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EPA Decides Soon On Cutting Haze In National Parks

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On a clear day at the Grand Canyon, you can see over 200 miles but haze can cut visibility to 61 miles. Reducing pollution from the Huntington and Hunter coal-fired power plants in Utah would help clear the skies, some say.

Officials at the Environmental Protection Agency are expected to decide next week on new pollution controls for two coal-fired power plants in central Utah.

On one side, environmental groups have been pushing the EPA to order new equipment to reduce emissions from Pacificorp’s Hunter and Huntington power plants in Emery County. Then a group of Arizona businesses wrote to federal environmental officials to say that nitrogen oxide pollution threatens the Grand Canyon -- along with the economy and culture that depends on it.

“We feel like the best technology should be used to protect the air  in the West and to protect the tourism industry and to keep people wanting to come out here,” says Scott Cundy, co-owner of the Flagstaff-based Wildland Trekking Company, which leads hiking and backpacking tours throughout the West.

Even the National Park Service has blamed coal-fired plants for haze that obscures scenic vistas nearly one third of the time.

But, on the other side, officials at the Utah Division of Air Quality contend that the hundreds of millions of dollars of new pollution equipment the EPA has in mind won’t clear the haze. They want EPA officials to choose a state cleanup plan instead of a federal one.

“Our desire is to receive final approval for the plan we developed,” says Bryce Bird, oversees air quality for the state of Utah, “and then be able to focus -- instead of litigation and rehashing the issues of the last time period -- really focus on developing a great plan for the next planning period that starts in 2018.”

He says Utah has cut power-plant pollution significantly in the past decade and is on track to meet the long-term haze-reduction goal of 2064.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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