Pollution Blocks Views of Utah National Parks

NPS pressing for crackdown on coal plants

Apr 28, 2015
Outside Magazine
Pollution Blocks Views of Utah National Parks

The National Park Service says that pollution from coal-fired power plants is ruining views of the state's five national parks.    Diana Robinson/Flickr

The National Park Service (NPS) is urging Utah environmental regulators to crack down on coal-fired power plants, which it says are ruining the views of the state’s five national parks. The NPS argues that pollution from the plants obscures vistas in Zion National Park 80 percent of the time, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

The problem extends to all five of Utah’s national parks. NPS submitted comments earlier in April to the state’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) saying that the haze could be dealt with by requiring further reductions in nitrogen-oxide emissions from the Hunter and Huntington coal plants in central Utah. But NPS says the Division of Air Quality won’t implement this restriction in its plan to combat “regional haze.”

“The state clearly values the importance of the five national parks in Utah and actively promotes national tourism, yet at the same time it appears unprepared to fulfill its legal requirements under the Clean Air Act and associated regulations to protect and enhance the very scenic views that attract millions of visitors to the parks every year,” wrote Tammy Whittington, associate regional NPS director for resource stewardship and science.

NPS submitted its comments to the Environmental Protection Agency and DEQ in a public comment process that goes through Friday. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, environmental advocates say Rocky Mountain Power (RMP) should install retrofit emission control technology, but the DEQ says that past upgrades have been expensive and that the closing of the Carbon Power Plant brought them in line with regional haze standards.

“You’re talking in excess of $170 million per unit. They are custom retrofits; the actual cost would vary per unit. You get a better result by the work already done [on four units] at Hunter and Huntington and the Carbon closure than the regional haze rules requires,” RMP spokesman Dave Eskelsen told the Tribune. “If you add selective catalytic reduction to those units, you get a substantial expense to consumers with a marginal benefit to the regional haze quality.” Eskelsen also said the pollution over the parks comes from wide-ranging sources, like recent wildfires in Siberia.

But last year, the EPA rejected parts of Utah’s haze plan, and environmentalists argue that the revised one isn’t much better.

“They keep delaying and delaying and reproposing the same plan,” Cory MacNulty, of the National Parks Conservation Association, told the Tribune. “We have to have reductions that go much deeper than this plan to clean the air over our parks.”