Court delays EPA enforcement of new pollution-control rules at Wyoming coal plants until challenge is settled

A federal appeals court has ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cannot force three Wyoming power plants, including the Laramie River Station near Wheatland, Wyo., to install expensive pollution-control equipment until a legal challenge to the EPA rules is settled in court.

The EPA order will require the Laramie River Station, a large coal-fired power plant, to install selective catalytic reduction (SCR) equipment by 2019 to reduce regional haze in order to continue full operations, said Missouri River Energy Services of Sioux Falls, S.D., a participant in the plant. The plant's co-owners estimate that SCR equipment for the 1,710-MW plant would cost about $750 million. MRES said its share of that would amount to about $125 million.

The state of Wyoming had issued its own regional haze reduction plan under the Clean Air Act. The Wyoming plan "would have required power plant owners to install additional pollution control equipment that is much less expensive than SCR equipment," MRES said in a Sept. 12 news release. Several electric utilities, including the Laramie River Station participants, joined with the state of Wyoming to challenge the EPA rule in federal court.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled on Sept. 9 that the EPA could not impose its rule while the Wyoming challenge is pending.

"We are pleased that the Circuit Court came to this conclusion," said MRES CEO Tom Heller, "At the same time, we are hopeful that the courts in the pending case will come down on the side of the state of Wyoming and electricity consumers throughout the region, whose rates will rise dramatically if the EPA rule is allowed to stand."

The state "has come up with a reasonable plan that fits within the objectives of the Clean Air Act," Heller said. "The Wyoming plan will be effective against regional haze without forcing utilities to choose between installing very costly equipment or prematurely shutting down efficient, reliable, low-cost power plants and replacing those plants with more expensive alternatives. Either of those choices would mean large rate increases for electricity consumers."

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead applauded the decision by a two-judge panel of the 10th Circuit, saying that Wyoming "has a solid and effective plan." He said that the rejection of Wyoming’s plan "by the EPA was wrong."

The other two coal-fired power plants affected by this ruling are the 817-MW Dave Johnson plant near Glenrock, Wyo., and the 362-MW Wyodak plant near Gilette, Wyo.. Both plants are owned by MidAmerican Energy.