EPA, power plant strike deal on emissions

The Environmental Protection Agency says a $295,000 settlement involving a coal-fired power plant outside Vernal, Utah, will reduce substantially emissions particulates that endanger health and reduce visibility due to haze.

But the agreement with the owner of the Bonanza Power Plant is not expected to do much to address a wintertime ozone problem in northeastern Utah and western Rio Blanco County in Colorado.

The EPA said Tuesday it has settled with the Utah-based Deseret Generation & Transmission Cooperative to resolve alleged violations at the plant, located on the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation. The agency contends the power plant bypassed its pollution control device during startup and shutdown of operations, resulting in excess emissions of particulate matter.

The company has agreed to stop bypassing the device, pay $35,000 in penalties and spend $260,000 replacing at least five fleet vehicles in the area with ones using cleaner-burning natural gas.

The EPA says the power plant violated emissions standards at least 4,490 times between 2007 and 2012. In a settlement agreement, Deseret denies violating emission opacity limits or failing to operate the plant “in a manner consistent with good air pollution control practices for minimizing emissions.”

The plant burns about 2 million tons of coal a year. It is the sole customer of Blue Mountain Energy’s Deserado Mine northeast of Rangely.

Ozone readings this winter put Rio Blanco County on track to be found in violation of federal standards, the first time that will have happened in western Colorado. Oil and gas development in northeastern Utah’s Uinta Basin and emissions from the Bonanza plant are major sources in that region of pollutants known to factor into ozone creation.

Bonanza is a significant local contributor of nitrogen oxide, an ozone precursor. The settlement agreement’s focus is particulate emissions, although nitrogen oxide reductions will occur due to the vehicle conversions to natural gas fuel.

“There are several sources of nitrogen oxide in the basin. While every little bit helps, we do not expect this settlement will have a significant impact on winter ozone levels in the valley,” said EPA spokesman Matthew Allen.

Jeremy Nichols with the environmental group WildEarth Guardians says the settlement is a positive development, but more could have been done to rein in the plant’s pollution and address the ozone problem. He contends the plant failed to comply with a Clean Air Act requirement to improve its nitrogen oxide controls during a 1990s plant upgrade.

Deseret did not return a call for comment.


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