional Haze Rule is designed to protect our national parks and wilderness areas from fossil fuel pollution that causes haze clouds in our country’s most iconic parks, and to return those wild places to natural visibility by 2064.

The coal-fired Hunter and Huntington power plants, located in central Utah and operated by a subsidiary of PacifiCorp, are two of the biggest polluters in the country and are among the top sources of haze pollution in our national parks, including “The Mighty Five” in Utah — Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion — and many other national parks and wilderness areas beyond Utah’s borders, including the Grand Canyon.

During the Obama presidency, the EPA issued a Federal Implementation Plan (FIP) that included cost-effective pollution reduction measures to cut haze-causing nitrogen oxide emissions by 76 percent from Utah’s coal plants. The Trump administration superseded the 2016 FIP with one that required no controls on Hunter or Huntington. The Biden administration could have easily rejected Trump’s rule and simply reverted to the prior Obama rule. 

Since the Trump administration rejected coal pollution controls in Utah, more than 100,000 people submitted comments to state and federal agencies asking for stronger nitrogen oxide pollution controls on Utah’s Hunter and Huntington coal plants to clear up haze in the region’s national parks.

We are beyond disappointed that the Biden administration’s EPA is defending a Trump era decision that allows the views of southern Utah’s iconic scenery to be blurred by air pollution,” said Alex Veilleux, Policy Associate at the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah. “Communities and advocates fought hard for the original plan to improve the visibility in these locations. Is the bar really so low that we can’t even expect Rocky Mountain Power to modify its coal plant smokestacks to clean up the air in our national parks?”

“The medical research on air pollution is well established–there is no safe level of air pollution exposure. Even levels far below the EPA’s national standards precipitate a long list of human diseases, acceleration of the aging process and premature death. The do-nothing rule left over from the Trump Administration is unacceptable. The pollution from Hunter and Huntington not only creates regional haze but the burning of the coal represents a health hazard to people throughout Southern Utah and beyond,” said Jonny Vasic, Executive Director for Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.

“It’s outrageous that the Biden administration is rejecting the best opportunity to slash pollution from these enormous coal plants that have been damaging Utah’s people and parks for decades,” said Cory MacNulty, associate southwest director of the National Parks Conservation Association. “The awe-inspiring views at places such as Arches, Canyonlands and Zion are obscured by the pollution from two of the biggest park polluters in the country, and allowing these places to continue to pollute the air unabated is a huge disappointment.”

“The decision to side with Trump on an issue that has such great consequences for clean air in the West is indefensible, and is a failure of the Biden administration to match action in Utah with its rhetoric on cutting fossil fuel pollution,” said Holly Bender, Sierra Club’s Senior Director of Energy Campaigns. “Restoring strong clean air protections for Utah should have been one of the Biden administration’s easiest decisions; instead Biden’s EPA has sided with Trump and the coal industry in Utah, allowing more harmful pollution for decades to come. 


About HEAL Utah

The Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah (HEAL Utah) has been an environmental advocacy organization, watchdog, and strategic influencer in Utah since 1999. By empowering grassroots advocates, using science-based solutions, and developing common-sense policy, HEAL has a track record of tackling some of the biggest threats to Utah’s environment and public health — and succeeding. The organization focuses on clean air, energy and climate, and radioactive waste. HEAL uses well-researched legislative, regulatory, and individual responsibility approaches to create tangible change and then utilizes grassroots action to make it happen. www.healutah.org. 

About Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment

Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment was formed in 2007 during one of Utah’s worst inversions. The organization consists of approximately 400 medical professionals within Utah, and another 4,000 supporting members of the public.  UPHE is dedicated to protecting the health and well being of the citizens of Utah by promoting science- based health education and interventions that result in progressive and measurable improvements to the environment and our health. UPHE can be found at www.uphe.org.

About National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA)

Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association has been the leading voice in safeguarding our national parks. NPCA and its nearly 1.6 million members and supporters work together to protect and preserve our nation’s most iconic and inspirational places for future generations. For more information, visit www.npca.org.

About the Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with millions of members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person’s right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit www.sierraclub.org.