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RBC I WildEarth Guardians, an environmental organization based out of Santa Fe, New Mexico, filed a lawsuit late last month to halt the continued operation of the Bonanza power plant in Utah unless it makes substantial technological upgrades.
WildEarth Guardians claims the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which has jurisdiction over the plant, has failed to address Bonanza’s violations of air quality and ozone standards since the early 2000s and that the plant should be required to install the best available technology to meet the requirements of a Title V comprehensive operating permit for air quality.
The Deseret Power Electric Cooperative says it installed the best available pollution controls during the plant’s construction and that installing upgrades before they are legally required is unfair. It also points to the Deserado Mine and power plant’s nearly $13 million in annual tax revenue to the Western Slope, arguing that there would be a “large, adverse and community-wide impact associated with a failure of Bonanza to obtain a Title V operation permit.”
According to an information packet assembled by the Town of Rangely and made available by the Rangely Area Chamber of Commerce last week, the EPA is considering rescinding the construction permit given to Bonanza nearly 15 years ago, which could “lay a groundwork for the EPA to impose severe new emission restrictions on Bonanza.” The information states the cost of mandatory upgrades before the plant’s current mortgage is paid could increase power rates by 40 percent and close the mine prematurely should new emissions standards change coal production needs or require the plant to change its fuel source.
The WildEarth Guardians website claims that the mine and power plant release excessive amounts of nitrogen oxide and carbon pollution into the environment each year, due in part to “the Bonanza power plant’s 600-foot tall smokestack … the largest source of smog and haze forming nitrogen oxide emissions in the region.”
The packet, in response, cites a 2013 Utah State University/University of Utah study arguing that the smokestack plume “does not appear to contribute any significant amount of nitrogen oxides or other contaminants to the polluted boundary layer during ozone episodes.”
WildEarth Guardians is among a group of non-profit agencies under criticism for filing dozens of lawsuits annually against federal agency departments and receiving reimbursements for attorney and other costs under the Equal Access to Justice Act, which gives individuals making claims against the government a way to recover legal fees if those claims have merit. An amendment to the act proposed last year would require annual reports detailing fees and other expenses awarded to non-federal entities when they win cases against federal agencies.
“The EAJA was meant to protect the average citizen against government abuse, not for a major network and non-profit with thousands of members to file a lawsuit a week, collecting government subsidies for their actions,” said Rangely Town Manager Peter Brixius. “So often their actions come at the very end of a public process with years of meetings and planning in an effort to derail what is already a very open and public process.”
Tuesday morning, Deseret Power CEO Kimball Rasmussen and Moon Lake Electric Association CEO Grant Earl came to the Rangely Town Hall to meet in person or on conference call with a representative of the Department of Natural Resources, town and district officials and private citizens to discuss the lawsuit and possible content of two public hearings held Tuesday in Fort Duchesne, Utah.
The Rangely School District sponsored transportation for community members to attend the hearing and voice comments at one of the hearings.