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Health, Science & Environment

National Park Haze: Utah's Congressional Delegation Steps Into The Fray

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This view at Point Imperial Overlook in Grand Canyon National Park illustrates the regional haze that environmental regulators are tasked with eliminated by 2064. Utah says its cleanup plan is better -- and less expensive -- than EPA's. Congress agrees.

The state of Utah and Pacificorp have been quarreling with the federal Environmental Protection Agency over what’s called the Regional Haze Rule, a decades-long effort to clear the vistas around Utah’s national parks.

Then the EPA decided last year that cleaning up southern Utah’s air would mean the company would need to install new, pollution-control equipment on two coal-fired plants in Emery County.

Now Congress is stepping into the fight

“The science and the facts here is just mindbogglingly complicated,” says Arnold Reitze, a University of Utah law professor who serves on Utah’s Air Quality Board. “It was a close call. And now we have Congress, which has no technical expertise in the subject, weighing in and throwing their weight around.”

Reitze is referring to legislation proposed by Utah’s senators and four House members. It’s being done under the controversial “Congressional Review Act, a kind of legislation that’s only been used once prior to the Trump administration taking office in January. In this case, it basically amounts to Congress vetoing EPA’s haze decision.

“This is a product of a special-interest landscape in D.C.,” says Frank O’Donnell, who leads the national advocacy group, Clean Air Watch, “where companies like Pacificorp think that they can pull a stunt that they couldn’t have done a year ago.”

Utahns in Congress, who are all Republicans, say EPA overstepped its authority. They don’t want the company and its customers to pay so much to clean up the skies so little. Their arguments echo what attorneys for Utah and Pacificorp are saying in a separate federal appeals case. 

“What Rocky Mountain Power and the state of Utah has come up with is better than what the EPA is proposing,” says Paul Murphy, spokesman for Rocky Mountain Power, a division of Pacificorp. “The only thing that [EPA’s plan] would change is that Rocky Mountain Power would spend $700 million on equipment that wouldn’t do anything but would cause electricity prices to go up for all of our customers

Environmental groups insist EPA’s plan will clear park vistas best. Lindsay Beebe works on the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign in Utah. She calls the legislation “the nuclear option.”

“We will fight this,” she says. “We will fight this with the 45,000 people who have weighed in on this federal rule in support of it.”

Rep. Jason Chaffetz and Sen. Mike Lee, both Utah Republicans, introduced the legislation in the past week. Neither was available for comment.

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